Introduction

The Agricultural Land Resource Atlas of Alberta is a collection of agricultural resource maps developed following completion of the Environmental Scan for Agriculture in Alberta by the Alberta Environmental Scan Technical Team in 2003.

The maps in the Atlas were prepared for the environmental scan process. Over time, the value of these maps as a source of resource and environmental information on a broad scale to farmers and ranchers and others involved in developing environmental farm plans became apparent.

Background

Alberta and Canada jointly conducted a scan of the environmental issues facing agriculture in Alberta as a commitment under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Agricultural Policy Framework. The purpose was to identify areas to target Environmental Farm Planning efforts and Beneficial Management Practice incentive funding.

A scan refers to a geographic assessment of the location, extent and severity of environmental issues associated with primary agriculture production. The environmental scan considered 5 components:

  • surface water quality
  • groundwater quality
  • soil erosion risk
  • air quality
  • biodiversity

Consideration towards vulnerability of each component to impacts from agriculture took place with respect to the physical characteristics of the component and agricultural activities carried out. Various geographic-linked data sets combined to form risk factors for each of the 5 components in the area under study.

This environmental scan process resulted in a wealth of agricultural resource maps useful to producers and other agricultural professionals involved in developing environmental farm plans and in other activities related to agricultural land management in Alberta.

Using the atlas

The maps in the Agricultural Land Resource Atlas of Alberta are displayed at a common scale of approximately 1:3,000,000 making comparison between themes easier. All maps also have the Alberta Township System (ATS) displayed for generalized location reference. An explanation of the ATS on its own map in the Atlas.

Various geographic-linked datasets were gathered and compiled in order to produce the maps. Descriptions of each map provide understanding about; the underling data representing the idea or message the map is communicating potential uses of the map and where to look for further information supporting the map.

This Atlas contains generalized land resource information compiled for presentation at the provincial level. This scale of information is appropriate for making broad comparisons between different regions of Alberta. Comparisons between regions are possible with respect to different characteristics or limitations, and the atlas is not appropriate for assessing individual legal locations or for farm scale use.

The 5 risk maps developed for the environmental scan considered the vulnerability of surface water quality, groundwater quality, soil erosion risk, air quality and biodiversity as they relate to the impacts from agriculture. The assessment of vulnerability considers the interaction of the physical characteristics of air, water and soil landscapes and the associated agricultural management activities.

The geographic datasets used to represent these characteristics and activities combined information at various levels of detail into a unit-less ranking from 0 to 1. Rankings display on these risk maps as belonging to one of ten separate class intervals.

The intent of the risk maps is to identify potential issues at the regional level. Individual land locations may be located and the potential risks identified, but further site-specific evaluation and assessment are required to identify beneficial management practices to address or reduce the risk.

Maps and geospatial data

For all maps listed below, additional descriptions, original data sources and maps are available in the Agricultural Land Resource Atlas of Alberta, second edition.

Download the table of available spatial data sources for the atlas

  • Municipal districts and counties of Alberta

    Municipal districts and counties of Alberta map shows the location of the rural, urban and specialized municipalities in Alberta as of 2003. The names and boundaries of municipalities may change from year to year.

    More information about individual municipalities should be available directly from the municipality.

  • Township grid system

    This map represents the province with the Alberta Township System (ATS) overlaid for referencing legal land descriptions in the province. The ATS is a grid network dividing the province into equal-sized square parcels of land, for purposes of administering legal land title. All maps in this Atlas have the ATS overlaid on them.

    Any land parcel’s location in Alberta is searchable by its legal land description. Producers and all landowners rely on this system for legal land descriptions.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Annual total precipitation, 1971 to 2000

    This map describes the annual total precipitation in Alberta for the 30-year period from 1971 to 2000. A 30-year period describes the climate since it is enough time to filter out short-term fluctuations without dominating any long-term trends.

    Annual total precipitation refers to rain, snow and other forms of moisture such as hail. Annual precipitation in Alberta is greatest in the mountains and decreases at lower elevations. In the agricultural areas of the province, 50% to 60% of annual precipitation generally occurs during the growing season, mostly as rain.

    The map shows precipitation in mm according to the following classes: less than 350, 350 to 400, 400 to 450, 450 to 500, 500 to 550, 550 to 600 and greater than 600.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Frost-free period, 1971 to 2000

    This map illustrates the frost-free period in Alberta for the 30 years from 1971 to 2000. A 30-year period describes the climate since it is enough time to filter out short-term fluctuations, but is not dominated by any long-term trends.

    The frost-free period is the number of days between the last date of 0 degrees Celsius in the spring and the first date of 0 degrees in the fall. Frost-free periods in Alberta vary from more than 125 days in the south to less than 85 days in higher elevation, non-agricultural areas.

    The frost-free period presents as days above 0 degrees in the following classes: less than 85, 85 to 95, 95 to 105, 105 to 115, 115 to 125 and greater than 125.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Annual solar radiation, 1971 to 2000

    The data represents the annual solar radiation in Alberta over the 30-year period from 1971 to 2000. A 30-year period describes the climate since it is enough time to filter out short-term fluctuation by is not dominated by any long-term trends.

    The amount of solar radiation received at the earth's surface varies with two factors that depend on latitude:

    • angle of the sun's rays
    • hours of daylight

    The distance from the equator, and therefore the intensity of the sun's radiation has the greatest effect on climate. Canada's position in the northern portion of the earth's northern hemisphere means that it receives less solar radiation compared to countries nearer the equator. The northward decrease in solar radiation is also noticeable within Alberta.

    Temperatures are generally higher in southern Alberta in comparison to northern Alberta because the south receives more solar radiation.

    The annual solar radiation measures as megajoules per square metre (MJ/m2) and maps to the following classes: less than 4200, 4200 to 4400, 4400 to 4600, 4600 to 4800 and greater than 4800.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Areal extent of wetlands in the agriculture area

    This map displays the density of wetland habitat in the agricultural region of Alberta. Wetlands are depression areas in the local landscape that are wet for a long enough period that the plants and animals living in them are adapted to, and often dependent on, living in wet conditions for at least part of their life cycle. In drier areas of the province, wetlands tend to be more intermittent, while in wetter areas, wetlands tend to be more persistent.

    Topography also affects the occurrence of wetlands. Hummocky landscapes allow for pooling of water in depressions, while landscapes with longer slopes, for example, the foothills, generally have better defined surface drainage patterns. Interaction between the wet area, the wetland margin and upland area all influence wetlands.

    Areal extent of wetlands in each Soil Landscapes of Canada (SLC) polygon is the basis of this map. The area of wetlands as a percentage of the total area of the SLC displays on the map using the following classes: less than 1, 1 to 4, 4 to 8, 8 to 13 and greater than 13.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Soil groups

    This map displays the distribution of the main soil types found within the province. The distribution pattern of soils in Alberta links strongly to climate and parent materials. Climate affects the location of different soil groups. For example, Brown Chernozems represent the driest area in southeastern Alberta.

    Heading north and west, the soils and associated vegetation reflect the increase in available moisture.

    • Chernozemic soils are primarily associated with grassland vegetation.
    • Luvisolic soils are associated with mixed forest vegetation under native conditions.
    • Brunisolic soils within Alberta are generally associated with well-drained landscapes.
    • Cryosolic soils have permafrost within one meter of the surface.
    • Organic soils generally occur in association with Luvisolic soils.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Soil texture of agriculture area

    This map illustrates the distribution of soil parent material, textures in the agricultural region of Alberta. Relative proportions of the sand, silt and clay particles define soil texture.

    The Soil Texture Triangle identifies the textural class of a soil at the intersection of the percentage of sand (x-axis) and the percentage of clay (y-axis). The percentage of silt of the soil is the remainder to add up to 100%.

    For presentation on this map, the texture classes of soil parent materials identified with each Agricultural Region of Alberta Soil Inventory Database (AGRASID) soil landscape polygon were combined into 4 more general groups: fine, medium, moderately coarse and very coarse. These are represented on the map by solid colours when the areal extent of the texture group occupies more than or equal to 60% of the soil area. Textural groupings with patterned symbols are complex areas where texture groups occupy more than or equal to 30%, but less than 60% of the area.

    Other groupings identified in the map legend are Peat, Undifferentiated and Water Bodies. Peat soils have greater than 30% organic matter and are greater than 40 cm thick. Undifferentiated soils refer to soils where the textural group is unknown. Water Bodies refers to permanent bodies of water.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Saline soils of the agricultural area

    This map displays the occurrence of saline soils in the agricultural region of Alberta. A saline soil is a non-alkali (pH less than 8.5 and exchangeable-sodium less than 15%) soil containing soluble salts in great enough quantities that they interfere with the growth of most crop plants.

    For this map, saline soils were defined as having a soil horizon with an electrical conductivity of greater than or equal to 4 millisiemens (mS) per cm within 30 cm of the surface. This is the level of salinity that crop growth reduces significantly.

    The representation of the areal extent of saline soils within each AGRASID soil landscape polygon is as a percentage of the total area using the following classes: greater than 30, 10 to 30 and less than 10.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Solonetzic soils of the agricultural area

    This map displays the distribution of Solonetzic soils in the agricultural region of Alberta. Solonetzic soils have developed on saline parent material that is high in sodium and have a characteristic hardpan layer that has formed in the subsoil. This hardpan is very hard when dry and has low permeability when wet. This results in restricted root and water penetration that may limit the productivity of these soils. Solonetzic soils occur in association with Chernozemic soils and, to a lesser extent, with Luvisolic soils.

    Identification of the AGRASID soil landscape polygons containing soils belonging to the Solonetzic Order took place, and then representation of the areal extent of these soils as a percentage of the total soil polygon area occurred using the following classes: greater than 30, 10 to 30 and less than 10.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Organic matter content of cultivated soils of the agricultural area

    This map displays the percentage of organic matter in the surface layer of cultivated soils in the agricultural region of Alberta. Soil organic matter (SOM) originates primarily from the decomposition of plant biomass. SOM improves both the physical and chemical properties of soil and has beneficial effects on agricultural soil quality.

    SOM displays on the map as a percentage using the following classes:

    • less than 2 – very low
    • 2 to 4 – low
    • 4 to 6 – medium
    • 6 to 8 – high
    • greater than 8 – very high

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Organic soils of the agricultural area

    This map displays the distribution of organic soils in the agricultural region of Alberta. Organic soils consist of layers of material with greater than 30% organic matter and a total thickness of greater than 40 cm.

    Organic soils saturate with water for most of the year unless drained. Saturation inhibits decomposition and encourages continued accumulation of organic material. Drainage of these soils can result in a rapid increase in decomposition and a reduction in the thickness of the organic material.

    Mapping organic soils using the AGRASID was a two-step process involving; identification of soil landscape polygons belonging to the Organic order, and classifying these soil landscapes according to aerial extent as a percentage of total soil landscape, polygon area as three broad classes: greater than 30, 10 to 30 and less than 10.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Water erosion risk of the agricultural area

    This map displays the risk of soil degradation by water in the agricultural region of Alberta. Water erosion is a concern because it reduces soil quality by removing soil particles and nutrients, and reduces water quality if these particles suspend and travel into nearby water bodies.

    The map uses five classes to describe the water erosion risk on bare, unprotected mineral soil: negligible, low, moderate, high and severe.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Wind erosion risk of the agricultural area

    This map displays the risk of soil degradation by wind in the agricultural region of Alberta. Wind erosion is a concern because it reduces soil quality by removing soil nutrients, smaller soil particles and organic matter. Wind erosion can reduce air quality during extreme erosion events and reduce water quality if eroded particles drift into streams and lakes.

    The map uses 5 classes to describe the wind erosion risk on bare, unprotected mineral soil:

    • negligible
    • low
    • moderate
    • high
    • severe

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Aquifer vulnerability index for the agricultural area

    The Aquifer Vulnerability Index (AVI) is a method for assessing the vulnerability of aquifers to surface contaminants. An aquifer is a geologic formation that is permeable enough to transmit sufficient quantities of water supporting the possible development of water wells.

    In the assessment of aquifer vulnerability to potential contamination, the depth to the aquifer and the types of geological materials above them are considered. For example, aquifers closer to the surface overlain with pervious surface materials are more vulnerable to contaminants, as compared to aquifers found deeper and covered with thick layers of impervious materials.

    The AVI ratings indicate the potential of surficial materials to transmit water with contaminants to the aquifer over time. The AVI ratings display on the map in classes ranging from low to high. An area with a low class rating implies that water percolating through the surficial materials in this area takes a long time – in the range of thousands of years – to reach the aquifer. On the other hand, in an area with a high rating, predictions are such that contaminated water may reach the aquifer within tens of years.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Fertilizer expense index for the agricultural area

    This map shows the relative expense of fertilizer and lime in the agricultural area of Alberta. It displays an estimate of the degree to which agriculture may affect nutrient levels in surface and groundwater.

    The classes shown on the map are ranked between 0 (lowest) and 1 (highest).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Chemical expense index for the agricultural area

    This map describes the relative expense of farm chemicals (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) in the agricultural area of Alberta. It displays an estimate of the degree to which crop production agriculture may contribute to surface or groundwater contamination.

    The classes shown on the map are ranked between 0 (lowest) and 1 (highest).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Manure production index for the agricultural area

    This map describes the relative amount of manure production in the agricultural area of Alberta. It displays an estimate of the degree to which livestock production may contribute to nutrient loading, pathogens and odour.

    The classes shown on the map are ranked between 0 (lowest) and 1 (highest).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Cultivation intensity index for the agricultural area

    This map presents the relative cultivation intensity in the agricultural area of Alberta. Cultivation intensity refers to the frequency of cultivation associated with the following management systems: no-till, conservation tillage, conventional tillage and summer fallow. It displays an estimate of the degree to which the practice of cultivation contributes to wind and water erosion.

    The classes shown on the map are ranked between 0 (lowest) and 1 (highest).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Number of species at risk in Alberta

    This map describes the number of animal and plant species that are at risk in Alberta. "Species at risk" is a term used by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada that includes the following categories of plants and animals:

    • Extirpated species – no longer in the wild in Canada.
    • Endangered species – species facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
    • Threatened species – likely to become an endangered species if there is no action to reverse factors leading to its extirpation or extinction.
    • Species of special concern – species that may become threatened or endangered due to biological characteristics or identified threats.

    The number of species at risk display on the map using the following classes: 0, 1 to 3, 4 to 6, 7 to 9, and 10 to 16.

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Surface water quality risk for the agricultural area

    This map aids assessment of surface water quality, risk for the agricultural area of Alberta. Agricultural activities that may have an impact on surface water quality include livestock production, crop production, and agrochemical use. The map combines and ranks the contribution of these agricultural activities to surface water quality risk assigning values between 0 (lowest risk) and 1 (highest risk).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Groundwater quality risk for the agricultural area

    This map displays an assessment of groundwater quality risk for the agricultural area of Alberta. Agricultural activities that may have an impact on groundwater quality include livestock, crop production and agrochemical use. These activities along with the physical characteristics represented by aquifer vulnerability and available moisture combine to produce this map.

    The classes shown on the map were ranked from 0 (lowest risk) to 1 (highest risk).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Soil erosion risk for the agricultural area

    This map displays an assessment of soil erosion risk for the agricultural area of Alberta. Loss of protective residue cover through cultivation will increase the potential risk of soil erosion. The vulnerability of the soil to erosion combined with the intensity of cultivation determines the degree to which the soil may be at risk.

    The classes shown on the map were ranked from 0 (lowest risk) to 1 (highest risk).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Air quality risk for the agricultural area

    This map displays an assessment of air quality risk for the agricultural area of Alberta. Agricultural activities that may have some influence on air quality include manure production (odour) and cultivation intensity (particulate matter). The air sheds of the agricultural region of Alberta assume uniform physical susceptibility to risk from agricultural activities.

    The classes shown on the map were ranked from 0 (lowest risk) to 1 (highest risk).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

  • Biodiversity risk for the agricultural area

    This map displays an assessment of biodiversity risk for the agricultural area of Alberta. Biodiversity risk refers to the loss of biological diversity, or the variety of plant and animal life in agricultural landscapes. There is a belief that this decrease in biodiversity affects the overall health of the environment and that a diverse ecosystem is better able to respond to environmental changes or stresses, such as floods, drought, pests and disease.

    The goal of maintaining biodiversity in agricultural landscapes may be more attainable through prevention of further losses in areas where the impact by agriculture is less rather than through efforts to restore biodiversity in more heavily impacted areas. A combination of information how specific physical features affect biodiversity and economic information on agricultural activities showing the affect of human activity on biodiversity was the basis of this risk map.

    The classes on the map display risk in intervals progressing from 0 (lowest risk) to 1 (highest risk).

    Geospatial data

    View available spatial data sources for the Agriculture Land Resource Atlas

Resources

Municipal maps and statistics

Municipal Districts and County data

AltaLIS Ltd.

Various provincial and municipal maps can be purchased at:

Acknowledgements

Funding for the Atlas was provided by the Government of Alberta as part of its contribution to the Environment Chapter of the Agricultural Policy Framework.

The following groups require recognition for their contribution of data used to produce the maps: Government of Alberta, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, AltaLIS Ltd., Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Environment Canada, Norwest Labs, Statistics Canada and the United States National Climate Data Center.