Soil Health Interpretive Centre

The Soil Health Interpretive Centre (SHIC) is a state-of-the-art soil health monitoring station that was built in 2017. It is the largest installation of field weighing lysimeters in North America. Browse the resources below or visit Claudia Wagner-Riddle’s lab website to learn more. 

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The Experiment

The experiment at the Soil Health Interpretive Center (SHIC) contrasts two crop-based farming systems: a “simple” system with a corn-soybean-soybean rotation, and a “diverse” system with a corn-soybean-wheat rotation that also incorporates cover crops. Previous research has shown that including wheat and cover crops in the rotation can improve crop yields, but the full extent of ecosystem services provided is not known.

SHIC has 18 weighing lysimeters: 9 have a Guelph Loam soil excavated from the Elora Research Station, and the other 9 have a Lisbon Loamy Sand soil native to a site near Cambridge, Ontario. With two soil types, researchers can compare how management practices may affect different Ontario soils. Additionally, 6 of the lysimeters are warmed during the winter with a heat lamp to simulate how global warming will affect crop farming and its effect on the environment.

The Results

Pore water samplers use a vacuum pump to extract soil water through porous ceramic cups. This water is then taken to the lab to be analyzed for nutrients. Previous research using these instruments has shown that including cover crops can reduce nitrate (NO3) leaching out of the root zone by 70%. Including cover crops not only keeps valuable nutrients in the soil but also protects our drinking water.