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Senate committee members studying soil across Canada stop in southern Alberta

A senate committee looking into the status of soil health in Canada made its way to the prairies, including southern Alberta, this week.

Four senators first stopped in Saskatchewan and are now looking at native grass lands on Bill Newton's ranch east of Fort Macleod, in an area known as Spring Point, Alberta.

"Soil profiles are different across this country and so policies programs need to be different as well and so setting a baseline is very important," said Senator Rob Black, the committee chair.

"What they do here, we don't do in southwestern Ontario," he added, "so it's important to know and see how soil health is being looked after, how our soils are being looked after across this country."

Black said the last senate soil study was done in 1984 and it's important for the committee to see what conditions are today.

"We've also been to Guelph in Ontario and learn more about what's happening in University of Guelph," he said. "Some of us have been to Nova Scotia, some of us have been to Rome to an international conference and this is a western leg."


Senator Paula Simons, a longtime former Edmonton Journal columnist, is the committee co-chair. She met Newton in the provincial capital a few years ago and was invited to see his ranch in person.

"I also wanted my Senate colleagues to see Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump," she said. "So that they could understand the deep history of this land and the deep history of grazing culture on this land, which certainly pre-dates the arrival of ranchers."

Senator Simons says visiting this ranch is incredibly different than what a farm in eastern Canada looks like and has different soil concerns to sustain the native grasses that grow in the region.

"For thousands and thousands of years people have used this pasture land to feed themselves first with bison and elk and now with beef," said Senator Simon. "Natural grasslands sequester carbon, at least if they're grazed properly and they can be every bit if not more important in the fight against climate change as planting trees."

Bill Newton is leading the tour and showing the committee members the native grass and the soil it grows in.

"You always have to balance how are we going to feed the world's population with maintaining our soils or improving our soils and keeping our ecological function, it's very challenging to create the balance," he said.

"When we lose (the native grass), we lose not only carbon that's stored in the soil and soil quality, but we also lose other ecological functions, we lose biodiversity, we probably don't function as well in the water cycle with other the with other crops so all of those are things that drive my interest in doing this.))

Newton says it's important for everyone that soil is recognized as a natural resource and needs to be understood and protected.

The senate committee will continue their fact finding mission in Alberta for the rest of the week and all the information they've gathered will be presented in a report to the federal government in 2024. Top Stories

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