P.E.I red snow raises concerns about soil conservation

Snow drifts are turned from white to rust-red due to soil erosion in P.E.I. (Photo credit: CBC)It's not blood that's staining snow drifts in P.E.I, but it could very well be considered the life-blood of the province as top-soil from fields across the island are making those snow drifts look more like Martian sand dunes.

"This happens every year. Every year. The problem is not going to go away," said P.E.I. pig farmer Ranald MacFarlane, according to CBC News.

"There are a few farmers doing a good job on conservation, but there are a lot that aren't. And myself included, there are things that are going to have to change."

Winter soil erosionFarmer Ranald MacFarlane shows how layers of snow tell a tale of wind-blown soil on P.E.I.

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The problem stems from the practice of planting late-season varieties of potatoes. This already leaves very little time for the farmers to plant fall crops to hold down the top soils over the winter, but last September's extremely rainy weather made the situation worse. This delayed the fall planting, and gave very little time for roots to develop sufficiently to hold the soil in place.

"We had a lot of challenges this fall because you had the wettest September on record in 2012 and that pushes everything back," said John Jamieson, who is executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

"It closes that window on being able to get something on the crop."

With very little there to keep the top soil stable, even normal winds could have caused significant soil erosion, but with the storms and resulting strong winds over the last month (up to 50 km/h, with 70+ km/h gusts), erosion has been particularly bad.

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Many farmers have already stopped the practice of fall plowing, which turns up more loose soil that can be driven around by the winds, but Jamieson says, according to the CBC, that the province is working on expanding soil conservation efforts.

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