Growing crops in saline soil

Sometimes dividing up the field is the best solution to salinity

Tom King (left) from the soils science department at the University of Saskatchewan talked about plant nutrient and 4R field trials at Saskatchewan Agriculture’s Crop Diagnostic School in Indian Head in July.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s Crop Diagnostic School is a great opportunity for farmers and agronomists to get outside for a hands-on, up-close look at plots, plants, insects and weeds. This summer, the School was held in Indian Head over two days in July. One of the many speakers, Gary Krueger, Saskatchewan Agriculture irrigation agrologist was on hand to talk about salinity.”

“Soil salinity has been a problem in Saskatchewan since before I was born,” Krueger said. “We have a strong heritage of researchers who have really tried to get to the bottom of soil salinity and find solutions.”

To demonstrate the impact of salinity on yields, Krueger and other staff had taken time to grow samples of common crops in soils with three levels of salinity: low, medium and high.

“As you can see,” Krueger said as we looked at the potted plants, “the impact on crop growth is quite significant.” The leaves were much healthier and taller in the soil with less salinity.

Staff grew plants in (from left to right) mild, medium and high levels of salinity in advance of the Crop Diagnostic School. In the high-saline soil, water has evaporated at the surface allowing salt to collect. photo: Leeann Minogue

Referring to the soil with high salinity, Kruger pointed out that there was very little growth and low germination. And, he said, “the water we’ve put on this set is evaporating at the surface and you can see the salts collecting on top of the soil.” This can be seen in saline fields across the Prairies. “As you drive across Saskatchewan it’s nearly impossible to miss.”

Some crops are more tolerant to salinity than others. If you’re dealing with salinity Krueger suggests planting a more tolerant crop or, he says, “you might need to segregate your field and put a different crop on a certain portion because it’s saline.”

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