Cedric MacLeod considers carbon sequestration through forages and grasslands and the soils they grow in as a long overdue, up-until-now-grossly-underplayed chit that Canada’s grass and forage producers can finally throw down and claim proper ownership on.
“Our members grow forage, many run livestock and most plant annual crops too,” says MacLeod, executive director of the Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association (CFGA). “Mostly, our producers choose to farm the way they do and are providing much more to Canada than simply cow bellies full of forages.”
If it seems to you like MacLeod is a tad sparky, you’d be correct. The 40-year-old New Brunswicker has been at the helm of the CFGA for three years now and he knows the timing has never been better for forages and grasslands to burst through the Canadian ag hierarchy champagne tower once and for all as the largest agriculture land use sector in the nation. Add to that sense of timing and urgency with the fact that if the Tasmanian Devil of Warner Brothers cartoon fame was a person, it could be Cedric MacLeod, a whirlwind of old-fashioned spit and energy with a distinguished resumé of consultation and leadership on hay export, maritime beef and young farmer files that have all benefited from his master’s degree in soil sciences from University of Manitoba. On top of the hectic work days, MacLeod juggles his own farm operations while enjoying family life with wife Alanda and toddler son Kalen.
“Healthy soil, that’s our future,” says MacLeod. “If we don’t find ways to conserve, benefit from and enhance our soil resources across this great country, we are headed for a heap of trouble. It all starts with soil… healthy soil.”
Few would argue that point. The next visible step, though, is the now what— the how, where and what’s next in forage research that proves the value of healthy systems and the role of forages and grasslands in the mix, over and over and over again. And that’s why MacLeod is so enthused that the CFGA was able to secure funding for the CFGA’s High Performance Forage Management Systems project through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program (AGGP).
The official purpose of the AGGP project is to develop a Forage Management Carbon Offset Protocol, and associated Best Management Practice Implementation Manual to support Canadian forage and grassland manager efforts to enhance soil carbon sequestration. Indeed, a welcome, lofty and ambitious end product that will certainly serve the managers immensely on their farms while booming positive societal benefits to their home municipality, province and, in fact, Canada as a whole when it comes to the provision of cleaner air, water and increased biodiversity among other values.
“The long-term intent for this initiative is to create momentum towards increased collaboration and information sharing across Canada in support of forage industry growth,” says MacLeod. “Our shorter-term goals are to strengthen forage industry leadership as we move into program discussions around the next Canadian Agricultural Partnership.”
That’s a fairly administrative-leaning soapbox, almost cautionary approach. For a guy with a forage-stoked grassland fire burning at his core, what’s the real play and benefit here for Canada’s forage and grassland producers?
“Simply put… it’s dollars in producers’ jeans,” says MacLeod. “I don’t care if you raise dairy, sheep, goats or beef, if you run out west, in central or Atlantic Canada, run a tame or native stand, produce annual or perennial crops, forages are the green ribbon that connect every farmer every day coast to coast.”
Karen Haugen-Kozyra has over 25 years of experience in agricultural greenhouse gas measurement and modeling and climate change/environmental policy development — spanning her tenure at the provincial Department of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Climate Change Central and now in the private sector where she currently operates as president of Viresco Solutions, a sustainability-focused consultancy out of Calgary. Haugen-Kozyra has been working with her team and with McLeod and his team on the CFGA AAGP project.
“There remains a lot of confusion everywhere around greenhouse gas offsets and accounting,” says Haugen-Kozyra. “That’s because of the different types of standards, provincial systems and national emission inventories and global protocols that everyone has to consider when developing these programs. What’s most interesting about the CFGA AGGP is the opportunity to draw the project around what is controlled by the farm or ranch and go forward from there. It is inventory-based and builds up from that.”
MacLeod concurs. The five-year AGGP will encompass all of Canada’s grasslands, and pilot projects will be active on the ground starting in 2019.
“Productive grasslands create healthy soils, store millions of tonnes of carbon, and directly support Canada’s multi-billion-dollar ruminant livestock industries,” says MacLeod. “This is an exceptionally big deal.”