DUC forage program brings in the green

A DUC program trying to pitch a return from crop to forage is getting financial help from Cargill and McDonald’s Canada

Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) has gained some big corporate names backing its Forage Program.

In late March, Cargill and McDonald’s Canada, along with DUC, announced $5 million to transition a target 125,000 acres of less productive farmland from annual crops to forage or pasture by 2025.

The companies have said they will provide $1.25 million to the program over five years, with DUC filling in $3.75 million.

Why it matters: Farmland trends more commonly have hayfields and pastures converted to annual crops than the other way around.

The companies and DUC have tied the project to carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat preservation and water quality improvements.

Courtney Hall, senior sustainability manager with Cargill, said the announcement comes under the company’s work on sustainable grazing. The company identified four key points as part of its BeefUp Sustainability Initiative — sustainable grazing, food waste reduction, feed innovation and regenerative agriculture in row crops.

The BeefUp Sustainability Initiative has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions across their North American beef supply chain by 30 per cent by 2030.

“With BeefUp, we are really looking for partners that are working in the conservation field that have the expertise on working with ranchers or farmers on delivering really good environmental programs with excellent benefits and Ducks Unlimited had over 10 years of experience working on this forage conversion program,” she said. “So we wanted to work together and say, ‘OK, what is possible if we bring our two organizations together with McDonald’s Canada?’”

Nuts and bolts

Projects got their first shot of that funding in the 2020 growing season.

“We’re super excited about the additional partnership with Cargill and McDonald’s,” Scott Stephens, DUC director of operations in the Prairies and boreal region, said. “It really lets us expand and do more acres with more producers across the three Prairie provinces.”

DUC markets the program based on financial incentives (such as a per-acre payment for enrolled producers) as well as added forage or grazing capacity.

In Manitoba, those payments add up to $50 an acre if the producer agrees to keep the land in forage for 10 years and $90 an acre for a 15-year agreement, provincial program manager Ken Gross said.

A deal with Nutrien potentially adds another cost incentive, according to both Stephens and Gross.

“If producers decide to use Nutrien seed, they can receive up to another $20 an acre,” Gross said.

That payment is on top of the per-acre payment.

Most producers commit around 80 acres, and up to 300 acres on the upper end, according to Gross.

“The typical goal would be that we’re kind of enrolling quarter sections or fields in the traditional Forage Program,” Stephens said.

The program is one of two operated by DUC oriented around replacing crops on marginal land with forage or pasture. DUC also operates a Marginal Areas Program (meant for smaller parcels of unproductive land, such as saline patches). That program is separate and comes with a $125-an-acre payment, Gross said.

The Forage Program does not keep a tight rein on forage species and generally follows the producer’s lead on which forage types best fit their needs, according to Stephens.

Manitoba typically has the lowest enrolled acres of the Prairie provinces, Stephens noted, largely due to a smaller eligible area.

The Manitoba program is targeted at the southwestern part of the province. The program does not consider any parcels east of west-central Manitoba.

Stephens said eligibility is largely driven by the funds used to pay for the program.

“Those areas that we have identified on the maps, those are kind of driven by some of the biodiversity benefits and some of the other partner funding that comes to the table,” he said.

In particular, he said, specific funding out of the U.S. leans towards migratory bird impacts best seen in the Forage Program’s current eligibility zones.

Gross said almost 70 producers and over 5,000 acres were enrolled in the province last year. He expects more to enrol this year, given the bigger program.

“I think it’s been a pretty popular program option,” he said. “I’ve heard from cattle producers that it’s nice to hear a different market signal, to provide them with some incentive to keep the land in grass or to restore it to grass.”

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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