New grazing stewardship program for 6,000 Prairie acres

Program has a component to help ranchers adopt multi-paddock grazing and regenerative agriculture

Tailoring stewardship work to individual operations has been the key to the success of ALUS, says Vermilion-area rancher Sean McGrath, whose pilot project in 2010 created a surge of interest in the program in Alberta.
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After growing its acres by 20 per cent last year, ALUS has lined up two big sponsors for a new initiative called Grazing Forward that will fund stewardship projects on 6,000 acres of Prairie ranchland.

“A&W Canada and Cargill will together provide $1.8 million to support ranchers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba as they continue to scale regenerative agriculture practices that capture carbon dioxide, in addition to supporting the long-term sustainability of ecosystems communities,” the organization said in a release.

ALUS (short for Alternative Land Use Services) was created in Manitoba a couple of decades ago but took off in Alberta after a pilot project in the County of Vermilion River in 2010.

The program can cover some project expenses (for example, fencing costs) and/or per-acre payments for land taken out of production. Typical projects include restoration of grasslands, riparian areas and wetlands or planting trees and shrubs.

“Anything, in general, that we can consider increasing the ecosystem’s goods and services from the existing grasslands and wetlands, it fits,” said Bryan Gilvesy, an Ontario rancher who is CEO of ALUS Canada.

Flexibility and tailoring projects to individual operations is a key attribute, said Sean McGrath who ran the first Alberta pilot on Round Rock Ranch.

“The ALUS program helps us implement our vision for the future of beef,” McGrath said in a release on the new Grazing Forward program. “With new approaches to ranching, we can run an eco-conscious, quality-driven operation using an Angus-based cow herd, advanced grazing management techniques, a superior herd health program and a kinship with the land we operate on.”

The Grazing Forward program adds in a focus on regenerative agriculture, particularly the adoption of a multi-paddock grazing system.

“Ranchers who participate will receive extension services and technical guidance for project implementation and maintenance,” the ALUS release states, adding the Grazing Forward project “is expected to sequester up to 12,578 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to more than 51 million kilometres (31 million miles) driven by the average passenger vehicle.”

Those kinds of precise numbers are the foundation of the organization’s pitch to corporations and other donors in its New Acre program. A&W and Cargill are making their donation under this program, which is aimed at helping corporations achieve their ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals.

Cargill has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions across its supply chain by 30 per cent by 2030 and recently partnered with McDonald’s Canada and Ducks Unlimited Canada on a $5-million program aimed at “returning” 125,000 acres of cropland to grass and pasture by 2025. Last year, A&W announced it is moving towards sourcing only grass-finished beef raised in Canada.

The additional funding is needed as the number of ALUS communities and participating producers continues to grow.

Two more Alberta counties (Two Hills and Big Lakes) started chapters last year, bringing the total number of counties in Alberta to 15 — just under half of the 31 chapters in six provinces (the others are in Quebec, Ontario, P.E.I., Manitoba and Saskatchewan). Each one has an advisory committee of farmers, municipal leaders and others who set out local priorities, with the national organization providing financial and technical support.

“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.”

Interested producers should contact the chapter in their area (a list with contact info for each chapter can be found at alus.ca). If there’s no local chapter, farmers can contact one of three “hub” managers in Western Canada (emails and phone numbers are in the ‘contact us’ section of the website).

Nationally there are 1,100 participant producers who have implemented projects on 32,000 acres.

— With Glacier FarmMedia files

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Glenn Cheater

Glenn Cheater is a veteran journalist who has covered agriculture for more than two decades. His mission is to showcase the ideas, passions, and stories of Alberta farmers and ranchers.

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