Ontario Agriculture

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The CFFO Commentary: Moving Beyond "Random Acts of Stewardship"

By John Clement

October 22, 2010

I recently heard a long-time promoter of environmental goods and service (EGS) payments to farmers argue that it’s time to move beyond “random acts of stewardship.” He’s glad to see farmers voluntarily plant buffer strips beside streams and increase habitat for species, but he thinks the time has come to move beyond strict voluntary stewardship towards a series of payments for farmers willing to undertake natural projects benefiting the public.

The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario would agree with the promoter’s assessment. The CFFO has been a long-time supporter of EGS payments, particularly as carried out through a program called Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS). We like ALUS because it’s conducted on a farmer-to-farmer basis and is voluntary. The CFFO believes that farmers have a natural stewardship ethic and that this ethic should be expanded beyond “random acts of stewardship.”

All that being said, the key sticking point regarding ALUS and other EGS payments comes down to funding. In particular, who is responsible for funding and how is the funding to be distributed? Here are some of the common questions that are asked regarding funding ALUS:

· Where does the money come from? Depending upon who you’re asking, the key candidates are usually federal, provincial or municipal governments. In addition, the other candidates are private foundation funding or some form or “market mechanism” for creating projects.

· What, specifically, are we trying to deliver? Again, depending upon who you’re asking the key candidates tend to be clean water, clean air, increased biodiversity, or climate change adaptation.

· Do payments cover start-up costs or ongoing services? Some see start-up costs as being legitimate costs for the public to cover, while others say both start-up costs and the ongoing service to the public should be purchased.

· How does ALUS fit in with existing programs? Groups like Conservation Authorities have been working for years with local farmers to improve watersheds. Questions are asked about how these existing programs would interact with an ALUS approach.

In light of these questions, and others, it’s going to be imperative that programs like ALUS be fine-tuned to clearly identify the societal goods they are trying to deliver. We need to quantify the benefits so that all stakeholders know what they’re buying and how much of it. In addition, it will be important to gather the best information on how programs like ALUS need to be rolled out for maximum uptake and public benefit.

At the CFFO, we’re talking with our members regarding making ALUS part of our handbook for the 2011 provincial election. We think that a series of ALUS pilot projects should be funded by the province and delivered in diverse ecosystems. By doing so, we can experiment with diverse approaches and identify best practices, preferred funding models, connections with other public programs and clear goals on moving further forward. It’s all in an attempt to move beyond “random acts of stewardship.”

John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.

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