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EG and S programs clean up

“They know their land better than anyone.”

– ROBERT SOPUCK

Farmer-designed programs provide benefit to the environment, Robert Sopuck, vice-president of Delta Waterfowl told the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association last week.

He described Environmental Goods and Services programs to the convention, heaping praise on the Alternative Land Use Service program.

He said the ALUS idea has been around for about 10 years even though the pilot program running in the R. M. of Blanshard has been running only about three years.

He said with all the work and research already done, the slow pace of change is frustrating.

Praising the work of the conservation districts and people like Ian Wishart of Keystone Agricultural Producers who championed the cause of the program for years, Sopuck blamed disagreements between some producer groups and institutional barriers for delaying change.

He said while ministers seem to agree in principle to ideas coming from the grass roots level, it is often the bureaucracies that hold up progress. “Current policy prohibits reward for practices already in place,” he said.

It was one of the things Wishart and others fought for in the pilot program. Support for farmers who make changes to accepted beneficial management practices on the farm, has been accessible for some time. Farmers who have always used these practices were not always rewarded. Under the pilot program running in the R. M. of Blanshard farmers already using Best Management Practices (BMPs) are eligible for incentives, But it was a battle.

Sopuck said it made him angry to see politicians adopt a “wait for the revolutionaries to get tired and go home” mentality.

He encouraged everyone to get angry about the slow pace of change. “Stop putting up with the status quo,” he said.

He said farmers and rural dwellers can provide the answers. “They know their land better than anyone.”

Matthew McCandless couldn’t agree more. The project manager for Sustainable Natural Resources Management program at the International Institute for Sustainable Development said farmers are the key to water efficiencies.

Crop selection, cropping practices and water retention are all strategies producers consider for ensuring sustainability.

McCandless said showing benefits in terms of cost analysis can support the case for incentives paid to farmers for continuing stewardship. “Decisions should be done on a watershed basis,” he said.

In Australia, farms bid on ecosystems service tenders, where the winner of the tender can receive payment for delivering an environmental service, such as improving water quality.

The IISD calculated the benefits versus the cost of some of these incentive programs.

“What we found was that in almost every case, the benefits to society outweighed the cost of running the program,” he said.

Benefits to the various best management practices included health of the water and therefore health of consumers, including fish and wildlife, improved recreational water quality and better habitats for fish and wildlife.

Rick Andrews, head wetland restoration for Ducks Unlimited said while he supports the theory of EG and S programs such as ALUS, he would like to have the science to support the work and payments.

“As a taxpayer, any one of us wants to know that we’re getting value for our money,” he said.

Andrews was not supportive short-term approaches such as the pilot program in Blanshard. “We need a long-term sustainable program.”

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