Chemistry of Soil

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists in Lethbridge, Alberta, are reading the history of research plots in their chemistry, and the past is revealing the way forward to managing soil for the future. Soil is the base resource of all food on the planet. It is a limited resource that requires extra care and management to ensure a healthy agricultural sector. Learn about how AAFC scientists have been working with producers for the past century to manage and preserve our soils.

This video is the third in a series of five videos on the subject of soil which were produced to celebrate the International Year of Soils.

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Video Transcript

[An image and a maple leaf appear on screen. This is the title graphic for the video.]

[Light, electronic music fades in.]

Text on screen: Chemistry of Soil

[The video opens with a panning shot of greenhouses at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Lethbridge Research Centre.]

Narrator: At the Lethbridge Research Centre in Lethbridge Alberta, there are research fields that have been producing wheat...

[Cut to extreme wide shot of grain field.]

...for over a hundred years.

[Cut to wide shot of researcher Dr. Henry Janzen pulling up and examining soil.]

And the soil of those fields has been studied for that same time.

[Close up of Dr. Janzen seated at computer.]

Dr. Henry Janzen is reading the history of those fields...

[Medium close up of Dr. Janzen seated at computer.]

...in their chemistry and the past...

[Cut to extreme wide shot of Dr. Janzen walking away from camera in grain field.]

...is revealing the way forward to managing soil for the future.

[Medium close up of Dr. Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

Dr. Henry Janzen: Our plots are quite unique in that they were begun right after...

[Cut to wide shot of grainy photograph of 20th century house.]

...the land was originally broken from prairie.

[Extreme wide shot of grainy photograph of 20th century prairie house.]

[Cut back to medium close up of Dr. Henry Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

So we have the unfolding story of this land dating back almost to the time when we first started cultivating these lands for agricultural production.

Text on screen: Dr. Henry Janzen, Research Scientist, Environmental Health, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

[Medium close up of Dr. Janzen opening filing cabinets.]

They took very, very careful...

[Medium close up of Dr. Janzen pulling out notebooks from open cabinet.]

...notes, so I can pull out the diary from 1913 and I can tell you how many...

[Over the shoulder shot of Dr. Janzen flipping through notes.]

...horses they used for ploughing a land.

[Over the shoulder medium close up of Dr. Janzen analyzing soil diary at his desk.]

How much twine they used to fashion the stooks of the grain.

[Cut back to medium close up of Dr. Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

I can tell you the yields, all of these things year by year by year which helps us to put together this long unfolding story over time...

[Close up of Dr. Janzen holding jar of soil.]

...and more than that, they took soil samples...

[Panning shot of soil samples in jars.]

...and so we today can go back into our soil archives...

[Over the shoulder shot of Dr. Janzen analyzing historical soil patterns on computer.]

...and we can analyze soils from 1910 and from the 1920’s...

[Cut back to medium close up of Dr. Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

...all the way into our present time. Soil chemistry really looks at the arrangement and the amounts and the dynamics or transformations of chemical...

[Cut to medium close up of Dr. Janzen picking up soil.]

...elements in the soil. One example is to follow...

[Cut back to medium close up of Dr. Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

...soil carbon, which is an indicator of soil humus.

[Close up of soil in researcher’s hand.]

Humus is a material in soil that gives it its darkening hue...

[Cut back to medium close up of Dr. Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

...it is material that is very closely linked to the fertility of the soil, the productivity of the soil.

[High angle shot of researcher shoveling soil.]

In the early years after initial cultivation, they noticed very quickly that soil carbon was diminishing.

[Wide shot of researcher labelling soil.]

And they worried about what happens if it continues to decline? Well, over the years...

[Cut back to medium close up of Dr. Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

...through our long term experiments we’ve been able to see, well, the loss was very significant early...

[Wide shot of Dr. Janzen entering lab.]

...but it abated over time. And now we’re trying to...

[Over the shoulder medium close up of Dr. Janzen working on computer at desk.]

...ask the question, can we do something...

[Cut back to medium close up of Dr. Janzen addressing camera in lab.]

...in our lands to restore some of the soil carbon that was lost?

[Rack focus to close up of grains in field.]

Narrator: The work of doctor Janzen and his colleagues in Lethbridge is frequently published...

[Tilt wide shot of freight train at grain silo.]

...to inform the grains and oilseeds industry on soil management. The grains and oilseeds industry...

[Extreme wide shot of freight train at grain silo.]

...in the prairie provinces is an economic driver for the whole agricultural sector in Canada.

Text on screen: 18.1 Billion in 2014

For example, we exported 18.1 billion dollars’ worth of grains and oilseeds to the world in 2014.

[Cut to close up of wheat.]

Canada is among...

[Cut to wide shot of wheat field.]

...the top producers of wheat in the world...

Text on screen: #1 Canola Producer Worldwide.

...and we're number 1 in canola production. Soil research and good soil management is quite literally at the base of that success. To learn more, check out our other videos on soil sciences in Canada.

[Cut to white screen with 2015 international year of soils logo.]

Text on screen: 2015 International Year of Soils, http://www.fao.org/soils-2015, #IYS2015

[Cut to tile photos of soil samples and silos on bottom of white screen.]

Text on screen: Modern. Innovative. Growing. Discover other agricultural innovations at www.agr.gc.ca.

[Light, electronic music fades out.]

Text on screen: Canada, © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (2015).

[Fade to black.]

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