© AgMedia Inc.
by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario ALUS Alliance is asking the province to help launch several pilots next year across Ontario similar to the award-winning one in Norfolk County that pays farmers an annual fee for environmental services.
There’s a lot of support for the idea in the agricultural community, say the program’s proponents. One farmer agrees but says adjustments are needed.
Larry McGill, Middlesex County cash crop and beef farmer, says the program could be financially viable for farmers if consideration is given to yield patterns over the years to determine the least profitable spots, which could subsequently be set aside for alternative land use.
The Norfolk program offers a per-acre fee - $150 for a full acre and $75 for a partially-used acre. Proposals for other pilots call for a per-acre fee based on local land rental rates. But McGill, who has been involved in the preservation of prairie tall grass in his area, says payment should reflect the time and effort a farmer puts into maintaining the newly created natural area.
Maitland Valley Conservation Authority general manager Phil Beard says the Authority’s board of directors supports the recently formed Ontario ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) Alliance and is one of four groups that have registered interest in hosting a pilot project.
Beard says the board believes landowners should be compensated for taking land out of production and putting it into natural infrastructure, such as forests, wetlands and buffer strips because it’s society that benefits, not the landowner. “We just think that’s a fair approach.”
Norfolk County farmer Bryan Gilvesy says it would be up to the provincial government to decide how much of environmental goods and services from farmland it wants to buy.
Gilvesy says the Alliance has submitted a proposal to Ontario’s Climate Change Secretariat, part of the Cabinet Office, for two or three more pilot projects. “The next logical step to grow this out is to test it in other counties” with the eventual goal being a province-wide program.
In the Norfolk ALUS project, launched by the Norfolk Federation of Agriculture, farmers get a per-acre fee for environmental services, such as planting trees or vegetative buffers along waterways for cleaner water and air or habitats for native bees. An estimated 70 farm families are participating this year. About 500 acres will be enrolled by the end of this planting season.
Funding comes from 16 different sources, including the province’s Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, and groups such as agricultural, environmental, conservation and hunter and angler. The program also splits the start-up costs with farmers.
John Clement, general manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, says there’s a lot of support for ALUS but it’s scattered across Ontario. The Christian Farmers, environmental, conservation and sustainable food groups formed the Alliance in March to galvanize support “in one initiative,” he says.
The general farm group is part of the Alliance because it has an environmental ethic and “we’ve always thought that farmers are natural stewards of the environment but sometimes the signals from the marketplace don’t always encourage that,” Clement explains.
Gilvesy says he envisions ALUS eventually helping farmers to participate in the carbon market “by creating a broad bundle of environmental services that will in the long run create sustainable carbon solutions.”
In May, the Norfolk pilot earned a Premier’s Agri-Food Innovation Excellence regional award. BF