MCPA proposes its own environmental program

“ALUS is a great idea but it does not help us as cattle producers.”

– MARTIN UNRAU, MCPA

Manitoba cattle producers are proposing a new program to reward them financially for environmentally friendly farming practices.

The program, called Envi ronmental and Rural Stewardship Program (ERSP), would pay producers up to nearly $127 million annually for management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve soil and water.

The voluntary program is similar to Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), an on-farm environmental program designed by Keystone Agricultural Producers.

But cattle producers say they need their own program because ALUS doesn’t meet their specific needs.

“ALUS is a great idea but it does not help us as cattle producers,” said Martin Unrau, Manitoba Cattle Producers Association president.

ERSP bases payments on five million acres of pasture land, which includes wetlands, swamp and bush as well as grazing land.

It would pay $59.3 million ($11.73 an acre) for on-farm practices to sequester carbon in the soil, mitigate greenhouse gases and reduce sulphur emissions.

The program proposes another $67.4 million (at $13.32 an acre) for improving water quality and maintaining natural water supplies.

The two modules together would cost a maximum $126.7 million a year, or $95 million assuming a 75 per cent participation rate. (Figures may not add up exactly due to rounding.)

MCPA derives its values from an environmental economic model developed by Nancy Olewiler, a Simon Fraser University economist, in 2004.

MCPA officials presented their 47-page proposal to MAFRI officials November 17 and received a “very positive” response, Unrau said.

ERSP is the latest environmental goods and services (EG&S) program proposed for agriculture. The MCPA’s proposal notes that, besides ALUS, the federal government has eight EG&S programs and pilot projects operating in Canada. Seven of them are research projects, including one at South Tobacco Creek near Miami, Manitoba operated jointly with Ducks Unlimited Canada.

MCPA is itself involved in a joint $500,000 research project to measure the impact of carbon lifecycles on cow-calf operations.

But an ecological goods and services package for cattle producers is necessary to preserve the environment, according to the MCPA proposal.

“The cattle business, when properly managed using sustainable farm practices, is one of the few economic activities in the country whose production activity actually encourages rather than discourages biodiversity, the production of species-at-risk and GHG mitigation on the landscape. The longer

that financial counter signals to land use transition are absent in Manitoba, the faster that wetlands and perennial cover are going to disappear, with the consequential loss in natural capital and the ecological benefits from that natural capital,” it says.

MCPA recommends the Manitoba Farm Stewardship Certification Agency as the group to administer its plan.

ALUS also rewards farmers financially for environmental goods and services. An ALUS pilot project is currently underway in the western Manitoba municipality of Blanshard.

The MCPA report says it recognizes the value of ALUS but sees “a major policy weakness in using ALUS alone.”

For example, ALUS reimburses differently for different categories of land, depending on the agricultural use. It rewards producers who convert cropland to grassland but not those who already have grassland and use it, said Unrau.

Under ALUS, the environmental value of a piece of land decreases “as soon as you put one cow on it,” he said.

MCPA earlier this year gave notice it will withdraw as a commodity group member of KAP. However, Unrau replied “definitely not” when asked if MCPA is taking a go-it-alone approach on farm stewardship.

“ALUS lays the groundwork. This enhances it,” he said.

Ian Wishart, KAP president, said he did not feel MCPA’s proposal drives a wedge between farm groups. Instead, he welcomed it, saying it bolstered the case for a permanent environmental goods and services program for agriculture.

“It moves the whole concept further down the road,” Wishart said.

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