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Dig it! Soil Science Symposium at FortWhyte Alive

Posted on May 8, 2017



On Thursday, May 4, FWA hosted the second annual Dig It! Soil Science Symposium, a hands-on learning experience for high-school students around sustainable agriculture research and practices in Manitoba.

Learning stations were put together by scientists and experts from Manitoba Agriculture, the South Central Eco Institute, Nutrients for Life and the University of Manitoba – people passionate about soil and nutrient management. In attendance were over 40 Grades 9-12 students and their teachers from 6 different schools, both rural and urban. Many of the students who attended are planning to take part in a Manitoba Envirothon competition this year – the theme this year is Agricultural Soils and Water Conservation Stewardship, and students who attended Dig It! are going to be well prepared for their Envirothon field tests!


Throughout the day, students were given the chance to see how concepts they learn in science and geography such as soil erosion, nutrient cycles, weather systems and climate change, and environmental decision-making, applies in the real world of agricultural land and water management.

Students left with a deeper understanding of what is involved in making decisions that manage soil and water sustainably… and with a stronger interest in possible careers in environmental science, agriculture or soil science.DigIt-SoilScienceDay-2017_22

Stations included:

  • Our Provincial Soil – students learned about the geological history of Manitoba, how to identify different soil types from across the province, and got to take home their very own Newdale soil profile.
  • The Rain and Snow Show – Students played roles including farm agronomist, farmer, accountant, and more to find out how different land management types such as conventional tillage, zero tillage and fallowing affect a farm’s bottom line, and the erosion of soil and release of nutrients into waterways.
  • Plants Need to Eat Too! – Students got to see different chemical and organic fertilizer types, sample soil, and see how much nutrient it takes to grow crops like wheat, canola and beans.
  • Agro-Meteorology – A mini weather station was set up, with all the instruments needed to monitor Manitoba’s climate, and students learned how all of these factors play in to what is happening in the soil and with crop growth throughout the year.
  • Soil Entomology – A large microscope allowed students to get up close to the diversity of life in the soil, including centipedes, millipedes, springtails and beetles, and discover their adaptations and what they do to benefit the health of the soil.
  • Aquatic Science – Why were we talking about aquatics at a soil day? Land and water are connected, if land is unhealthy, water quality in rivers, streams and lakes will begin to decline also. Students learned about the challenge of phosphorus and nitrogen in the Lake Winnipeg Watershed, and tested water samples from enriched and “natural” areas to determine nutrient concentrations.


Think you know your soils? Test your soil skills with these Dig It! questions!


  • List these 3 soil particles from least pore space to the most: a. Loam b. Clay c. Sand
ANSWER: Clay, Loam, Sand. Clay particles are tiny, with very small pore space, loam is intermediate, and sand has the largest pore space.
To illustrate: if a sand particle were the size of the Bomber stadium, the silt particle would be the size of a pickup truck parked nearby, and the clay particle would be the size of a postage stamp.
  • What are two adaptations soil invertebrates have?
ANSWER: Digging appendages and a hard “armoured” body.
  • What is the type of phosphate that is found dissolved in the water, and is most available for uptake by growing plants and algae?
ANSWER: Orthophosphate (PO43-). This compound is not bound to soil or organic material and is found in low concentrations in unpolluted water. Sources include partially treated or untreated sewage, spring runoff from the land, and application of some fertilizers.
  • Why is it illegal to apply fertilizer to agricultural lands between the months of November and April?
ANSWER: During these months, plants are not growing so any fertilizer applied will not be taken up by living things, and instead risks being washed into waterways during spring melt.
  • What are the 4 R’s?
ANSWER: Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place – this nutrient stewardship model allows farmers and agricultural experts to improve crop yields while enhancing environmental protection and sustainability. Visit


A big thank you to Manitoba Agriculture and Fertilizer Canada for their support, and to presenters from University of Manitoba and South Central Eco Institute for donating their time to run this great event.

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