Protecting Soil and Conserving Water

Canadian dairy farmers are working towards a more sustainable future. They have and continue to implement innovative farming practices that align with regenerative agriculture principles.

Soil preservation and water conservation can be done through many practices such as minimizing tillage, cover cropping, rotational grazing, conserving wetlands, and supporting riparian buffer zones.

What is the benefit of minimizing tillage?

Tillage is when you prepare land for growing crops, getting rid of existing plant life. Many dairy farms have adopted reduced or no tillage practices, leaving stubs and roots of a previous year’s crops in the soil. When used, this practice can keep more captured carbon in the ground and also reduce the risk for topsoil erosion by wind or water. This also means less fuel usage from farm equipment, which reduces emissions and may save time.

What purpose do cover crops serve?

Many farmers plant a secondary crop in their fields to help minimize potential soil erosion, increase fertility and moisture, and control against weeds, pests, and diseases that attack crops—all while supporting biodiversity in the soil.

What’s involved in crop rotation?

Crop rotation is when a farmer grows different crops in a field over the years, to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil and combat the pressure from weeds and pests.

An example of strategic crop rotation for a dairy farm is rotating between corn one year, legumes another year, and perennial grasses for at least two years. This leads to better soil health, where the soil retains more water (requiring less irrigation) and more nutrients (requiring less fertilizer, because the legumes ‘fix’ nitrogen and makes more of it available in the soil for the next crop), and stores more carbon from the atmosphere. The soil is healthier and its structure improved, which also means more productive fields, and more biodiversity at the microscopic level in the soil.

What is rotational grazing?

This process involves moving cows from one portion of a pasture to another every few days, allowing the pasture plants to re-grow before being grazed again. The new growth facilitates carbon sequestration.

What are “riparian buffer zones” and what’s in them?

These are areas between cultivated farmland and nearby bodies of water such as rivers and wetlands, which act as a corridor between them (“riparian” means adjacent to rivers and streams).

These zones contain rich, moist soils where diverse plant communities thrive. Dairy farmers may conserve or restore a riparian zone by planting trees, wildflowers or other natural species, encouraging biodiversity.

What is an example of a partnership that is helping Canadian dairy farmers manage wetlands?

Thanks to a partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada, many Canadian dairy farmers are restoring wetlands on their farm. Wetland restoration projects help prevent topsoil erosion, manage water and preserve the natural habitat.

What are some ways that dairy farmers use manure and nutrient management for crops?

Dairy farmers use organic matter like manure and compost to provide essential macro- and micronutrients for crops. They may also use commercial fertilizers to ensure a balanced supply of essential nutrients. When applying nutrients, farmers consider crop requirements along with the presence of nutrients already in the soil to ensure crops get what they need.

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