A New Conversation - ALUS Canada
P.E.I. ALUS Coordinator Shawn Hill shows ALUS Canada around the Island in the wake of a new partnership announcement.
The ALUS Canada team was thrilled to visit Prince Edward Island in September 2018, in the wake of a landmark agreement to help conserve threatened grassland birds in the province.
Following the ceremony (see that story here), the national team hunkered down in Charlottetown for its annual planning meetings and, even better, attended a tour of ALUS projects located near the capital city, organized by P.E.I. ALUS Coordinator Shawn Hill.
“It’s a pleasure to work with farmers who are dedicated to producing ecosystem services,” said Hill, “and I’m proud to showcase their work to the team at ALUS Canada.”
The first stop on the tour was David and Brett Francis’ farm in Lady Fane, in south-central P.E.I., where the national team explored one of the first ALUS projects in P.E.I., dating back to the start of the program in 2008.
What began as a 44 acre farm in 1844—predating Canadian Confederation—has grown to approximately 1,500 acres where the seventh generation of the Francis family now grows potatoes for seed and chips and raises 100 pairs of pastured Angus and Charolais beef cattle.
David Francis showed the ALUS team a field where all the steeply sloped sections have been retired from cultivation, while the farmed sections now incorporate soil-conservation features such as terraces, berms and a permanent grassed perimeter, greatly expanded beyond the mandated buffer zone.
“We’ve seen steady improvement since we put in these soil-conservation structures. It’s the only way to farm now,” David told the group.
The ALUS Canada team also saw some alternative watering systems in a well-fenced cattle pasture, an ALUS project which the Francis family keeps well maintained to protect streambanks, reduce soil erosion and help produce cleaner water for the community at large.
“ALUS is one of the best programs in agriculture, as far as I’m concerned,” David continued. “I like that stewardship costs are shared between farmers and the public. When we receive our annual payment through ALUS, it feels like the public is saying to us: we appreciate the work you do.”
Next, the ALUS team visited Mike and Evelyn Lafortune at Dexter Cattle Company in North Milton, just outside of Charlottetown. They are one of the only certified organic beef producers on the Island, tending a herd of 100 Dexters, a diminutive (36-inch tall) breed with a gentle temperament.
The Lafortunes have been involved with ALUS since 2017. They have already established hundreds of metres of cattle-proof, wildlife-friendly fencing, complete with alternative watering systems, to protect brooks and streams on their property and help produce cleaner water for the community.
This year, they also devoted 30 acres to ALUS’ new delayed-hay-cut initiative, which encourages farmers to avoid cutting their hay until after July 15, once young grassland birds—including the bobolink, which is classified as threatened and protected under the federal Species at Risk Act—have fledged the nest.
“We look at everything with a holistic approach: what is this doing to biodiversity, what is it doing to water, what is it doing to the children who play on this land?” said Mike. “Helping the bobolink fits in with that.”
This delayed-hay-cut initiative is the first time ALUS Canada has helped to fund ALUS activities in Prince Edward Island, but ALUS Canada and the P.E.I. ALUS program have been partners for over a decade in helping Canadian farmers produce ecosystem services.
“ALUS opened a new conversation for us,” said Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Robert Henderson, who joined the ALUS Canada team on the first stop of the tour. “There’s been a revolution in the last 10 years in P.E.I. in agriculture. People are using conservation procedures and planting cover crops; there’s a lot of new awareness.”
Originally implemented in 2008, P.E.I. ALUS is co-managed by the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the P.E.I. Department of Communities, Land and Environment. In 2018, it has over 400 clients and projects covering nearly 8,650 acres.
For the ALUS Canada team on site in P.E.I.—including CEO Bryan Gilvesy and Eastern Hub Manager Casey Whitelock from southwestern Ontario, Prairie Hub Manager Paige Englot from Saskatchewan, ALUS Canada Agrologist Howie Bjorge and Western Hub Manager Christine Campbell from Alberta, Director of Communications Bridget Wayland from Quebec, and Director of Grants and Funding Michelle Primus, Director of Operations Lynn Bishop, Director of Strategic Initiatives Lara Ellis and incoming Director of Corporate Partnerships Katherine Balpataky from Toronto—the P.E.I. tour re-emphasized that, no matter where you live, ALUS is a common ground for successfully improving the environment across Canada’s working landscapes.