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Alberta Soil Health Benchmarking Monitoring Project




Chinook Applied Research Association (CARA) Project

Project Timeline: 2018 – 2022

Project Contact: Trevor Deering



There is an increasing interest in the link between soil health, plant health and ultimately food quality.  Society is also concerned with carbon both in the air and soil.  Since carbon and soil health are very closely connected, management practices that improve carbon sequestration will result in healthy soil and nutritious food products.

The status and functionality of soil should be measured not only by its chemical (fertility) properties but also for its physical and biological properties.  Chemical components of soil have been intensively evaluated by commercial soil testing labs in Canada.  Chemical fertility recommendations have been based on this knowledge.  The role of soil biology, however, is not well understood and physical characteristics have not been monitored.  Evaluation of biological soil characteristics has only become available during the past few years in laboratories in the United States and more recently eastern Canada.  The existing biological labs do not base analysis and recommendations on parameters specifically related to Alberta soils.  CARA’s Soil Health Lab, under the direction of Dr. Yamily Zavala, provides a unique service in evaluating soil health constraint indicators.  A biological and physical baseline developed within the province will provide a framework that can help define strategies for managing and improving the productive capacity, and sustainability, of our soils. A diverse micro-biological underground community may contribute to an overall healthier soil, including improved carbon sequestration. Improved aggregation stability will also contribute to enhanced carbon levels in the soil.  Healthy soils produce healthy plants resulting in a higher quality food product. 


  1. Improve the understanding of soil health parameters among Alberta producers.
  2. Establish soil health benchmarks by quantifying the level of various soil health parameters at 200 sites across Alberta which encompass a broad range of soil types and management systems.
  3. Monitor how management practices affect soil health parameters during a 3-year time frame.



  • 20 soil samples will be collected by each participating group in 2018, 2019, and 2020 for the benchmark portion; the project will allow for farmers to include additional samples in the benchmark inventory if they wish at their own expense
  • no specific land use criteria will be used for site selection other than a willing and interested landowner who has good records of management history for the site; it is anticipated the 200 samples will be a cross-section of crop, forage and native pasture under various management regimes
  • CARA’s Soil Health Sampling Protocol will be utilized in the collection of all samples (attached)
  • Staff from all associations will be trained for collection of samples and site information
  • Each association will be have a Soil Health Sampling Kit
  • GPS coordinates will be recorded for each site
  • Site history will be documented
  • Parameters that will be analyzed:
    • Physical (on-site or at CARA Lab):
      • wet aggregation stability (Cornell University protocol)
      • compaction (penetrometer)
      • bulk density (by weight/volume measurement)
      • texture (Bouyoucos hydrometer method)
    • Biological (CARA Lab Food Soil Web protocol except as noted)
      • active carbon
      • C:N ratio (U of A)
      • soil microbial respiration
      • active & total bacteria
      • active & total fungi
      • nematode functional groups
      • protozoa functional groups
    • Chemical (commercial labs)
      • organic matter, pH, EC, etc.
      • N, P, K
      • Micro nutrients
    • All information will be entered into a data base
    • Information related to specific sites will be shared with the cooperating producers by association staff
    • In addition to 200 new sites per year, sites will be re-visited 3 years after the benchmark and sampled again to monitor the impact of management activities



CARA collects and analyzes the data and will produce a final report in 2023.



Check back in 2022 for this section.

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