Category Archives: General

Black earth farming: the way of the past, not the future September 26th, 2019

Posted in: Environmental Education General

By Dorthea Grégoire

We’ve all seen the black snow in the ditches after strong winter winds. We know what it means; top soil has blown out of the adjacent field. But who cares? Well, to be honest everyone should. Whether you’re the farmer who owns the field, the next-door neighbour, or anyone else; we all should care because in the end it’s costing each and every one of us more than you’d ever expect.

Gusts of wind from 25-50 kmph are strong enough to move unprotected soil. When the wind starts blowing, it picks up soil particles and drops them along the way. These dropped particles collide with the ground and dislodge more soil particles creating a chain reaction that sends clouds of soil into the air. Eventually soil is lost; in some situations, “soil to the entire depth of tillage has been lost” states Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Taking a quick look at the soil-laden ditches alongside some fields seems to give us a good idea that the soil is blowing away. But how much has been lost? Dave Franzen, NDSU Extension Soil Specialist, estimates that at least TEN (10) TIMES the amount of soil that is left in the ditch has been taken up by the wind and carried distances up to 100km away. This soil is permanently lost; completely irrecoverable to the field from which it came. The amount of soil in a field is finite and will not regenerate without changes to existing management practices.


Soil Blowing Across the Highway in South Eastern Manitoba

When our forefathers settled in the Red River Valley and southern Manitoba, they proudly and tirelessly worked putting the plough to the soil to bring it into production for the first time. In those days the crisp, black fields were a source of pride and showed the hard work that had gone into the farm. When the “Dirty Thirties” arrived there was very little left to protect the soils. Fields had been left vulnerable and the wind took away soil by the ton. Fortunately, farmers are by far some of the most resourceful innovators and masters of adaptive management when it comes to their farm. Today, although localized windstorms continue to displace soils from black earth fields, technologies have changed and so have agricultural approaches. Producers now see the inherent and economic value held within their soils and many have changed their management practices to ensure their soil stays in place. Unfortunately, not everyone has jumped on the soil-saving band wagon and the communal cost that individual field management decisions are having on public goods like infrastructure and water are becoming very apparent.

The erosion of topsoil from fields and its subsequent deposition into nearby drains, ditches and waterways creates a cascade of problems for both the producer and for those using and maintaining local infrastructure. The topsoil that ends up in ditches reduces the flow capacity of these drainage systems resulting in increased back flooding during times of peak flow. This back flooding affects all nearby landowners regardless of their land management practices. It also affects those who depend on the local drainage network itself, as the drains may end up flooded or undermined by the reduced flow capacities and thus not perform as they should. Furthermore, for every pound of soil that is lost from a field, organic matter that took thousands of years to build up is also lost. Organic matter naturally acts like a sponge.  It takes up water and allows the water to sink into the soil rather than running off the fields or drowning out crops. The loss of this organic matter caused by wind erosion drastically decreases our soil’s ability to absorb water. This loss of water absorption results in increased runoff, increased in-field flooding and most importantly means that water is no longer being held for later use by the crops during the hot, dry days of summer. The loss of soil and organic matter from a field contributes to a decline in the health and productivity of that field. To further exasperate this problem, their loss also leads to increased runoff from the field and blocked drains adjacent to those same fields further reducing productivity and in-field health.

Soil Eroded into a Neighboring Field

The consequences of losing topsoil unfortunately do not end with more runoff and less flow. It also means that valuable nutrients are being lost from the fields and ending up in our drainage system leading to the degradation of our water quality. Nutrients that are blown away with top soil end up in our ditches, drains and waterways and are ultimately being washed downstream. We may not see the impact in our own backyards, but downstream they contribute to the ever growing problems associated with sedimentation, nitrification and algal blooms on major water bodies across the prairies including Lake Winnipeg. When soil stays on the field, biologically available nutrients boost crop productivity and increase yields. When soil is lost to wind erosion nutrients fuel algal blooms and pollute waterways. Again this problem is exasperated as producers attempt to replace the nutrients from the soil by applying fertilizers. Unfortunately, studies have shown this has limited success. In many cases even a doubling of the amount of fertilizer applied to a field cannot make up for the loss in yield caused by eroded top soil and the subsequent loss of nutrients and organic matter (Kapoor and Shaykewich, 1990). This vicious cycle of nutrient loss and replacement only compounds downstream water quality problems, especially when year after year the nutrients applied to the field are continually lost through a constant battle with the wind.

A field that has suffered from severe erosion is a field that requires more inputs, is less economically productive and contributes to environmental degradation. Luckily for everyone involved there is an easy, cost effective solution available immediately … simple changes to in-field management practices.  Leave stubble in the fields and planting directly into it when the spring comes. Soybean and grain growers across the prairies are already adopting this method successfully. As a bonus, by not having to till under the stubble, producers are not only preventing future wind erosion but are also saving time and money (it’s not cheap to start up those big cultivators!). This method also helps build up organic matter and increase the soil’s ability to absorb water. When we protect the soil, the need for inputs is reduced and fields become more resilient to seasonal flooding and drought. Having nutrients stay put in-field also means that producers can reduce the time commitments and inputs going into each acre, putting more money in each producer’s pocket and fewer nutrients into our waterways. This simple change also leaves resources for municipalities and the Province to spend on improving local communities rather than maintaining soil-laden ditches.  In the past, black earth farming made our province viable but there might be good cause for re-thinking it today.


Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. (2014-06-09). Wind Erosion. Retrieved from

Franzen, Dave. (2015/05/07). Wake Up Call. Retrieved from 

Kapoor, A. and Shaykewich, C.F. 1990. Simulated soil erosion and crop productivity. Pp. 125–130 in Proc. 33rd. Ann. Mtg. Manitoba Soc. Soil Sci., January 9-10, 1990, Winnipeg, MB.


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ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) now at SRRCD July 30th, 2019

Posted in: General

A partnership between the Seine Rat River Conservation District (SRRCD) and ALUS Canada, a Weston Family Initiative, the ALUS SRRCD program was launched in July, 2019. Jodi Goerzen SRRCD manager about the partnership, “Right now there is a lot of local anticipation around how incentivizing alternative land use practices in our agricultural community will really become the catalyst to better water quality in Manitoba while generating an increased understanding to the benefits of ecological goods and services that some producers already provide. It is really encouraging to see ALUS Canada welcome the SRRCD into this national effort.”

The ALUS SRRCD program aims to address important local environmental issues, particularly the protection and enhancement of surface water and groundwater in southeastern Manitoba. “We are excited to partner with another strong conservation district in Manitoba. The ALUS Seine Rat River program will support farmers and ranchers who produce cleaner water, cleaner air and improved biodiversity,” said Paige Englot, ALUS Canada’s Prairie Hub Manager.

To accomplish this, the ALUS SRRCD local Partnership Advisory Committee (PAC) made up of farmers and stakeholders prioritizes projects that remove sensitive, marginal sections of croplands and forage lands from agricultural production, to establish, restore and enhance wetlands, floodplains and additional water-retention areas. The SRRCD board is enthusiastic by what this partnership can do within the local conservation district, “This is the bold move towards protecting and sustaining the management of our land and water resources that Southeastern Manitoba has been waiting years to embark on,” comments Cornie Goertzen SRRCD Chair of the Board.

The ALUS SRRCD program is located in the Seine Rat River Conservation District, which covers approximately 6,700 square kilometres in southeastern Manitoba. The area is roughly triangular in shape, with its tip at Winnipeg and its base along the U.S. border, extending from the Red River all the way to the southeast corner of the province. The SRRCD is home to approximately 70,000 residents residing in 16 municipalities including the third-largest city in Manitoba, the City of Steinbach.

The SRRCD is comprised of three sub-watersheds including the Seine River, Rat-Marsh River and Roseau River with all of their respective drains and tributaries such as the Manning Canal, Seine River Diversion, Tourond Creek, Joubert Creek, Angle Drain and Jordan Creek. It includes the iconic geography of the fertile Red River Valley and the scenic Sandilands Escarpment. The western part of the district, the Red River Valley, features a great number of croplands. Moving eastward, this farmland gradually gives way to a mixture of parklands and range

lands, until reaching the heavily forested Sandilands region that also offers localized rangelands.

Through their ALUS projects, ALUS SRRCD participants will help to produce cleaner water, cleaner air and more biodiversity, including pollinator habitat, for the benefit of everyone in the community.

Like all ALUS programs, ALUS SRRCD is completely voluntary for local agricultural producers and landowners, and is overseen by a Partnership Advisory Committee (PAC). Harold Janzen PAC Vice-Chair and ALUS SRRCD demonstration farmer, “We are excited to demonstrate the good work farmers are accomplishing and to showcase how we can all be part of a sustainable tomorrow through participation in alternative land use programs like ALUS SRRCD.”

Together, ALUS Canada and the Seine Rat River Conservation District are working towards sustaining agriculture, wildlife and natural space for all residents – one acre at a time.

Paige Englot of ALUS Canada Prairie Hub Manager presents to SRRCD members at a introductory BBQ June 17, 2019


ALUS SRRCD Program Delivery Details


ALUS SRRCD Program Objective:

To enhance water quality through on-farm projects that remove marginal lands from production for the establishment and re-establishment of floodplains, wetlands and water retention areas. Farm the best and leave the rest.


ALUS SRRCD Program Payment Details:

Class 1-3 Crop Land ………. $100/acre annual payments

$100/acre of establishment costs for seeding

Class 4 Forage Land ………. $30/acre annual payments

50% of establishment costs for fencing

Class 5 & up Farm Land … $15/acre annual payments

100% establishment costs for fencing


ALUS SRRCD Participant Requirements:

Upon approval, all participants are required to remove nutrients and vegetation from the protected areas as weather permits and submit a self-report with pictures to receive full payments, failure to submit a self-report will result in a half payment and failure to complete the project at all will result in no payment.


For more information and application forms for the ALUS SRRCD program:

Jodi Goerzen  SRRCD Manager & ALUS SRRCD Coordinator or

Joey Pankiw  ALUS SRRCD Assistant Coordinator


Seine-Rat River Conservation District

154 Friesen Avenue

Steinbach MB

R5G 0T5


July Tree Sale on NOW! July 9th, 2019

Posted in: General

What’s the deal with LiDAR? May 24th, 2019

Posted in: General

In the watershed management world LiDAR has become a hot topic. The provincial government is in the process of collecting new (or in many cases first time) LiDAR data for many locations in municipal Manitoba. These data are made freely available online and have the potential to completely change how management decisions are made on the prairies. Organizations including Manitoba’s Conservation Districts, the Red River Basin Commission, local Municipalities and others have long awaited the arrival of these data so that they can better answer one simple question: where does the water go?

DEM – Digital Elevation Model: Elevations derived from LIDAR data can be combined to create a model of the landscape we can use to identify potential locations to temporarily retain water to reduce downstream flows. This change from on-the-ground surveying to using LiDAR can now advance a project in days, where we used to wait months and years for access to survey a single potential retention area.


What is LiDAR?

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a remote sensing method that uses light pulses from a plane-mounted laser to determine the distance from the plane to the surface of the Earth and to every object sitting on the Earth. These data are in turn used to determine ground level elevations and can be used to create a detailed elevation map with accuracies of within a few centimetres. As an end product, LiDAR allows us to create a model of the Earth’s surface using coloring to represent a 3D surface in two dimensions.

LiDAR being Flown: An airplane flies over the surface of the land using a laser scanner to determine relative distances to the ground. Connection to GPS provides the exact location of the plane/scanner.

What’s it good for?

At the SRRCD we rely heavily on LiDAR when we’re planning projects; especially those associated with the movement of water across the land. Staff can manipulate the LiDAR data to create contour maps, determine elevations and estimate flood areas. We also use LiDAR to determine water catchment areas, and model “what-if” scenarios. For example, staff can overlay theoretical dams across water channels and use the data provided by the LiDAR to determine how many acres of land would be flooded by the dam and to what depth. When paired with information from local flow stations (visit for more information) staff can also determine the effects of a 1 in 100 year rain fall event or the dam dimensions required to ensure downstream property is protected during high water events.

Depth: Looking closer the Lidar can reveal the amount and depth of water that can be detained at a location. This is an important step in deciding if a project will be cost effective.


Getting the most out of LiDAR data

LiDAR data must always be interpreted with caution and MUST be properly conditioned before use. In order to ensure quality data, SRRCD resource technicians and municipal staff across the district have been working tirelessly for the past 3 summers to collect data on the exact location and elevation of all culverts and bridges. When LiDAR data are initially collected, the difference between solid earth barriers and roadways transected by culverts or bridges cannot be discerned. Technicians must manually enter in “burn lines” for all culverts, bridges etc in order to prevent structures such as roadways from being seen by computer models as impermeable barriers to the flow of water. Without this “conditioning” of the data, when water flow models are used, every roadway would act as a dam and the results would not be representative of the actual movement of water across the landscape.

Watershed: By following the flow paths back upstream we can determine the area contributing to the flow reaching a potential storage project. One square kilometre of land can contribute up to 25,000 cubic metres (10 swimming pools) of water from just 2.5cm of rain.


Limitations of LiDAR

The collection of LiDAR data relies heavily on laser beams bouncing back from to Earth to the airplane. This allows for many interesting applications of the data including using them to identify and classify land cover types such as forest, prairie and ice field. However, limitations do exist especially around areas of standing water, extremely thick vegetation or built up organic matter. In many cases the laser will simply bounce off the surface of the water or the top of the dense cattail overgrowth thereby returning a false elevation value (i.e., the height of the cattails instead of the bottom of the wetland or the elevation of the surface of the lake rather than the bottom of the lake). These limitations must be recognized and accounted for by all technicians who use the data. For every project, SRRCD staff go out and manually survey areas in and around wetlands and other potentially tricky locations to ensure that LiDAR data correctly represents the real world landscape or are corrected accordingly. Even with the time it takes to ground truth the data, LiDAR saves huge amounts of time. Projects questions that use to take up to 3 years to figure out on the ground can now be answered in a matter of days using LiDAR. Project conception to completion with LiDAR has been overwhelmingly progressive. Projects are modeled, designed, licensed, tendered and constructed within months while exploring new potential projects at the same time for next year. This work is also now all done in-house. The LiDAR has helped us achieve:
37 sites analyzed initially
12 sites modeled for implementation
6 projects completed this year with Provincial LiDAR
Without LiDAR, we complete one retention project per year with no other projects analyzed or modeled.


Flow: The landscape model from the Lidar also reveals the pathways water follows as it moves across the landscape. This helps us target projects to benefit areas with the greatest problems. The flowpaths allow our team to begin looking for solutions almost instantly.

​In today’s world, landscape management is a hot topic on most decision makers’ agendas. The way water moves across the landscape and the obstructions we put in its path can have large consequences (flooding, drought, drainage) for both local and downstream residents. The information acquired through LiDAR is a modern tool that allows decisions to be made in an objective manner and without fear of the unknown. When elevations across an entire landscape can be discerned and water flow paths mapped, decisions regarding every aspect of responsible water management become much easier. The Seine-Rat River Conservation District continues to use LiDAR based data in our efforts to manage water at a watershed level and with the best interest of all in mind. Sound decisions are rooted in sound information; to which LiDAR contributes greatly.