ALUS program puts the farmer in the driver’s seat

By MPP Toby Barrett

The public appetite to protect and promote our natural environment continues to grow.

With the majority of southern Ontario’s land base under private ownership, it remains critical to engage those who own the land as conservation partners on the working landscape – a landscape where farmers and stakeholders can work collaboratively to conserve our soil, water, wildlife and other natural resources.

ALUS – which stands for Alternate Land Use Services – is one program that puts the farmer in the driver’s seat and promises a well-managed and protected environment at a reasonable cost.

Canada’s ALUS program recognizes that owners of agricultural land and other property owners can truly contribute to the establishment, restoration and preservation of natural ecosystems. It is a program based on setting aside marginal land recognizing owners of land. It is a voluntary, farmer-led, rancher-led, landowner-led, incentive-based program.

Projects through ALUS restore wetlands, reforest, plant windbreaks, install riparian buffer strips, build sustainable drainage systems, create wildlife habitat and establish other ecologically beneficial projects.

Secondly, participants can use their land to enhance clean air, clean water, healthy soil, flood mitigation, climate adaptation, phosphorous retention, erosion prevention, carbon dioxide sequestration and wildlife habitat.

In Europe, agricultural policies help ensure farmers are compensated for the services they provide for the whole of society in managing, conserving and enhancing the rural and natural environment.

In the United States, millions of acres of fragile farmland has been retired by paying landowners to “grass them down” through the Conservation Reserve Program.

Canada doesn’t have a federally-funded program of payments for ecological goods and services, however, we have incentives from organizations like Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and ALUS.

All too often, bureaucrats and politicians have sought to protect the environment, by saddling farmers with restrictions and red tape that prevents them from using their land to its full potential. Through ALUS, landowners have taken leadership in an area where politicians have been slow to act. Or, when they have acted it has been to burden farmers, ranchers and property owners with rules and regulations. Hence, the importance of on-the-ground experience, evidence-based research, and he working together of all concerned to accomplish practical, common sense results. Government doesn’t have all the answers.

ALUS, developed in 2000 by Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers and Delta Waterfowl, has gained significant support from farm organizations, outdoors groups, governments and philanthropists.

The money that rolls in is significant. Principal sponsors include the W. Garfield Weston Foundation. Delta Waterfowl is a foundational partner. Other funders include David Bissett, the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, Carthy Foundation and Ontario Nature.

ALUS Canada is now a national non-profit charity. It provides per acre annual payments to farmers and ranchers, recognizing their dedication to maintaining these kinds of projects on their land. No more than 20 per cent of the farm or ranch’s workable land is enrolled although exceptions can be made.

All too often, red tape and more laws and enforcement have been the response from government, with less-than-adequate results. ALUS is a completely different approach – a refreshing approach – that is market-driven and recognizes those who own the land are key to its conservation.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand and Norfolk