Program that rewards stewards of the land is taking off in Alberta

More than 100 Alberta farmers have signed up for ALUS, and that number is expected to grow rapidly

The movement to pay farmers for being good stewards of the land is gathering steam, with 10 counties in Alberta now having a local ALUS program.

ALUS — short for Alternative Land Use Services and pronounced ‘Alice’ — is expanding across Canada and recently became a national, registered not-for-profit.

“This kind of growth and recognition can only occur with community leadership,” said Bryan Gilvesy, an Ontario cattle rancher and the organization’s executive director.

“Right out of the gate in Alberta, the program was championed and embraced by various counties.”

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ALUS partners with county councils, landowners, and other community groups to provide farmers and ranchers with financial incentives to produce ecosystem services, such as riparian protection, carbon capture, and habitat for wildlife and native pollinators. The program is community led and farmer delivered.

“These are the benefits that Canadians need and want — benefits that farmers and ranchers can deliver,” Gilvesy said at an ALUS event held at the Edmonton Corn Maze in Parkland County.

More than 100 Alberta producers have taken part in 850 environmental and stewardship projects across the province.

Until May 2016, ALUS was an arm of Delta Waterfowl.

“An independent ALUS allows us to expand the program in Alberta and across the country,” said Gilvesy.

ALUS has expanded its staff to nine people across Canada and has developed new branding and a new logo.

The group originally began in Manitoba. The first Alberta county to join the organization was Vermilion River in 2010, quickly followed by Red Deer and Parkland counties. Alberta isn’t the only province where the program is gaining ground. Nineteen communities in six provinces from Alberta to Prince Edward Island are now involved with the ALUS program, with more than 700 farmers and ranchers participating.

In 2016, ALUS won a shared footprint award from the Alberta Emerald Foundation for recognition of environmental excellence.

Gerry Taillieu, manager of Tomahawk Cattle Ranch in Parkland County, helped implement Parkland County’s first ALUS project — fencing off a creek and the drainage channel running through the ranch to the North Saskatchewan River. The cattle now drink cleaner water, since the water is pumped to them from another location.

“We’re doing our part to ensure that the water heading off our land is just a little bit cleaner,” said Taillieu. “ALUS grows because my neighbour to the south has implemented projects on his land, on the same creek.”

Taillieu, who now sits on the ALUS advisory committee with Parkland, sees the model as a win-win situation for producers and local communities. ALUS partners with local county staff who are familiar with the local projects and needs.

“The ALUS model is about working with your neighbours, trying to make everything better as we go down the line,” he said. “That’s why ALUS is expanding at the rate it is expanding. From a producer perspective, all we see are positives.

“We found, before ALUS, that any time we do anything that improves the landscape, it improves our bottom line. So this is an absolute win — with the ALUS model, we retain control of our land and environment. What we do and how we operate is part of it.”

Parkland County has had 21 participants in its program to date.

“Since we entered the program in 2012, landowners have worked with us to implement environmental enhancements that improve, rather than detract from an agricultural producer’s ability to make a living,” said Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec.

“I would encourage all producers — not just in Parkland County, but from other municipalities that do have the program — to take a look at this innovative program, because it is a great opportunity to generate income from land that may otherwise be unsuitable for production,” said Shaigec.

For more information see alus.ca.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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