Year ahead will be a good time to focus on soil’s importance

Amount of arable land must meet demand

By: Laura Rance

It was eerie driving across the southern Manitoba prairie the night the power went out Dec. 30.

Familiar farm sites, normally brightly lit by yard lights and made extra-friendly by festive holiday lights, were dark and abandoned-looking. Towns with no street lights appeared as ghost towns. Even the fields, uncharacteristically black for this time of year, appeared more barren in the hazy moonlight.

And even though one knew there were still people in those places, huddled around candles and flashlights and considering their next steps if the outage continued much longer, you got a sense of how lonely this space would be if those farm sites were truly emptied of people and the lights in those homes were suddenly and permanently extinguished.

There was a time in our history when that was a distinct possibility — a time when a vast portion of the Canadian Prairies was at serious risk of becoming a desert, un-farmable and virtually uninhabitable, a time when people were literally packing what belongings they could carry and leaving, blowing out the lights for good.

It was a time when people had forgotten that what really keeps the lights on in farm homes — and for that matter, much of our economy — is our soil.

“The Palliser Triangle in 1935 was in truth well on its way to becoming the Great Canadian Desert,” writes James H. Gray in Men Against the Desert, a book chronicling the massive publicly funded extension effort in the dirty thirties.

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