AESA Soil Quality Resource Monitoring Program

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 Overview | Monitoring | Extension | Risk assessment | Science development


Maintaining soil quality is the key to maintaining healthy and productive landscapes. Soil quality is important to support and sustain crop, range and woodland production as well as water supplies. However, soil quality is difficult to define and measure since it varies due to many external factors such as land use, management, environmental interaction as well as variations in natural conditions. Measuring changes in soil quality across Alberta is a concern for both government and the public in order to increase awareness and understanding of environmental issues.

The AESA Soil Quality Program was established in 1997 and has three main objectives:

  • To determine the state of soil quality across the province of Alberta.
  • To determine the risk of change in soil quality with various management practices.
  • To determine how soil quality integrates into environmental sustainability.
What methods do we use to achieve these objectives?
  • Soil Quality Measurement - Soil Quality is to be measured using a complementary system of benchmarks and landscape research.
  • Soil Quality Estimation - Estimations of soil quality must be made in time and space to address objectives defined above. Spatial/temporal modeling will require the use of state-of-the-art models and good quality databases.
Facets of operation
We will operate in three main areas:
  • Education - We will use resources such as the Internet, various media and promotional items;
  • Training - We will train and update the agricultural community including staff and public on issues relating to soil quality
  • Research - We will foster soil quality research in Alberta by encouraging others, developing partnerships and conducting research individually
The purpose of the AESA Soil Quality Resource Monitoring Program is to monitor soil quality and develop projects to help understand and conserve soil quality in Alberta. The program maintains a balance of monitoring, risk assessment, science development and extension.

Monitoring: We have a 44 site benchmark program to monitor soil quality throughout the province and to use as a validation set for modeling efforts. At these sites, factors such as yield of grain or forage, soil fertility and bulk density are sampled and measured annually.

Extension: We continue to work towards increasing the awareness of soil quality. Since we are developing the science side of the issues in the program, we always have new, leading edge topics to present. We present our work at conferences, workshops, field days and tours. We also work on educational products.

Risk Assessment: We are involved with risk mapping initiatives such as the development of water erosion, wind erosion and potential salinity hazard mapping of the province. We realized that with limited resources, a diverse farming area of 233,839 km2 and time required to observe measured changes in soil parameters, modeling would need to be employed. The modeling could range from simple data models and complex GIS algorithms, to process simulation models. Models would look at crop growth and soil degradation and can show what might happen over-time under different management scenarios. Modeling will be used in the development of hazard/risk maps and a soil quality assessment system.

In order to achieve these objectives, databases need to be developed for use in models to determine soil quality changes or for use in verification of models. The project team is completing various databases needed for analysis and to assess the effects of changes in management through modeling.

We have been working to develop the capacity to operate the latest technology in modeling. Mapping of the data will require the integration of monitoring and modeling results with geographical information systems.

Science Development: Development of the science and understanding of soil quality in Alberta is important. The Soil Quality Program is fostering soil quality research in Alberta.

The work of AESA Soil Quality has received positive feedback from both researchers and industry. Project partners include Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the University of Alberta, Agri-business and Producers. We try to leverage and integrate our work with others as opportunities arise.


Vegetation sampling at a benchmark siteMarking sampling locations along catena

Benchmark Sites


Demonstration to producers


Risk Assessment

Soil quality test kit

Science Development
For more information about the content of this document, contact Len Kryzanowski.
This document is maintained by Nicole Huggins-Rawlins.
This information published to the web on April 28, 2004.
Last Reviewed/Revised on December 5, 2014.