Keynote Speakers Sessions

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    • Keynote Speakers
      Dr. Thea Whitman

      Thea Whitman is from Nova Scotia and did her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science at Queen’s University. She earned her MS and PhD in Soil Science at Cornell with Johannes Lehmann, after which she was a postdoc in Mary Firestone’s lab at the University of California—Berkeley. Now she is an assistant professor of Soil Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Department of Soil Science. Her lab’s research is broadly focused on terrestrial carbon biogeochemistry, soil microbial ecology, and climate change.

      Title of the Keynote: Burning questions: Investigating the effects of fire on soil microbes

      Dr. Thea Whitman
      O.N. Allen Professor of Soil Microbiology
      Elton D. and Carrie R. Aberle Fellow
      University of Wisconsin - Madison

      Global fire regimes are changing, with shifts in wildfire duration, frequency, and severity predicted for North American forests over the next 100 years. Additionally, in many ecosystems, prescribed fires are an important management tool. Fires can result in dramatic changes to C stocks, through the combustion of biomass and organic soil horizons, as well as through the production of pyrogenic organic matter. In addition, fires can restructure plant and microbial communities within the ecosystem, which can have long-lasting effects on ecosystem functions. However, these effects depend on fire severity. We have investigated the effects of fire on soil microbial communities (bacteria and fungi), in prescribed fires in Wisconsin, as well as in an unprecedentedly extreme fire season in the boreal forest of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Our approaches have included field surveys, laboratory experiments, and meta-analyses. I will address the following questions: (1) What factors structure soil microbial communities post-fire? (2) Which specific taxa respond positively to fires? (3) What ecological strategies allow bacteria and fungi to thrive post-fire?

      Prof. Dr. Raj Khosla

      Prof. Dr. Raj Khosla of Kansas State University is a globally recognized authority on Precision Agriculture. He has been engaged in precision agriculture since inception and has made significant contributions in the development and spread of Precision Agriculture worldwide. He is the Founder and Past-President of the International Society of Precision Agriculture. Most recently, he served as the member of National Academy of Science Executive Committee on Science Breakthrough 2030. In 2017, his research was recognized with the “Werner L. Nelson Award for Diagnosis of Yield-Limiting Factors Award” by the American Society of Agronomy. Previously, he has been recognized as the “Precision Ag Educator of the Year 2015” by the US agricultural industry. In 2012, Dr. Khosla was named the Jefferson Science Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences and was appointed as the Senior Science Advisor on Food Security to the U.S. Department of State. In 2011, he was inducted by NASA to the US “Presidential Advisory Board on Positioning, Navigation and Timing” to work on the US space based GPS policy.

      Prof. Khosla is the Fellow of American Society of Agronomy; Fellow of Soil Science Society of America; Fellow of Soil and Water Conservation Society and Honorary Life Fellow of International Society of Precision Agriculture.

      His main research focus has been on “Management of in-field soil and crop spatial variability using innovative technologies (such as GPS, GIS, and Remote-sensing) for variable rate precision nutrient management, particularly Nitrogen. He has generated many discoveries in precision agriculture, most widely recognized among them is the innovative technique of quantifying variability of spatially diverse soils using satellite based remote-sensing to create management zones, which is currently being used by farmers in Colorado, across US and in other countries around the world. He currently has projects in multiple countries and is championing efforts to enhance crop input use efficiency, productivity, profitability, and sustainability of large and small scale agricultural production systems. He has co-authored over 200 publications (book chapters, refereed journal articles, extension articles, proceedings, bulletins, reports, popular press articles, digital media, and others). He has been invited globally to over 30 countries.

      Title of the Keynote: Future of Farming: Big Data, Analytics and Precision Agriculture

      Prof. Raj Khosla
      Professor and Head of Agronomy Department
      Kansas State University

      Precision Agriculture has been around for over two decades. The first decade had a strong focus on quantifying spatial variability in soils, the second decade spent significant time on science and technology of precision management of nutrients. Now, with increasing adoption of Precision management techniques and practices there is interest in harnessing the power of data to grapple the new paradigm of making management decision based on evidence. The success of future farming practices, output, efficiency and sustainability, would rely heavily on “farming the data” as much as “farming the land”. This presentation will empower the audience with research based information on how precision agriculture is embracing information and communication technologies and numerous aspects of big-data to transform agronomy and crop production systems. This presentation will include examples of where big-data has been pivotal in addressing agronomic challenges as well the greater role big-data can play in enhancing our understanding of variability in crops and soil properties as well as analyzing spatially dependent datasets to make highly accurate and timely agronomic decisions.

      Prof. Sieglinde Snapp

      Professor Sieg Snapp is a Soils and Cropping Systems Ecologist at Michigan State University and Associate Director of the Center for Global Change and Earth Observations. A fellow of the SSSA and ASA, winner of the International Agronomy Service Award and MSU’s Distinguished Beal Professor award, she has edited two books and published over 200 journal articles, chapters and extension bulletins on sustainable soil management and integrated nutrient management. Research insights from her on-farm and long-term experimentation include unique roles for legumes and perennials in nitrogen cycling, mobilization of phosphorus, and soil carbon accrual. Translation of these principles to practical conservation practices in support of farmer adoption is a particular interest of Snapp’s. This has led to innovations in extension, open data and participatory research design, which have been adopted by researchers, extension and farmers producing staple food crops from Michigan to Malawi.

      Title of the Keynote: Linking science to local knowledge systems: A soil science revolution

      Prof. Sieglinde Snapp
      Professor, Soils and Cropping Systems Ecologist
      Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences
      Center for Global Change and Earth Observations
      Michigan State University
      Senior Advisor to Innovation Systems for the Drylands, ICRISAT

      Snapp’s talk will discuss indicators of sustainable management and soil health, informed by participatory research with farmers, extension and policy makers from Michigan to Malawi, Southern Africa. Recent advances highlighted include the use of handheld sensors and big data to link science to local knowledge. A proof of concept is underway across Central Malawi cultivated lands where maps of soil carbon status are being updated based on linking local data to satellite data, to inform community and farm level management. Working with Malawi extension, targeted fertilizer and conservation practices have been provided to thousands of Malawi small scale producers. This evidence-based foundation supports local adaptation and actionable information on soil nutrient and organic matter status. For more information, check out

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      Soil taxonomy and advances in pedology
      Daniel Saurette

      Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON

      Angela Bedard-Haughn

      Department of Soil Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK

      The Canadian System of Soil Classification (CSSC) was last updated in 1998, managed largely by AAFC. Federal expertise in soil classification has declined significantly, coinciding with increased activity in the private sector. With this shift, the process for updating the CSSC has become unclear. The Pedology Committee was asked to take responsibility for the CSSC and in 2011 produced a Special Edition of the Canadian Journal of Soil Science dedicated to soil taxonomy. At the 2019 CSSS meeting, the Pedology Committee proposed to take ownership of the CSSC and develop a technical committee to oversee the update of the CSSC and the eventual release of the 4th edition. The Soil Taxonomy and Advances in Pedology Session will provide the opportunity for pedologists to develop technical presentations that outline proposed changes to the CSSC. Although the primary focus of the session will be to advance work towards a 4th edition of the CSSC, the session will also provide a venue for pedological research to be highlighted. Advances in pedometrics and morphometrics, specifically proximal sensing for soil horizon delineation, morphological descriptions, and prediction of soil properties would be encouraged.

      Soil science education in a COVID-19 world
      Dr. Tom Yates

      University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK

      Dr. Maja Krzic

      University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

      Dr. Amanda Diochon

      Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON

      Dr. Mathew Swallow

      Mount Royal University, Calgary, AB

      This session will focus on presentations that demonstrate philosophies, ideas, techniques, and/or teaching methods that can or have enhanced undergraduate and graduate soil science education, extension and outreach, and K–12 education, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students' perspective on online learning of soil science is particularly welcome. We invite our society members with teaching experience, extension and outreach educators, and students to submit abstracts for this session.

      Agroecology and soil health
      Serra W Buchanan

      University of Toronto Scarborough, ON

      Stephanie Lavergne

      Dalhousie University, Truro, NS

      Caroline Halde

      Université Laval, Québec, QC

      This session focuses on the impacts of agroecological farming practices on soil health and functioning, within a Canadian context. Topics of soil health can include, nutrient retention and chemical cycling, stability, microbial diversity, water retention, recovery from soil contamination etc. Agroecological practices have been heralded as a way to improve soil fertility, reduce soil erosion, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and protect biological and genetic diversity. These practices can take many forms, including intercropping, agroforestry, crop rotation, no-till practices, all with varying levels of farmer engagement, intensity and scale. By understanding the underlying mechanisms which govern soil functioning, we can make more informed and evidence-based decisions on how to transform agricultural landscapes from common conventional to diverse agroecological. Can diversified crop systems improve soil fertility? What are regenerative soil practices? How do low input practices impact soil health and greenhouse gas emissions? What are the environmental and economic benefits or disadvantages of agroecological practices as related to soil health?

      What long-term agricultural studies have taught us in terms of best management practices for soil health and crop production
      Charlotte Norris

      Natural Resources Canada, Victoria, BC

      Myles Dyck

      University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB

      There is a great history in Canada of long-term research on best management practices for agricultural production. Often the questions at the time these plots were established are less pertinent today, but the long-term results remain relevant. Through curiosity and necessity, the research questions pursued on these sites has shifted over the decades. Today, as we grapple with climate change and an increasing population, the public is taking a more active interest in soil management practices for food production. Soil health is the new lens through which best management practices are being assessed. Soil health is when soils function as a vital living ecosystem that sustain plants, animals, and humans. However, the soil properties and processes that underpin soil function are numerous, complex, dynamic, non-independent, and occur across a variety of time scales – some decadal. Therefore, long-term studies are well-positioned to inform best management practices for maintaining soil health and food production. This session will explore how the rich history of agricultural research in Canada can help answer the urgent questions of today. This session welcomes contributions that synthesize long-term research results from sites across Canada that can help inform our understanding of best management practices for sustainable food production. Contributions from across the food production spectrum, for example, rangeland, horticulture, or grain production systems, are welcome.

      Belowground biological responses to disturbance in soils
      Thea Whitman

      University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

      Timothy Philpott

      British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Williams Lake, BC, Canada

      Belowground organisms play a key role in numerous processes of critical interest, such as carbon cycling, nutrient dynamics, or plant productivity. However, disturbances may disrupt these communities and their associated functions. With changing patterns of natural disturbances, such as wildfires or extreme weather events, and new anthropogenic disturbances, such as the introduction of soil contaminants or invasive species, it is essential to understand how disturbances affect soil organisms. The goal of this proposed session is to bring together soil biology research in the context of disturbance in natural and managed ecosystems. We will solicit research on all types of belowground soil organisms, including fungi, bacteria, archaea, small eukaryotes, viruses, and soil fauna. We will welcome research in a diversity of systems, such as forests, grasslands, agroecosystems, or tundra, and will aim to have representation from as wide a range of ecosystems in Canada as possible. Within these systems, we will consider natural as well as anthropogenic soil disturbances, such as wildfire, species invasions, tillage, industrial contamination, or extreme weather events. We will encourage research that is framed within the context of ecological theory, as well as studies that include functional measurements in addition to community composition data. We anticipate that the session will be of interest to a diverse set of researchers from across Canada.

      Soil organic matter changes across ecosystems and time
      Adam Gillespie

      University of Guelph, Guelph, ON

      This session focuses on organic matter dynamics and processes across ecosystems, land management and future changes. The continued interest in the influence of land use, landscape process and environmental changes have revealed new approaches in our understanding of soil organic matter stability and structures. We seek presentations covering organic matter stability, long-term monitoring, molecular characterization, organo-mineral interactions and effects of land use changes.

      Connecting soil processes to 4R nutrient practices
      Tom Bruulsema

      IPNI Canada, Guelph, ON

      David Burton

      Dalhousie University, Truro, NS

      Mario Tenuta

      University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB

      Farmer choices for source, rate, time and place of nutrient application impact the soil processes governing the footprint of the food they produce. The agri-food industry strives to connect practices to outcomes, but gaps in availability of information limit its ability to do so. Soil sciences have contributed to the delivery of metrics but more needs to be done to build public understanding of today’s food and farming systems. This session will focus on projects aimed at linking the management of crop nutrition to outcomes including productivity, soil health, nutrient use efficiency, air and water quality, and carbon balance.

      Nitrogen efficiency and environmental impacts
      Athyna N. Cambouris

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Québec, QC

      Keith Reid

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Guelph, ON

      Noura Ziadi

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Québec, QC

      Nitrogen (N) fertilizer is credited with half of worldwide food production. It is in the atmosphere, soil, and water and is essential to all life, but its abundant use also poses substantial risks to climate, human health, and ecosystems. Nitrogen for agriculture includes fertilizer, biologically fixed, manure, recycled crop residue, and soil-mineralized N, and managing these diverse sources poses a huge challenge for modern agriculture. Presentations with a strong focus on all the new technologies to enhance nitrogen efficiency and reduce environmental impacts are welcomed in this session. Examples of new technologies: remote or in situ soil or plant sensors, controlled release fertilizers, apps, etc.

      Soil science studies beyond conventional agricultural systems
      Mervin St. Luce

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Swift Current, SK

      Judith Nyiraneza

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Charlottetown, PE

      This session focuses on restorated and reclaimed soils following oil and natural gas extraction or pipeline constructions as well as techniques to remove heavy metal from contaminated water and soils. Soil properties characterization and crop production after land reclamation and impacts of different techniques used for land reclamation such as replacing top soil or the use of peat and biochar will be discussed. The role of less common soil conservation management practice such as the use of grassland-set-asides in enhancing soil health will be presented as well as long-term soil N dynamics in temperate rainforests. The effects of veterinary drug in cattle production such as Ivermectin which in turn is excreted in cow dung on selected soil biological properties of a grassland will be presented. Finally, a discussion on how long-term dry and wet periods affect the recharge rate of semi-arid Canadian environments will be carried out.

      Biochar – its impact on soil and crop in Canadian agriculture
      Maren Oelbermann

      University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON

      Gordon Price

      Dalhousie University, Truro, NS

      Joann Whalen

      McGill University, Montreal, QC

      Noura Ziadi

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Québec, QC

      Biochar is a carbon-rich product that is obtained when a sustainable source of biomass, such as wood, crop residues, manure, is heated without oxygen. There has been a growing interest in the use of biochar as an agricultural/horticultural soil amendment in over the past decade. This is due to biochar’s potential to improve soil characteristics and ability to contribute to climate change mitigation via carbon sequestration and lowered greenhouse gas emissions. Several studies in temperate soils have investigated the effect of biochar on different soil physical, chemical and biological parameters and crop performance (e.g. yield). This session will highlight the latest research of the use and role of biochar as an agricultural (and forest) soil amendment. Presentations will include all aspects of biochar with research results across multiple scales ranging from laboratory and field-based work to modeling. Sample topics discussed include biochar and phosphorus, biochar mixed with residues and/or fertilizer, greenhouse gas emissions, climate change resilience, biochar and allelopathic effects. This session parallels a special issue that will be published in the Canadian Journal of Soil Science, and contributors to this session are invited to submit a paper to the special issue.

      Promotion of soil health and water quality with sustainable agroecosystem management
      Karen Thompson

      Trent University, Peterborough, ON

      Kim Schneider

      University of Guelph, Guelph, ON

      Healthy agricultural soils are critical for long-term sustainable agricultural production; however, agroecosystem management practices that promote soil health may have unintended trade-offs/consequences to surrounding water quality. This session will focus on the intersection of soil health and water quality, with an emphasis on tightening nutrient cycles to promote sustainable production systems while decreasing nutrient losses (phosphorus and nitrogen) to tile, ground, and surface waters. The potential for management practices (e.g. forage and service crops, tillage management) to align goals related to improved soil health and water quality will be explored.

      The soil-water nexus
      Hida Manns

      Trent University, Peterborough, ON

      Yefang Jiang

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

      The soil-water interface connects the changes in moisture availability with the physical properties of soil where our understanding becomes more important with extremes of rainfall. At the land surface, soil porosity is a major factor in infiltration and drainage from landscape hydrology to agricultural fields. We welcome understanding of the factors related to the soil-water interface in agriculture, grassland and forest soils from a wide range of topics; conservation, soil science and unsaturated zone hydrology. Topics may cover a diversity of form from monitoring, modelling and experiments that concern soil water quantity (in regards to soil physics, pore size and hydraulic conductivity for example) and also stream water quality from transport and soil-water interactions. Studies advancing theory and technology in soil testing that affect water management in the vadose zone are encouraged. The range of topics will highlight the importance of the soil-water interface, and add to the conversation of soil-water management.

      Soil-derived greenhouse gases: Measurement and mitigation
      Rich Farrell

      University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK

      Kate Congreves

      University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK

      Successful greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation and adaptation programs require both reliable inventories of current emissions and the ability to forecast management-induced changes on these emissions. For example, nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions constitute a key sustainability indicator, and N2O is an important component of the overall carbon footprint. Thus, unraveling the complex interplay of factors controlling N2O emissions will be central to developing next-generation beneficial management practices (BMPs) that optimize both the agronomic and environmental performance of cropping systems. This session will focus on the use of innovative approaches and techniques to better understand the production of soil-derived GHGs (N2O, CO2, and CH4), improve our understanding of the temporal and spatial aspects of carbon footprinting, examine the impacts of crop management on GHG emissions from agricultural landscapes, and assess management practices aimed at minimizing GHG emissions while protecting production potential. We encourage submissions that expand the knowledge and understanding of soil GHG measurement and mitigation.

      Modelling carbon sequestration in Canadian landscapes to identify ‘negative emission’ opportunities to help realize Canada’s emission reduction pledge
      Roland Kroebel

      Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, AB

      In the Paris climate agreement, Canada has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. However, it is yet unclear where these emission reduction will take place. As a safeguard, Canada has included the option of ‘negative emission’ measures, which usually are achieved by sequestering carbon in living biomass or soils. While practices like no-tillage in Western Canada or cover crops in Eastern Canada have been identified as ways to sequester carbon in agricultural soils, storage requirements go far beyond was has been achieved so far. Furthermore, temperature increases promise to shift the soil equilibrium states by increasing decomposition, and our forest systems, at least currently, act as a source rather than a sink. The goal of this session is to identify land use and land cover management practices that can be implemented within the Canadian context or specific regions thereof within the framework of existing or envisioned ecosystems. The challenge in this context will be to identify solutions for the current environmental settings, but to take into account that climate change will alter the playing field over the course of the commitment period and thereafter. As such, modelling studies are likely best suited to provide direction, however, the climate change assessment is meant as a desirable addition, not a necessary requirement. Please submit your potential contributions by March 1, 2020.

      Progress in predictive digital mapping
      Dr. Brandon Heung

      Dalhousie University, Truro, NS

      Dr. Asim Biswas

      University of Guelph, Guelph, ON

      Dr. Angela Bedard-Haughn

      University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK

      Advancements in technology and the increasing availability of geospatial datasets have led to the development of methodologies for mapping, modelling, and visualization of the pedosphere over multiple spatial and temporal scales. Predictive digital soil mapping (PDSM), the intersection of geographical information systems (GIS) and soil science, is an emerging field of research in Canada. The purpose of this field is to produce geographically referenced soil information by correlating legacy and/or field collected soil data to readily available environmental data using a variety of modelling approaches. Some key issues that are relevant in the field of PDSM may include the development and assessment of soil sampling procedures over space; the acquisition of soil-environmental data layers; the application of remote sensing and proximal sensing techniques; the comparison of soil prediction models; the use and visualization of PDSM products to perform digital soil assessments; and other related topics. The objective of this proposed session is to facilitate the dissemination of PDSM activities across Canada as well as to promote this subfield of discipline.