According to the Canadian Land Inventory, Nova Scotia has over 1.57 million hectares of soil suitable for agricultural use. Based on the classification system, soil types 1-4 are considered suitable for agricultural production. Nova Scotia soils range from classes 2 to 4, with class 3 representing 60% of NS soils.
Nova Scotia soils tend to have silt/clay content which causes them to imperfectly drain of water – this leads to pooling, rill erosion and the accompanying challenges. Nova Scotia soils also tend to be acidic. Limestone is often necessary as a soil amendment to increase the soil pH and encourage the availability of soil nutrients to plants while gypsum can be used to improve soil structure. Gypsum is also known to not increase soil pH, thus being an important nutrient source for crops requiring lower pH values.
Topsoil removal is governed at the municipal level. In a survey of Municipal Plans and By-Laws conducted by the Department of Municipal Affairs regarding topsoil removal provisions, only a handful directly referenced topsoil. These references referred to erosion, flooding and environmental contamination in the context of construction and property development; not in the context of agriculture. The few by-laws that did reference agriculture were for counties that tended to have more class 2 and 3 soils.
In addition to the human removal of topsoil, the changing climate has the potential to put soils at risk of loss. Fluctuating weather events which will bring more erratic precipitation and more frequent freeze-thaw events threaten the existing soil structure and will likely lead to erosion of Nova Scotia’s best quality soil (top organic layer). Much like other risks in agriculture, they cannot be eliminated, but managed with proper supports and planning.
It shall be the policy of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture to convene the appropriate bodies to ensure healthy and productive soils remain throughout Nova Scotia.