2016 Nuffield scholar: Tim Smith goes in search of ecological goods and services

Smith to study how other cultures recognize the benefits and value of pastures

Tim Smith inspects this year’s brassica forage with his daughter Katelyn.

If you are reading this article, you might someday find yourself applying for a Nuffield scholarship. It was articles and presentations at conferences by Nuffield alumni that first drew Tim Smith’s attention to the program and he is now preparing to embark on an opportunity of a lifetime as a 2016 Nuffield scholar.

Smith is one of three Canadians to receive a Nuffield Canada scholarship of $15,000 to help with expenses for international travel to study a topic of choice, gain new insights on culture, politics and challenges of agriculture in general, and share a Canadian perspective with those he meets along the way.

Smith’s chosen topic is ecological goods and services (EGS) provided by cattle ranching. He will be studying how other cultures recognize the benefits and value of pastures and the use of ecosystem service programs.

“The (Nuffield) program interested me for personal development and to help the industry. It’s another chance to showcase beef in our culture. I hope some of my results will help in developing proactive policy by aligning regulations and incentives to environmental outcomes,” says Smith, a beef producer from Coronation, Alta., who serves as an elected representative to Alberta Beef Producers and one of its representative on the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

The CCA defines ecosystem services as the benefits that society derives directly or indirectly from healthy functioning ecosystems, including air, water, soil and biodiversity. Its current policy is to “encourage government to develop a program that local groups could apply to in order to access seed money to support regional ecosystem service programs that are in line with the (stated) principles.” Among the key principles are that ecosystem service programs must respect the rights of the producer, be voluntary and that compensation should be market based to acknowledge that society benefits from ecological services, whether existing, enhanced or new.

Smith looks back to a time even before EGS became a common acronym in beef circles to pinpoint when he first realized the value of pasture systems in providing ecosystem services for public good.

“My interest started with the first Growing Forward program and some of the stewardship incentive programs that became available for management practices to improve long-term water quality,” he says. He feels that improving water quality, nutrient cycling, protecting biodiversity and mitigating climate change are key ecological goods that pasture systems provide and these will be priority topics during his travels.

Within days of being notified that he was the recipient of a 2016 scholarship, Smith began questioning Nuffield alumni familiar with EGS policies and programs in other countries to begin arranging his international study route.

“Initial recommendations seem to be pointing to Europe and Australia, with an interest in South America and the U.S.,” he says. “These are places where there appears to be programs developing with stakeholder integration for sustainable use of grasslands.”

In Germany and Australia, for example, there are programs that use reverse auctions for buying ecosystem services. The Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock Farming states that Brazil is a “hotbed of ecosystem services” and is testing the feasibility of market-like payments for ecosystem services.

The ESMERALDA project in the European Union is researching mapping, policy, decision-making methods and data collection for sustainable management of ecosystems and services. A working group of the United Nations’ Global Agenda of Action in Support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development on Restoring Value to Grasslands has been looking into ecosystem services in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He’ll also be connecting with people across Canada to get up to speed on what’s happening on the home front insofar as challenges and successes of EGS programming.

Nuffield member countries organize five global focus tours each year. Smith is considering the February 24 to April 14 tour that would take him to England, France, Germany, the U.S., Kenya and South Africa to tour many types of farms, agribusinesses and research institutions to hear from experienced managers and experts in fields such as international ag policy, soil health, post-GMO technology, genomics, communicating about innovation, marketing, ag advocacy and leadership, data in agriculture, politics and power and public policy.

First off, he will join new scholars from around the globe for a week of tours, workshops, speakers and networking in February 2016, before parting ways to carry out their personal quests.

Each will spend six consecutive weeks and 10 weeks in total over the next two years travelling to selected destinations to study their topics and then prepare a report to share with all on the Nuffield Canada website.

Other member countries in the Nuffield scholarship program include Ireland, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Zimbabwe, with the Netherlands as an associate and an international chapter open to applicants from any country. The program dates back to 1947, so there is now a worldwide network of more than 1,500 Nuffield alumni on whom new scholars can rely for assistance.

Nuffield Canada chair and 2011 Nuffield scholar, Kelvin Meadows of Moose Jaw, Sask., says there isn’t a record of how many scholars from other countries have visited Canada, but it would be fair to say 20 or 30.

Nuffield Canada is preparing to begin annually hosting two global focus tour groups of approximately eight scholars that will be open to other interested scholars travelling apart from the global focus group.

Nuffield scholars come from all walks of primary agriculture, the agri-food industry and governance and have to be willing and able to take time away from their everyday duties.

That’s not a problem for the Smith household because the family is quite accustomed to filling in for Tim when he’s away on ABP and CCA business. His wife Tammy has travelled a few miles as well to meetings and events with Tim as well as through her involvement with the International Agricultural Exchange Association, for which she recently stepped down as international president. Their son Jaydon, is their right-hand man and currently studying ag business management at Olds College with plans to return to the family ranch. Their daughter, Katelyn, is employed with Crop Protection Services at Coronation and fills in as needed on days off. Riley drives truck on the custom silage crew and David works away from home.

Back home

The native rough fescue pastures on this central Alberta ranch are complemented with tame forages for hay as well as oats and barley for swath grazing and silage.

This year they added diversity with a mix of Winfred and Hunter forage brassicas and spring triticale planted late in June with the intention of using the standing crop for late-summer grazing. As weather would have it, the early dry spell took a big bite out of pasture and hay production and they ended up grazing hay land to carry the herd through.

Rainfall after rainfall from July onward brought the perennial pastures back to life and the brassica/triticale field wasn’t needed for summer grazing. It will still be used to extend the grazing season, but September plans called for swathing it before a killing frost.

The forage brassicas from Graeme Finn of Union Forages at Crossfield, Alta., are turnip and kale hybrid annuals with high protein content and fall frost tolerance suited to multiple grazings. Triticale complements it nicely as an excellent energy source with lots of biomass.

Smith is considering planting a crop with several species in the mix next year. Nuffield alumni Clayton Robbins in Manitoba has suggested including chicory and plantain for added benefits.

“Any time we can improve production efficiency, using fewer resources to produce more, that’s being environmentally responsible,” Smith adds.

You can follow Smith as he shares Canadian perspectives and gains insight into EGS around the globe @Tim_Smith68 and through his blog linked to the Nuffield Canada website. You will also find profiles and reports of other present and past scholars.

Starting in 1950 with funds from Lord Nuffield’s endowment, the first Nuffield Canada scholars were John McLean of Eureka, Pictou County, N.S., and Orrin Hart of Claresholm, Alta. Since the middle of the 1970s, the scholarships have been funded through memberships and donations.

Glacier FarmMedia, a sponsor since 2012, commits $15,000 annually to support one scholar. Smith is this year’s recipient. The first recipient was Becky Parker of Picton, Ont., who is entering her second year of exploring models of agricultural career education and collaboration between industry groups, youth organizations and the school system.

Grain Farmers of Ontario came on stream this year sponsoring Tony Balkwill, an independent agronomist and farmer from Paris, Ont. Clair Doan, a turkey and grain farmer from Norwich, Ont., rounds out the 2016 Nuffield Canada selections.

Applications are due April 30 each year. The only prerequisite is at least five years in some facet of agriculture, whether it be as an owner, manager, employee or bureaucrat, and “the pledge that this opportunity will be used to contribute to and innovate agriculture in Canada.”

For more information visit nuffield.ca.

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