Paying farmers for stewardship that produces environmental benefits isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that’s been slow to catch on in Canada.
Coronation rancher Tim Smith wants to know why — and what can be done to move ecological goods and services into the mainstream of agriculture here.
“There are benefits in grassland biodiversity and healthier air and water and land systems — but there isn’t a lot of societal support to improve these things,” said Smith, who runs a 750-head Angus cow-calf operation and custom forage harvest business.
In the coming year, Smith will be travelling the world to find out what’s being done elsewhere and what can be done here after being selected as one of three Canadian Nuffield scholars for 2016.
“I saw the opportunity to apply for a travel-and-learn scholarship and thought it was a great opportunity for a mid-career rancher,” said the 46-year-old, who is an Alberta Beef Producers delegate and a Canadian Cattlemen’s Association director.
His Nuffield project will focus on the value of ecological goods and services provided by cattle ranching and the incentives offered by other countries.
“They’re going to give me an opportunity to go to many countries in the world to talk to some of the best in the business,” he said. “They’ll open doors and help me open them when I need to get some accurate information,” he said.
His first international stop will be Ireland and he hopes to visit other areas in the European Union, where what’s called “agri-environment measures” have been mandatory for member states since 1992.
And they involve big money.
From 2007-13, spending on agri-environmental programs in Europe totalled nearly 20 billion euros ($30 billion at current exchange rates) or 22 per cent of the expenditure for rural development, according to the European Commission.
Canada’s version of this program — called ALUS (pronounced ‘Alice’ and short for Alternative Land Use Services) — has been around for a decade and now has programs in four Alberta counties, but receives much of its funding from foundations.
But increasing public interest in sustainable farming practices offers an opportunity to do more, said Smith.
“I believe there will be some big things coming out of this when the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef gets involved and moves us ahead,” he said.
Smith hasn’t fully planned his itinerary yet, but along with attending the 2015 Nuffield AGM in Regina in November and a week-long gathering of international Nuffield scholars in Ireland in February, he hopes to travel to Australia, the U.S., and South America, along with European countries.
The beauty of the Nuffield program is that you’re immediately connected to “a really impressive network” of scholars, said Smith.
“It isn’t like you’re on your own in a foreign land — they want me to use their network and visit with the Nuffield scholars of the past and get their direction to lead me,” he said. “It’s overwhelming to think that you’re doing it by yourself, but when you have a network of support behind you, it’s not so intimidating.”
His scholarship, which is sponsored by Glacier FarmMedia (the parent company of Alberta Farmer), is worth $15,000, but won’t cover all of his travel expenses. Smith is raising additional funds and seeking sponsorship to cover the rest of the cost of the program.
“I’ll be approaching others who have a vested interest in the industry, as well as others who want to donate,” he said.
One forage group has already come forward with some funds to contribute to his endeavour. (Any group or individual willing to do likewise can contact Smith at 780-856-3996 or [email protected].)
The other two Nuffield scholars are Tony Balkwill of Paris, Ont. and Clair Doan of Norwich, Ont. For more information on the program, see nuffield.ca.