By Connor Lynch
ST. ISIDORE — Giving land back to nature doesn’t have to be an act of generosity that’s punished by the pocketbook.
It certainly wasn’t for St. Isidore-area crop farmer Marc Bercier, who received a $10,000 award last month from Alternative Land Use Systems (ALUS), a Canadian not-for-profit that fundraises to encourage farmers to take marginal farmland out of production. ALUS is funding about 15,500 projects covering over 25,000 acres, including livestock fencing around watercourses and wetlands, buffer-zone tree planting, retiring steep hills, and re-establishing native species of plants and building habitat for native animals.
Bercier, who said he’s planning on using the cash to fund a bus tour for post-secondary agriculture and environmental students to come to the farm, contacted ALUS about his plan eight years ago. He’d bought some land from a neighbour, his uncle, and brought in a contractor to tile-drain it. There was an eight-acre gully on the land that he was reluctant to try and fill and turn into cropland. Part of it was nostalgia; he picked wild strawberries there next to grazing cattle as a child, but it was also just a nice area. He ended up getting in touch with ALUS and sharing his idea of introducing a large pond there, instead of cropland. ALUS covered the $24,000 cost of the transformation, he said, and also paid him $180/year on a five-year contract to maintain it.
It’s all part of a different way of encouraging environmental stewardship on the farm. Instead of asking a farmer to do it at a cost to themselves (losing out not just on the cost of the land but also losing the potential income of cropping or renting) or helping out with the cost with a program like Growing Forward, ALUS pays farmers to do it.
Bercier argues there’s other benefits to the farm. Bercier, who has numerous other buffer strips and zones in his fields, said he’s noticed a yield boost on his crops and lower needs for inputs. “You don’t see it the first year, but you do after four or five.” Having extra natural features around also helps buffer the farm against both drought in dry years and drowning in wet ones. “That’s why I like those projects like ALUS, and (why) I’m an ambassador of that.”
ALUS began in 2000 but got a huge boost from a $5-million grant from the Weston Family Foundation in 2016. ALUS also receives funding from the provinces and federal government.
Get paid to add buffer strips, natural features to the farm
By Connor Lynch