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  • (Dr. Jaradat) We live in a world of salt, but we do not recognize it.

  • (Dr. Cihacek) Once it's salinated, you got a problem.

  • (Dr. Hopkins) One of the points that many, many farmers have said is

  • that they're seeing salts in places

  • that they'd never witnessed problems before.

  • (Harold Steppuhn) If I'm a producer and on my ground,

  • I've got a problem with it-- it's not overblown--

  • that's my livelihood off that land.

  • Funding for "Salt of the Earth"

  • is made possible by an EPA Section 319 grant

  • administered by the North Dakota Department of Health.

  • the Eastern North Dakota

  • Resource Conservation and Development Councils,

  • with support provided by the...

  • ...helping people help the land,

  • and by the members of Prairie Public.

  • It's a waste of fertilizer, seed,

  • and your time and effort on it.

  • It went from, I would say 5% to 10% of the farm acres

  • being affected by salinity to up to 40% to 50%.

  • Salinity isn't a new problem, it's a worldwide problem

  • (Matt Olien, narrator) If you've driven by farm fields in the Upper Great Plains,

  • you've no doubt noticed patches of white,

  • chalky soil, usually near roads and ditches,

  • that just doesn't seem to belong,

  • and doesn't seem to go away.

  • Farmers wish it would.

  • It's soil salinity, too much salt in the soil,

  • and it can prove nearly impossible

  • to grow a productive crop in those areas.

  • Overall reduced soil health, so compaction issues,

  • reduced biological activity.

  • You don't have as good of soil to till.

  • It's harder to work the soil.

  • A lot of that depends on your strategies

  • you're using for management-- if you're using

  • conventional tillage or no till or strip till.

  • But it really depends on the producer

  • and what they're willing to try.

  • In my area I would say

  • over 95% of my fields have salinity,

  • and 80% of them have visible white spots

  • that are well in excess of this.

  • All of my producers are very concerned about it

  • and are actively looking for answers and trying new things

  • and trying to seed some cover crops,

  • trying some crop rotations, trying some limited drainage

  • when they can get the permission.

  • So the producer is going to try to pick the crop

  • that gives him the best option and economic return.

  • (narrator) Excess Salinity is caused generally

  • by too wet of conditions resulting in a high water table.

  • Most agree the problem in the Upper Great Plains

  • got worse around 1993

  • when the dry cycle converted to a wet cycle and has never left.

  • But the problem has been around for centuries.

  • (Dr. Jaradat) The land in Mesopotamia is very flat,

  • and irrigating that land created problems

  • in addition to the high temperature

  • and high evaporation from the irrigated water.

  • Salts became concentrated, and the irrigation water

  • coming from the twin rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates,

  • enriched that salt in the Mesopotamia plain,

  • and in less than 1500 years,

  • the problems started showing up

  • to the point that most fertile parts

  • of lower Mesopotamia turned into white crusts.

  • People went hungry, and cities

  • and the empires themselves crumbled

  • because of the loss of their wealth.

  • (Dr. Cihacek) This is a geologic process

  • so it's been going on for a long period of time.

  • We've got relatively young glacial soil.

  • A lot of our soils were pushed in here by the glaciers,

  • spread out on the landscape.

  • So as these salts weather-- they're young materials;

  • there's a lot of things to weather in there.

  • They dissolve and go into the water.

  • Then wherever the water goes, they carry these salt minerals.

  • (Dr. Abdullah) Although it is a problem here,

  • but it's no comparison

  • to the salinity problem in other parts of the world.

  • Just to give you an example-- California,

  • the Joaquin Valley and the Salton Sea.

  • The problems there are much bigger.

  • The world is losing approximately

  • a million hectares a year to salinity,

  • and there are 200 million hectares of saline land

  • which is not producing up to its productive capacity.

  • There are issues in the Nile Delta

  • especially after the construction of the Aswan Dam.

  • After the construction of the dam,

  • this kind of natural remedy, so to speak,

  • of soil fertility and handling salinity stopped abruptly.

  • Based on that, in fact, major health problems were created.

  • (narrator) In our region, the topography of the land

  • has lent itself to salinity problems,

  • forcing many farmers to move this land

  • to the Conservation Reserve Program.

  • When the glaciers came through here,

  • they ground up to pure shale,

  • and most of the salinity that is in our soil

  • originated from the pure shale formation

  • in Eastern North Dakota at least.

  • We were just looking in our training yesterday

  • at a soil survey that was completed

  • in Stutsman County back in the '80's

  • before the wet cycle really started.

  • There was only, I think, about 10 acres

  • of a whole quarter section that was mapped saline.

  • I believe that there's no question

  • but that some of the salinity that we're seeing

  • and the degree and the nature of the salinity,

  • it's a function of what we're doing with water.

  • It's linked to the Red River Valley floods.

  • It's linked to overland flow.

  • So consequently what that means is,

  • is that there's simply more water on the landscape.

  • More water either runs off the landscape.

  • More water resides within the landscape, and there's

  • less water that is moved back up through evapotranspiration.

  • It's roughly 10.8

  • deciSiemens per meter.

  • And in this type of sampling,

  • it'll show less salts 'cause we have

  • a higher concentration of water with this soil, but that would

  • easily equate to 25 deciSiemens on the other methods,

  • and that is restrictive to almost all plant growth.

  • (narrator) Salinity can be invisible or visible.

  • Either way, it is affecting the bottom line and livelihood

  • of producers all over the Upper Great Plains.

  • Joleen Hadrich with North Dakota State University

  • has researched the economic impact of salinity.

  • What we know is that their yield is going to decrease,

  • and that, of course, is going to relate

  • into lower revenues and a lower profit level.

  • Slightly saline would result in about a 15% yield loss.

  • The moderate would be 50% yield loss.

  • When I applied the average crop prices

  • that we're receiving right now in those yield decreases,

  • it resulted in $150 million decrease in revenue.

  • (Bill Schuh) I think it's first and foremost a crop problem

  • and secondly an economic problem.

  • The loss of crop yields from salinization of the soil

  • is a very, very major economic loss for our state.

  • (Joe Breker) I did a recent poll

  • with our group, our corn growers group, and it was

  • fairly common to have producers from all over the state

  • that are in the corn growers that had from 10% to 15%

  • of their farms severely impacted by salinity.

  • In terms of an overall problem, we could say

  • that the agricultural land in Canada,

  • about 1/3 includes salt-affected soils.

  • If I'm a producer, I will try to minimize that--

  • any kind of problems that relate to salinity--

  • primarily because my assessed lands,

  • the assessments, will decrease

  • if my lands are identified as salinized.

  • When we get to an EC of about 8 which is moderately saline,

  • we have at least 50% reduction in yields on wheat.

  • You can have 75% yield loss on corn,

  • and soybeans, you might as well forget it

  • because we're down to maybe 10% or not even worth harvesting.

  • Basically it's an osmotic problem.

  • If you get too much salt on the outside,

  • you have too much osmotic suction on the outside,

  • it competes with the electrolyte in the plant,

  • and the plant reaches a point

  • where it can't imbibe water properly,

  • and you start getting yield reductions.

  • (narrator) Another fear is what has happened

  • in other parts of the world.--

  • health issues, food supply issues and water quality issues.

  • We constantly review the best available science from EPA

  • and their contractors that they work with--universities

  • that develop the best toxicological information

  • that's available to date, and we incorporate those.

  • If it's something immediate, we do it right away

  • in our water quality standard.

  • (Bill Schuh) I don't think that on the basis

  • of current EPA and CDC documents we can conclude

  • that sulphate is particularly damaging to water quality.

  • As far as drinking water quality is concerned,

  • people drink water that have a lot of salts in them.

  • There's a very wide range of qualities in the waters

  • that people drink and are capable of drinking.

  • Right here in this area of the field--this is one of

  • the more obvious places that you'll see salt.

  • The obvious effects of the salt is this white crusting.

  • I see too many guys trying to manage their salinity.

  • They put some into CRP, but they don't go far enough,

  • and then that salinity just continues to move out,

  • and then they're mad because they don't have an impact,

  • and it's just making it worse and worse.

  • (narrator) And as you'll see next, the solutions farmers come up with

  • can mean the difference

  • between lost revenue and successful yields.

  • Good management practices for salinity would include

  • definitely CRP, understanding that,

  • the variable rate and site specific technologies

  • is the biggest one that I'm involved with.

  • (David Burkland) Actually in Grand Forks County here,

  • the level of salinity is

  • one of the higher levels in the Red River Valley

  • so we've tried a lot of different things.

  • We have put some land into CRP,

  • but we've done other things too

  • to try to overcome the saline conditions--just crop choice

  • is a big factor, picking the right crops.

  • Picking crops that are tolerant to saline conditions

  • is real important.

  • (Shawn Kasprick) On the precision ag side of things,

  • we got different site-specific products

  • and services that we can provide that will give the growers

  • a handle on where their salinity is,

  • what impact it has on their crop, and how far out

  • that impact really is effecting their crop.

  • That all will wrap up eventually

  • into a variable rate application for fertility

  • and eventually the grower's bottom line.

  • (Joe Michels) It takes a little while to get established.

  • It did the job for me.

  • We have had salinity issues.

  • There's one hayfield we got from a fella that got sick.

  • He told the landlord that he

  • wanted to rent it to my dad

  • back in the early 70's.

  • We took it over; the ground was white.

  • It would grow foxtail, kochia, and not too good at that.

  • Then the garrison seemed to help.

  • It took a long time to establish, but it is very thick.

  • We got a good root structure

  • where Dad could drive across there with a swather

  • in the water and not get stuck.

  • (Dr. Cihacek) Cover crops, especially deep-rooted cover crops,

  • can have an effect on lowering the water table in an area.

  • My favorite crop to lower water tables is alfalfa

  • which is a perennial, permanent cover type crop.

  • Alfalfa is very, very deep-rooted.

  • (Hal Weiser) Out in Montana, they've really had a lot of success

  • in addressing saline seeps

  • and addressing how to correct those situations.

  • One thing that's happened- there's been a shift

  • in the western part of the state to no till

  • so they've gotten a lot more efficient at water.

  • A couple of years ago in 2008,

  • we did a special initiative through the Equip Program

  • which allowed us to provide cost share

  • to producers that were having issues with salinity,

  • and that was specifically on saline seeps.

  • What they wanna see is which direction the groundwater

  • is flowing when they start testing this,

  • and then they wanna see the levels of the water.