A celebration at Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in recognition of the W. Garfield Weston Foundation’s $5 million contribution to the ALUS (alternative land use services) program in support of conservation and agriculture across Canada marked the formal relaunch of ALUS as “ALUS Canada – a Weston Family Initiative,” and the debut of the New Acre Project.
The Weston family also donated 10,000 prizes to accompany two inaugural awards. Gerry Taillieu, manager of Tomahawk Cattle Ranch west of Edmonton, is the recipient of ALUS Canada’s Producer Innovation Award for outstanding commitment to leadership in farm stewardship producing ecosystem services. The Weston Family Ecosystem Innovation Award went to Dr. Andrew MacDougall, University of Guelph, for his pollinators and biodiversity research.
The special occasion highlights a string of ALUS successes in recent months including an Alberta Emerald Foundation Shared Footprint Award, a Clean 50 Award, and the first ALUS program in Quebec.
More than 720 farmers and ranchers are now earning income from ALUS projects they designed to suit the needs of their operations and produce ecosystem services from approximately 18,000 acres across the three prairie provinces, Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Plans already in motion call for an expansion into Nova Scotia and additional Ontario and Alberta communities in 2017.
ALUS Canada partners with local organizations, such as municipal governments, farm and conservation groups with the capacity and passion to bring people together to strike a partnership advisory committee (PAC) and administer the program locally. It’s up to each PAC to approve project applications and establish payment amounts for project developments and the ecosystem services each provides.
“I think the acceptance of ALUS and its expansion is because of how ALUS is structured. The decisions are made by local communities and people living and working on the land,” says Taillieu, a member of ALUS Parkland’s PAC since its inception in 2012 as a partnership between ALUS and Parkland County.
He recalls being in the midst of fencing off access to a creek when he first heard about ALUS. The idea of doing more of what he wanted to do and getting paid for it sounded like something right up his alley. The more he learned, the more he appreciated the positives ALUS offers.
“ALUS helps producers take the desire to look after their land and put it into action with no caveat on the land. The landowner always has control and can opt out if circumstances change,” he explains.
Taillieu’s desire to improve the ranch’s grass and water resources stems back to 2001 when he became manager. Incremental yet significant changes to facilitate practices such as rotational grazing, bale grazing, and off-site watering have increased grass production an estimated fourfold, benefitted animal health, improved weaning weights and boosted overall productivity. The large volume of clean water from a new well and three miles of pasture pipeline installed this year was beyond his expectations, making expansion of the system a priority in the coming years.
His first ALUS project to finish fencing cattle out of the creek in 2012 was the first for ALUS Parkland as well. This year they took on three other projects to total 226 acres now dedicated to providing ecosystem services. Fencing off a natural pond and the manmade pond built when they excluded the creek was followed by installing a fence around a swampy area thick with spruce and willow to create wildlife habitat and then an additional 120 acres of soft lowland that rarely drains sufficiently for hay or grazing. The common denominator is that all of the acres are marginal for ranching purposes.
“ALUS targets marginal land. Our productive crops and forage lands are already good, so we don’t want to change those. The only requirement is that the land has to be bonafide agricultural land that is part of an active farming or ranching operation,” he adds.
While Taillieu is truly honoured to have been selected for the award, he says he is certainly not unique. Lots of people are doing good things. ALUS just helps them along with projects that help clean the air and water, improve biodiversity and create wildlife habitat.
Alberta rancher Daryl Watt is the proud sponsor of the first acre of the New Acre Project. As PAC chair for ALUS Vermilion River and reeve of the partnering County of Vermilion River, he says the Weston donation puts ALUS on solid footing to be able to realize the long-held vision of offering this opportunity to all Canadians as a way to give back to the land and realize a stacked set of benefits for the environment and for agriculture.
Visit the ALUS website for more information.