ALUS grazing projects in Manitoba will have some new, big corporate names behind them, and a new well of funds to draw on.
ALUS — an organization that has supported farmer-based grazing and agricultural stewardship projects in Manitoba in the late ‘00s, and again starting in 2014 — will now be backed by A&W Canada and Cargill.
The two companies have jointly committed $1.8 million for rancher projects adopting or scaling up regenerative agriculture in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The program, titled Grazing Forward, will help expand the farmer projects funded under ALUS’s New Acre Project banner.
Why it matters: The funding marks one of a growing number of programs hoping to preserve grassland or increase regenerative agriculture that are now getting financial backing from big corporate names up the value chain.
Bryan Gilvesy, CEO of ALUS Canada, says application for the program will be very similar to what Manitoba farmers have already seen.
Farmers with a potential on-farm project will consult with a local partnership advisory committee, made up of other farmers, local government and other local stakeholders, to come up with an appropriate plan and agreement. That local decision-making ensures the program is local in its outcomes, ALUS has said, with consideration to regional issues like watershed management or wildlife.
“The backbone of this is the partnership advisory committee, the producer raising their hand voluntarily,” Gilvesy said. “We really value the producer’s input and creative energies and creative ideas of what might work.”
“I think there’s an opportunity to think quite broadly about what this can look like over time,” he also said. “We begin with what we know, of course.”
Adaptive multi-paddock grazing is among the practices espoused by the program, he noted, along with things such as grassland, riparian area and wetland restoration or tree and shrub establishment.
“Anything, in general, that we can consider increasing the ecosystem’s goods and services from the existing grasslands and wetlands, it fits,” he said.
Also similar to past ALUS programming, producers can expect financial incentives and technical extension support. Projects include the possibility of per-acre payments and cost-sharing, farmers have been told, although Gilvesy said he could not give specific dollar amounts since agreements are made case-by-case.
It is not clear how much of the new funds will be bound for Manitoba farms, Gilvesy said, although he noted that ALUS expects to expand programming in 20 communities as part of the funding.
Two of those key communities, which currently have ALUS programs up and running, are in Manitoba. ALUS Assiniboine West encompasses the Assiniboine West Watershed District and builds off of work the group did in the previous Little Saskatchewan Conservation District starting in 2014. ALUS Seine Rat Roseau, meanwhile, launched in central Manitoba in 2019.
“That’s where we’ll begin and we’ll see what uptake’s like,” Gilvesy said. “This is not a one-year program. This is a long-term program, so we hope to grow broader and wider.”
The productivity incentives laid by the program will strike a similar chord for those who have heard similar pitches for similar regenerative agriculture programs. ALUS and its partners have argued that management practices such as those espoused by their program are linked to erosion control, healthier soil, carbon sequestration and pollinator and wildlife habitat.
For companies such as A&W and Cargill, announcements like the funding for ALUS are among the investments tied to “sustainability” portfolios.
According to a release earlier this year, project proponents estimate that Grazing Forward will contribute to sequestering 12,578 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas a year.
“Through ALUS’s program, ‘regenerative agriculture’ describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, can help mitigate climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring soil biodiversity — resulting in both carbon drawdown and improved water cycles,” a release announcing the funding read.
Cargill has announced an initiative dubbed BeefUp Sustainability — which includes a 30 per cent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 “throughout the company’s North American beef supply chain.”
Earlier this year, Cargill, McDonald’s Canada and Ducks Unlimited announced a rancher-collaboration program to return 125,000 acres of cropland to grass and pasture.
A&W, meanwhile, has linked efforts to accelerate adoption of regenerative agriculture to its goal of switching to grass-finished Canadian beef.
“We are committed to working with Canadian producers to grow Canada’s grass-fed and finished beef market. As part of this work, we invest to champion the growing regenerative agriculture movement in Canada, collaborating with partners across the beef supply chain to make useful tools and resources available to Canadian ranchers,” A&W said in the same release.