Managing snow to abate salinity

TitleManaging snow to abate salinity
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Conference1998
AuthorsSteppuhn, H., and Miller M.
Conference Name66th Annual Western Snow Conference
Series TitleProceedings of the 66th Annual Western Snow Conference
Date PublishedApril 1998
PublisherWestern Snow Conference
Conference LocationSnowbird, Utah
KeywordsPrairie snow management, Salinity, Wheat

Food crops do not grow well in saline soils. Even relatively low concentrations of excess calcium, sodium and other salts dissolved in soil solutions reduce the grain yields of spring wheat, and other crops, by 5, 10, 20 percent or more. In arid or semiarid climates, ground water which approaches the soil surface typically leads to root-zone salinization. Subsurface drainage in these climates can usually lower the water table, but subsequent leaching of the offending salts out of the root zones often requires additional surface water to complement the natural precipitation. In many arid farming districts, irrigation provides this leaching water. Unfortunately, salinityaffects some 30 million hectares of semiarid, North American farmland for which irrigation waters are not available. Fortunately, many of these dryland farms exist in locations blessed with snowfall and wind. In this study, single rows of perennial grass, sown as windbreaks on 15-meter centers across drained saline fields, capture blowing snow and supply meltwater for leaching the root zones just before spring seeding. The mean salinity of saturated soil paste extracts obtained from sets of soil samples taken every fall from such a site in southwestern Saskatchewan averaged 14.1 dS/m during 1985-90 before the drainage was installed, 13.0 dS/m for 1991-92 before the grass windbreaks became established, and 9.4 for 1993-96 with both drainage and snow management.