Water nitrate levels could depend on plow season

Nitrate levels in the water around participating farms in the Souris area are being tested in a watershed management program that is investigating the best time of year to plow to avoid leaching.

Program tests whether spring or fall plowing affects leaching

Nitrate levels in the water around participating farms in the Souris area are being tested in a watershed management program that is investigating the best time of year to plow to avoid leaching.

The Souris and Area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation is working with Agriculture Canada and other partners on a three-year project called WEB, which stands for Watershed Evaluation of Beneficial Management Practices.

Now in its second year, the project is trying to prove to farmers that spring plowing is better for the environment and for the pocketbook, said Fred Cheverie, WEB project site manager.

"Does fall plowing leach more nitrates into the ground water then spring plowing? We're going to try and find out, environmentally, what is the benefits of spring plowing over fall plowing, but are also going to try and determine the economic costs," said Cheverie.

If farmers leave cover crops instead of plowing them in the fall, nutrients will stay in the topsoil, rather than seep into the ground, he said.

Crops would then need less fertilizer and that would reduce nitrates.

Cheverie isn't sure if the information will be conclusive by the end of the project next year. 

"Probably not, because every time you do something and your first time going through it, there's always glitches and there's always things come up," he said.

"The longer the project, the better the data. The better the data, then you can soundly make statements that have some sort of sense to it."