New technology is focused on subsoil compaction

New technology is focused on subsoil compaction
by Bonnie Warnyca - 5, 2011

Paragon Soil and Environmental Consulting out of Edmonton, has a long history of working in the energy sector which has provided a front row seat to the issue of soil compaction.

Compaction can occur through a variety of activities, such as: Pipeline, wellsite and road construction, as well as repeated use of access trails. Once the soil becomes compacted, soil properties such as moisture infiltration and retention, aeration, nutrient availability and rooting depth decrease, in turn reducing crop yields.

In an attempt to address compacted land issues, Paragon designed a subsoil injection system, which was then built by the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) in Saskatchewan. The subsoil equipment, which is basically a paratill subsoiler with a bulk tank and attached injection system for manure pellets, has now been field tested for two years on more than 40 sites throughout southern and central Alberta and British Columbia.

Here is how it works br> During what is called the subsoiling process, the shanks of the subsoiler are lowered to a depth of 30-40 cm, and pulled through the soil, causing compacted soils to fragment and loosen up. This creates infiltration channels in the soil, immediately increasing the water infiltration, water holding capacity, aeration, nutrient availability and rooting depth of soil. As the shanks plow through the soil, organic matter pellets (comprised of heat-treated cattle manure) are injected directly behind the shanks. This allows the subsoil channels to stay open, rather than filling up with soil. In the decomposition process, the pellets release a steady supply of nitrogen and organic matter into the soil to encourage rooting and improve the overall soil structure or makeup.

While funding for the prototype was supplied by Sustainable Development Technology Canada, TransCanada Pipelines and Canadian Natural Resources, Paragon Soil and Environmental Consulting owns the technology.

Len Leskiw, P.Ag., president of Paragon told us that while there are a couple of other methods to deal with soil compaction, they don't always work well. In some cases, they provide only short-term boosts to production and need to be reapplied multiple times, or can cause high amounts of disturbance or mixing of the soil horizons.

Says Leskiw: "In the past, companies have used a couple of different methods to deal with compaction. One way is to remove the topsoil and work the subsoil and then put the topsoil back on. It's an expensive undertaking. Another method is to just do the subsoiling, which doesn't always work in the long term."

While Leskiw had the idea for this type of machine a few years ago, he wasn't able to move forward until a company called EarthRenew at Strathmore developed the manure pellets.

"I had an idea of what type of injection system would work," continues Leskiw, "but using bulk raw compost was too complicated. Once the pellets were available, PAMI built the two-shank machine and we now have a four-shank machine operational. The patent is pending on this equipment and I think that once we have five or six machines in operation, we will have enough to handle all the work in Alberta."

So far, the results have been pretty impressive at all of the injected sites. The goal for all reclamation sites is to return the soil to be as productive as or better than its neighbouring farm field.

"There are hundreds of farm crop and forage acres that must be returned to full production in the province each year as the result of pipeline work and oil exploration," explains Leskiw. "Under the provincial environmental regulations, if they aren't reclaimed to pre disturbance levels, then they need to be worked on until they are. We believe that this design out-performs other methods and is more cost effective in the long term. We will continue to monitor the sites over the next couple of years to make sure that they don't recompact. The goal of the new Paragon-designed technology is to restore growing capacity to the land and return value back to producers."