Steward of the Land: ALUS Red Deer County participant Aron Lutz

“The long-term plan is ensuring the health of the land, plain and simple,” says ALUS Red Deer County participant Aron Lutz. By establishing a dozen ALUS projects on 41 acres of his land, his goal is “to pass on to my son good, productive land that’s been well looked after.”

To that end, ALUS has helped Lutz enhance wetlands on Lennor Farms Ltd., an 880-acre cattle and grain operation between Innisfail and Pine Lake, Alberta.

Other ALUS projects serve to protect the banks of creeks and waterways on the farm, with riparian fencing and alternative watering systems in place so that his cattle don’t need to directly access creeks for their water.

“It’s a native pasture, so we have to be very gentle with it,” he says.

These important ALUS projects are already helping to improve the riparian area around the farm’s waterways, producing cleaner water and more biodiversity, which benefits the entire community.

And, as Lutz remarks, it’s also better for the cows: “Cleaner water means healthier animals, less sickness and healthier food.”

Find out more in this video from our “Stewards of the Land” series, here.

Steward of the Land: ALUS Parkland’s Carla Rhyant

“I think the majority of farmers out there are true environmentalists: Most of the ranchers I know are spending a lot of time and a lot of effort trying to protect sensitive areas,” says ALUS Parkland participant Carla Rhyant.

In a video from ALUS’ “Stewards of the Land” series, Rhyant offers a tour of Rhyant Rock Farms, a specialty livestock operation raising heritage sheep and chickens on 66 acres near Stony Plain, Alberta.

The Rhyants believe that both small and large farms play a role in maintaining wildlife habitat. Their vision for their property includes not only a successful farm-gate sales operation, but also connected habitats for songbirds, waterfowl, bees and other wildlife.

The ALUS program is helping them achieve this vision for Rhyant Rock Farm, beginning with a wetland enhancement project on 1.73 acres established in 2015.

They plan to further maintain and enhance biodiversity through well managed and timed rotational grazing on their farm.

It’s not only the right thing to do for the environment, says Rhyant, but also, “it can even save us money as producers. When an environmental factor like a drought hits the farm, having greater biodiversity creates a higher resilience for the land, and that mitigates my risk as a farmer.”

Watch this “Stewards of the Land” video on our YouTube channel, here.

Steward of the Land: Brian Headon, ALUS Vermilion River

“As a producer, you do a lot of things for your land knowing you are just the caretaker for a period of time. There’s a sense of pride in doing the best you can with the tools that you have.”

So says Brian Headon, an ALUS Vermilion River participant and PAC member in a video from ALUS’ “Stewards of the Land” series, explaining the environmentally friendly changes ALUS has supported on his land.

On Hedge Haven Farms, a 1200-acre ranch located between Kitscoty and Lloydminster, Alberta, Headon has implemented ALUS wetland restoration, shelterbelt establishment and riparian fencing projects.

ALUS also helped Headon convert a former drainage ditch into an ephemeral wetland.

Now, he says, “the ducks and the wildlife get the spring waterbody, and we still have access to it: In the winter we can place cattle on that ground.”

What does Headon appreciate about ALUS?

“Farmers have some of the skills needed to complete an ALUS project, but we also understand that environmental systems are typically very complex, and we want to be sure of the proper way to go about it,” he says.

Click here to watch Headon’s “Stewards of the Land” video on our YouTube channel.

Steward of the Land: Jo-Anne Hallman, ALUS Red Deer County Participant

“Good land stewardship leads to good food,” says ALUS Red Deer County participant Jo-Anne Hallman, who who has enrolled 105 acres in the ALUS program.

“Because it’s feeding my family, I want this piece of land to be the best it can possibly be.”

She and her late husband farmed four quarters (640 acres) between Penhold and Pine Lake, Alberta, for 25 years. Today, Jo-Anne runs the cattle ranch and custom grazing operation very well on her own, with a little help from ALUS—and her six sons.

She now has 80 ALUS projects on her land, including alternative watering systems and sustainable grazing management practices designed to help enhance wetlands, producing cleaner water and more biodiversity.

Why did Hallman become an ALUS participant in 2015? “I don’t like to do the status quo,” she says. “I like to learn and progress—that’s what gives us life!”

Find out more in this video from ALUS’ “Stewards of the Land” series.

ALUS participant David Francis of Lady Fane, PEI

PEI ALUS participants David Francis and his son Brett run a seventh-generation family farm in Lady Fane, central PEI. David is delighted to be a client of the PEI ALUS program, and to know the stewardship ethic is carrying through to the next generation. “I like that, with the ALUS program in place, stewardship costs are shared between farmers and the public,” he says.

The Francis family grows seed- and chip-stock potatoes, operates a cow/calf operation, and sells feeder cattle and breeding stock. They work hard to conserve soil from erosion in their cropped fields, utilizing a three- or four-year crop rotation scheme and including cover crops to prevent the soil from washing or blowing away after harvest.

In addition, they maintain a wide range of ALUS projects on their farm. Some of these also combat erosion: through soil-conservation structures, expanded buffer zones, and the retirement of steeply sloped lands, ALUS projects helps David and Brett keep sediment and agricultural inputs out of natural waterways.

The Francis farm also has other ALUS projects, such as livestock fencing and alternate watering systems, which provide livestock with drinking water without allowing them direct access to streams, knowing that cattle typically damage and contaminate wetlands when they are permitted to wade into the water.

All these ALUS projects are helping the Francis family to produce cleaner water, a valuable ecosystem service for the people of Prince Edward Island. And they could not feel more proud.

“When we receive our annual payment through ALUS,” David says, “it feels like the public is saying to us: we appreciate the work you do, and here is our contribution to support all the stewardship you do on your farm.”

Meet PEI ALUS pioneer, Peter Townshend

“Prince Edward Island depends on the ecosystem services produced on our working landscapes,” says PEI ALUS participant Peter Townshend. “Through the ALUS program, we farmers are rewarded for our stewardship practices that go above and beyond any legislated measures.”

With their daughter Becky, Peter and Lynn Townshend grow potatoes, carrots and grain in Rollo Bay, Prince Edward Island.

Founded in 1974, the Townshend Potato Company is widely regarded as an early pioneer of engineered soil-conservation structures on PEI, having installed grassed waterways and berms as demonstration projects more than 30 years ago.

Townshend’s stewardship efforts have been recognized by the PEI Soil and Crop Improvement Association and the Government of PEI, through the Soil Conservationist of the Year Award and the Gilbert R. Clements Award for Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture.

He was also recognized at a special ceremony at Province House, the Prince Edward Island Legislature Building, when the PEI ALUS program launched in 2008 with Townshend as its first participant.

More than that, Townshend helped shape the ALUS program in its early stages, serving as a member of the program’s External Advisory Committee, now known as the Public Advisory Committee (PAC).

Today, the Townshends are proud to maintain many different ALUS projects on their farm, including soil conservation structures, grassed headlands, expanded buffer zones and the retirement of steeply sloped fields from cultivation.

All these ALUS projects help prevent erosion and keep sediment and agricultural inputs out of local streams and rivers, to help protect PEI’s water supply as a gift to future generations.

For example, the ALUS project pictured here is a small, streamside field that was formerly ploughed each year to grow annual crops like potatoes, carrots and grain. As a small piece of land, it was marginal in terms of productivity for the farm, making it a good candidate for an ALUS project.

The Townshends have now converted this area to perennial shrubs producing haskap berries, an antioxidant-rich “superfood” similar to blueberries. As there is no longer any need to disturb the soil or apply agricultural chemicals that could end up in the water, this ALUS project produces something beyond berries: cleaner water, a vital ecosystem service that benefits everyone.

“Agriculture is a tough business to be in,” says Townshend, “and we are thankful the Province of PEI is willing to share in the costs for stewardship on private agricultural lands. The ALUS program has allowed us to do some environmental things that we could not have afforded to do on our own.”

ALUS Parkland Riparian Fencing Project

In October 2014, ALUS Parkland program coordinators Krista Quesnel and Gabriel Clarke visited an ALUS participant to help install a riparian fencing project that will help protect creeks and the shoreline of Lake Isle.

Once this project is fully implemented, over 40 acres of sensitive wetlands and riparian areas will be protected, while also retaining the viability of the producer’s existing livestock operation.

The project consists of:

  1. Protecting the creek that goes through the property by installing over 3 km of fencing.
  2. Protecting the riparian area of the Lake with fencing.
  3. Installing 2 solar-powered watering systems (one portable and one stationary).

Gabriel and Krista worked with the producer to determine where the fence should go to protect the creek while minimizing the loss of pasture land, and spent half a day laying out the fence line with a GPS and stakes.

The producer, keen on installing the fence before the snow starts flying, was out on the property with a crew installing posts just two days later.

While out on the property, both were awed by the sight of hundreds of ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl on the edge of Lake Isle.

This project is an authentic win-win for agriculture and the environment.

(Video) Meet an ALUS Producer – Kevin Pedersen, Manitoba

In this video, ALUS Little Saskatchewan River participant Kevin Pedersen shows how his family, who have been farming near Newdale, Manitoba, since they homesteaded there in 1881, are now incorporating ALUS projects into their farming practices.

Early ALUS participants in Manitoba, Charles and Meriel Tavernor

Cattle producers Charles and Meriel Tavernor were among the first ALUS participants in Manitoba.

On their 1,110-acre farm, just north of Basswood, along the south side of the Little Saskatchewan River Valley, they have converted much of the annual cropland to perennial forages, and now they carefully custom graze 300 head of cattle using a mob-grazing effort on small paddocks.

Their ALUS project is part of an ongoing series of improvements that has seen them restore and enhance wetlands, repair cuts and gullies, install offsite watering systems, plant shelterbelts and set up rotational grazing systems on their land.

The Tavernors are key advocates of the program, helping to spread the word about the value of the ALUS approach. They are well versed in the concept, having participated in similar schemes that pay for ecosystem services in their native England.

Kevin Ziola’s ALUS projects help conserve wetlands in Red Deer County

Like most farmers, Kevin Ziola wants to be a good steward of the land — but it’s been tough for this third-generation farmer to balance his conservation efforts with his bottom line.

“As a cattle farmer, I believe it’s important to work with nature, not against it,” said Ziola, who runs 200 head of cattle on 10 quarters near Sylvan Lake with wife Roxanne.

“But we don’t make lots of money, so it’s hard to put away a little extra cash for (conservation). It wouldn’t be that high on the list because machinery, cattle, and feed take priority.”

But thanks to a national program called ALUS (pronounced ‘Alice’ and short for Alternative Land Use Services), farmers like the Ziolas can now get paid to retain or reconstruct natural areas such as wetlands, grasslands, and riparian areas.

Conceived a decade ago by Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba’s main farm group, the program spread east to Ontario and P.E.I. and arrived in the County of Vermilion River in 2010. Funding comes from a variety of sources — governments, foundations, angler and hunter associations, and environmental groups.

“We recognize the value of that land that they’ve taking out of production, and we pay them an annual payment for the ecological goods and services they provide,” said Denika Piggott, regional delivery initiative co-ordinator for ALUS.

“We work with the farmer to cost share the actual establishment of the program, and then annually, the farmer gets a payment to support the ecosystem services that they’re providing.”

The payment structure varies from county to county, which is what makes the project “so adaptable across Canada,” said Piggott.

“A community can come in and say, ‘What makes the best sense for our farmers?’” she said.

In some cases, the payment is based on a fixed rate per acre, while other municipalities base the payment on current land values in the area. And some communities are being “innovative” and paying producers based on the “net benefit they can prove through an assessment.”

Through a cost-sharing agreement with ALUS, producers are able to complete projects such as riparian fencing, wetland restoration, shelterbelt creation, tree planting, erosion control, native prairie grass establishment — the list is “endless.”

“Farmers make the decisions of how their land is being managed in a sustainable way,” said Piggott.

“We also work with farmers, in that if they have a unique thing that they think would benefit the environment, we see if it’s a good fit for ALUS.”

Catching on

ALUS has expanded to four more Alberta counties — Parkland, Red Deer, Lac Ste. Anne, and Mountain View — with three more coming on board shortly.

“It’s a new program, but now there’s some actual evidence that it works,” said Piggott. “A lot of counties have been sitting by and watching carefully how other counties have run the program.”

Now, counties are “willing to take that risk” because they’ve seen the benefits.

“There’s been some great success in those counties and recognition nationally and provincially for the counties that run the program,” said Piggott.

A prime example is Red Deer County, which joined the program in 2013 with five projects. This year, the number jumped to 25.

“I’ve been doing this kind of stuff in Alberta now since 2001, and over that entire time, farmers and ranchers have been saying, ‘If we had a different market signal for these kinds of lands, we would be better able to manage them in a way that’s good for the environment and good for society,’” said Ken Lewis, conservation co-ordinator with Red Deer County.

“Finally, with the ALUS program, we have an on-the-ground program where farmers are getting paid for ecosystem services.”

ALUS gives producers another way to generate income from their marginal farmland, said Lewis.

“Your choice every year when you look at that wetland in the corner of your field is to farm around it or farm through it,” he said. “Now we can send them a different market signal for some of their land. They can grow ecosystem services and get paid for those, instead of more traditional crops or animals that they’re producing.”

And there’s really no downside for participating in the program, said Piggott.

“We recognize that being an agricultural producer is not an easy job,” she said. “In some cases, land changes and becomes a different function from year to year. The program is so adaptable that, in those cases, farmers can choose to opt out if they need to farm that land.

“There’s no drawbacks because you can just opt out when you need to.”

On-farm success

The Ziolas applied to the ALUS program last spring when they realized they needed to manage their cattle’s access to Tindastoll Creek, which runs through most of the couple’s pasture land.

“People I talked to told me I had to put a fence along the creek. I thought, ‘Holy smokes, that’s a major project,’” said Ziola.

After chatting with Lewis about the problem, Ziola found a solution that would work well for both his operation and the county.

“The county cleaned out the creek, and I put a hot wire on both sides of it so the cows can’t get into the creek,” said Ziola.

“It’s not that huge of a project when you just do one hot wire. That keeps the cattle out but still lets the wildlife in really easily. That worked out really well.”

In the spring, the creek fills Ziola’s dugout (another ALUS project), which supplies three off-site, year-round watering systems. That system has “changed our life a lot,” said Ziola.

“I used to have to make a hole in the ice every morning, but now it’s a whole lot easier for me to have an extra cup of coffee in the morning instead of digging a hole in the ice.”

But with a price tag of about $10,000 for each of the watering systems, the Ziolas were limited in what they could do on their own.

“It’s made my life way easier, but I couldn’t have afforded it,” said Ziola. “This work wouldn’t have happened without the help of ALUS and the county.”

Stay Connected