The Protector Newsletter Spring 2001

President's Message, by Bill Poole, PAg

The Environmental Farm Planning Workshop hosted by the Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre and SCC in Moncton, NB, at the end of March was certainly a resounding success. With attendees from all ten provinces, it was likely the most significant national event dealing with environmental farm plans that has been held in Canada to date. The local arrangements made by Jean-Louis Daigle and his staff from the ECSWCC were outstanding as was the program put together by the workshop steering committee.

The Soil Conservation Council's board meetings and the annual meeting held in conjunction with the workshop were also event-filled. The Board accepted, with regret, Glen Hass' decision to resign as our executive director effective June 30. Glen has provided exceptional leadership for our organization for the past five years and he and Elaine will both be greatly missed. Fortunately for us, they will continue to be involved with one of our projects for some time, so we'll be keeping in touch with them.

I believe we have been able to find a well-qualified person who has accepted the Board's offer to become our next executive director beginning July 1. Doug McKell, PAg of Indian Head, a former executive director of the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association, is very familiar with soil conservation programming. Doug will be getting his "feet wet" early with a summer Board meeting in Winnipeg in mid-July. We're looking forward to working with him.

As is usually the case at annual meeting time, there have been some changes in Board membership and some new faces have appeared around the table. I'd like to welcome Eric Patterson of the Nova Scotia Soil and Crop Improvement Association, Brian Haddow of the Peace River Soil Conservation Association (BC) and Howie Heinrichs of Monsanto Canada to the Board.

When new faces arrive, it also means that some old friends have left the table and that is always regrettable. I must particularly recognize two retiring Board members, Bill McCurdy of Nova Scotia and Jim Sandwith of BC. They both provided yeoman's service to the Council under difficult circumstances. Their personal dedication to our objectives helped give us the opportunity to become a national organization and we are very grateful to them for that.

I hope spring has been kind to you, although from the look of the weather maps on TV is may have been more than half an hour late in arriving in Newfoundland!

Minimizing Environmental Liability

The best way to prevent environmental liability is to identify environmental risks on farms and take precautionary measures to minimize environmental fallout. Common sense in the handling, use and storage procedures of toxic products will go a long way but even then accidents do happen. But how does a farmer determine if he or she is farming in an environmentally responsible way? One way is to complete an environmental assessment or audit.

An environmental assessment is a comprehensive and systematic examination of an operation's past, present and future environmental health. Environmental assessments for farming operations are rare and would be required only where a major development or expansion of the farm threatened to cause a serious environmental disruption to surrounding areas. An environmental audit, on the other hand, is a sort of snapshot of the environmental health of a property or business.

Farmers can self-audit their farms or have an independent consultant complete a farm environmental audit. An environmental audit by an independent third party will involve a site inspection, perhaps soil and water analysis, interviews with the farmer and farm employees. It will typically result in a report which comments on the farm's compliance with environmental regulation generally, evidence of any environmental damage on the farm in the way of spills, etc., the current holdings of toxic products on the farm as well as methods used to store, handle and dispose of those products and perhaps the existence of prior environmental audits completed and charges or convictions for environmental offences. Special hazards will also be noted such as the presence of PCB's, underground fuel tanks, manure lagoons, or pits and any soil that is clearly less productive or contaminated because of spills or other environmental accidents. The report may also include a section suggesting a plan of action for the correction of any existing or potential environmental risks on the farm property.

Farm environmental audits, especially self-audits, are becoming more common as a simple way to minimize environmental risks.

Lenders and prospective purchasers sometimes require that an environmental audit be completed before they will do business with a farmer. When the prospective purchaser or lender sees the report, he or she may decide that no significant environmental hazards exist so the sale or loan transaction is completed. If there is a hazard, the owner may have to agree to remedy the hazard, before the purchase or loan. Or if the hazard cannot be remedied or is only a potential hazard, the owner may agree to reimburse the purchasers or the lenders if they incur any liability for environmental risks after sale or loan has been made. This agreement to reimburse may not be of much interest to lenders. If they foreclose on the property for non-payment, it means that the farmer will not have the money to reimburse the bank if it is held liable for environmental harm after it becomes owner of the land. If there is actual or high risk of environmental damage reported in an audit, lenders may simply choose not to lend to that farmer as their risk is too great.

Finally, an environmental audit, whether completed by a third party or one completed and acted upon by the farmer himself, not only provides the farmer with sound footing for selling the farm or obtaining a loan, it may also protect the farmer against court actions for negligence or nuisance as it is a strong indicator that the farmer has and continues to operate the farm in a responsible manner.

Dr. John Toogood Honored

The 2001 recipient of the Conservation Hall of Fame is the late Dr. John Alfred Toogood of Edmonton, Alberta. Dr. John Toogood never forgot the Dirty Thirties when he watched his father's farm soil blow into the ditches like snow. He combined his love of the land with a passion for teaching and became one of the most prominent and influential soil scientists in all of North America. Dr. Toogood spent 30 years at the University of Alberta Soil Sciences department working tirelessly to improve agricultural production through research into soil testing and fertility, erosion control, production systems and agrometerology. His water erosion research was the first of its kind in Alberta and several extension bulletins and booklets were landmark publications. The simplified textural triangle, proposed by Dr. Toogood in 1958 and widely adopted across Canada, is now gaining international usage. Due to his foresight, the Breton Soil Fertility Plots, a critical tool used to gauge long term agricultural practices on land, were saved from abandonment and further developed. Dr. Toogood's practical and down-to-earth manner made him a popular teacher and speaker for farmers and fertilizer dealers, as well as industry representatives, policy-makers, media and scientists from around the world. Dr. Toogood's picture has been added to the Conservation Hall of Fame Honor Wall in the Sir John Carling Building in Ottawa.

Species at Risk Act is a Concern

Farmers and ranchers could fork out a lot of money to protect endangered species if recommendation submitted to the federal government are implemented. Environment Canada has released a report outlining how the federal government should handle compensation to landowners affected by the proposed Species at Risk Act. The Act would enable lands with endangered species or their habitats to be obtained from landowners in hopes of environmental conservation. The report suggests landowners should receive compensation if their lands are confiscated for environmental reasons. The report recommends compensation to landowners should not come into effect until the landowner experiences a loss equivalent to 10 percent of the property's value. Once that number is reached, 50 percent of any further losses will be compensated. Under the proposed compensation, a farmer would receive $4,000 in compensation for a $10,000 loss on land worth $20,000. Agricultural producers believe all compensation to landowners should be at full market value. The government's concern is that if the compensation is too high, it will discourage landowners from participating in voluntary co-operative measures.

Regulatory confiscation of land and a lack of safety net for farmers will actually have the opposite effect, and will discourage farmers from voluntary conservation of their lands. There should be no punitive or mandatory component involved in the Act whatsoever. From, SCC's perspective at looking at what has happened in the US, any kind of punitive measures will actually have a negative impact on protecting endangered species.

Saskatchewan landowners may be affected the most by the federal compensation package. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society of Saskatchewan has said about 25 percent of all endangered species in Canada either live or pass through Saskatchewan. Species at risk in Saskatchewan include the burrowing owl, the swift fox, prairie dogs, and the whooping crane, among others. The Species at Risk Act would be the first national law to protect the 340 species at risk across Canada.

Manitoba Climate Change Task Force

On March 20, Premier Gary Doer appointed the Manitoba Climate Change Task Force to help develop a provincial strategy to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change. This strategy will serve as a foundation upon which a provincial Action Plan respecting climate change can be prepared. They are seeking the views of Manitobans throughout the province. Both written and electronic submissions are being welcomed, and opportunities for face to face presentations during series of public meetings are being arranged. A booklet entitled Manitoba and Climate Change: A Primer will serve as a catalyst for discussion and provide background information for anyone wishing to prepare a submission for the Task Force to consider. A reference Workbook has also been published to draw out public comments on specific sectors of the economy in terms of future climate conditions. Copies of these booklets are available on-line or by requesting a written copy. A website has been established at www.cecmanitoba.ca. At this site you can obtain information about Task Force members, review Terms of Reference and even download copies of the Primer and Workbook.

Conservation Cover Program in Saskatchewan

The Conservation Cover Program is a four-year, $26 million initiative of the Government of Saskatchewan that will contribute to the cost of converting crop land to perennial cover. For the 2001 program year, $5 million is funding is available. The establishment of increased perennial cover will promote land stewardship and help address issues related to soil conservation, protecting water resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving Saskatchewan's biodiversity. Producers planning to convert land from annual crop production to perennial cover can receive funding to assist with the conversion costs through the Conservation Cover Program. The program will offer $15 per acre to a maximum of 50 acres (minimum five acres) of crop land seeded to perennial cover in 2001.

All soil classes are eligible. The crop land being converted must have been in annual cropping or summerfallow in 2000. There is no restriction on the perennial species established or future land use.

The University of Alberta Names Environmental Agriculture Chair

Dr. Les Fuller, a specialist in soil-landscape relationships known for his related work on the behaviour of agriculture chemicals in the environment, has been named to the new Chair in Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture a the University of Alberta. The appointment will be supported for six years with $900,000 in provincial funding. Fuller's job will be to work closely with the Alberta Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture Council (a group of government, industry and environmental group representatives) in developing research to address the effects of agriculture on the environment and natural resources, training graduates in sustainable agriculture, and getting research information out to the agri-food sector.

How Agricultural Producers Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Agriculture produces substantial amounts of two greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, and minor amounts of carbon dioxide. Many practices that are adopted by agricultural producers for a variety of benefits also reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and thereby help slow climate change. Some of these practices are:

  • Conserving fuel by limiting the number and intensity of field operations.
  • Using conservation or no-till systems to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the soil.
  • Using soil tests to apply nitrogen fertilizers only when and where they are needed. Using less nitrogen fertilizer can decrease emissions of nitrous oxide.
  • Management of grass-based animal production systems using, for example, rotational grazing and improved forages. This decreases methane emissions from ruminant animal production.
  • Using methane-recovery systems for liquid manure, such as digesters or covered lagoons, to reduce methane emissions and provide on-farm sources of biogas fuel for large livestock operations.
  • Using aerobic systems such as composting to reduce manure methane production from small livestock operations.
  • Improving animal production efficiency by, for example, improving nutrient balance and quality of livestock feed to reduce methane emissions produced by animal digestion.
  • Producing "biofuels" as a substitute for fossil fuels to reduce net carbon dioxide emissions. Plant material can be burned to generate energy or can be converted into fuels. Potential biofuels include traditional agricultural crops (such as barley, corn and soybeans), dedicated biofuel crops (such as grass and short rotation trees), and by-products of food and fibre processing.

Environmental Farm Planning Workshop

The Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre in collaboration with the Soil Conservation Council of Canada hosted an Environmental Farm Planning Workshop March 29-31, 2001, at the Crystal Palace Convention Centre in Moncton, N.B. This national event featured keynote speakers such as innovative producers from across Canada speaking on environmental farm planning, producer groups, policy analysts, institutional representatives and scientists speaking on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. The goals of the workshop were to bring together the key farm organization leaders and interested stakeholders from across Canada to evaluate the Environmental Farm Planning progress in the region, to improve regional networking in agri-environmental protection, and to increase awareness on climate change issues as they relate to agriculture. The Workshop targeted a wide audience such as individual agricultural producers and farm organization leaders, as well as representatives from governments, institutions and the agri-food industry from across Canada. All of the TAKING CHARGE team leaders attended this workshop. It provided an opportunity to discuss the value of EFP's as producers think about using best management practices on their farms. This EFP Workshop was sponsored by the Government of Canada Climate Change Action Fund through an Agricultural Awareness Partnership project.

Agricultural Awareness Partnership
Project

The Soil Conservation Council of Canada has entered into an agreement with PFRA, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. The goal of the project is to increase awareness by producers and the public relative to greenhouse gases and agriculture and the management practices that are and can be utilized to reduce net emissions.

Each of the partners in the project are organizing their own activities and actions which will lead to the achievement of the over all goal.

The Soil Conservation Council will identify a cooperator/farmer in each province who is already using a best management practice which contributes to reducing net emissions of GHG's. As this is a two year project, twenty Canadian farmers will be participating. Their farms will be acting as demonstration sites to promote various BMP's. Detailed data will be collected from each farmer. This information will be developed into a publication which can be used to promote BMP's to other producers. It will also provide a series of good news stories to promote how agriculture plays an important role in mitigating greenhouse gases.

Taking Charge Update

In 1999, the Soil Conservation Council of Canada implemented a project called TAKING CHARGE. The goal of this project is to enhance awareness, knowledge and commitment among Canadian farmers for the need to identify and utilize best management practices on their farms. As a result, they will contribute to Canada's overall objective of reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Provincial teams were formed from within the provincial soil conservation organizations. This provided a great opportunity to provide input to and receive information from producers who provide the farmgate voice.

In 2000, with funding from CARD several activities and actions have been undertaken. Within most of the provinces, several "awareness" events relating to GHG's have been organized. In Newfoundland, for example, several workshops were held to provide specific information on what greenhouse gases are, why it is important to use best management practices to reduce them and what other farmers in their province are using best management practices. Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also held events which were part of their provincial organizations' annual conferences or in Nova Scotia's case, part of a meeting with representatives from all commodity groups. As Jean-Louis Daigle, Director of Eastern Canada Soil and Water Conservation Centre said, "Without the CARD funding none of these activities would have taken place. They were able to utilize the funds to organize events that were very important to enhance the awareness of the issues relating to greenhouse gases. These activities also strengthened the organizations," he said, "as they now have a feeling that farmers can be part of the overall strategy for reducing emissions." Other provinces such as Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC held special sessions to discuss climate change in conjunction with ongoing provincial events.

The program has also produced information material relating to specific greenhouse gas emission reduction by using best management practices. A video covering the use of best management practices on farms has been produced. The video called, TAKING CHARGE, has been widely distributed and was produced in both English and French. "This video shows farmers can make changes on their farms," says Glen Hass, Executive Director of the Soil Conservation Council. "When farmers view the video, they begin to realize that they too can implement best management practices on their farms." In addition to the video, a website has been established, several fact sheets have been produced and three national workshops have been organized.

Without the funding from CARD, none of this would have taken place. By providing information about climate change and how it affects agriculture, producers have begun to take charge.

Annual Meeting Highlights

Bill Poole, PAg, was re-elected president of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada at the annual meeting held in Moncton. Stephen Broad from Ontario and Kendall Heise from Manitoba were elected vice presidents.

Other issues discussed included the pending introduction of Roundup tolerant wheat and the implications for conservation tillage, the need to clarify the process for developing policy statements, new developments in climate change negotiations and future plans for promoting soil and water conservation.

Introducing the New Executive Director

Doug McKell, PAg, was born in 1955 and raised on a farm near Regina. He attended elementary and high school in Regina and graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. In the past twenty-four years Doug has gained an extensive and varied knowledge of the agriculture industry through working with industry, government, non-government and private business. He spent four years with Monsanto Canada, two years in agriculture extension in the public sector, six years managing the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association and a few years operating a family consulting business which included a stint in British Columbia setting up and running a ginseng farm. At the same time Doug and his wife Judy managed their farm near Indian Head which they purchased in 1980 and moved to in 1982.

Currently, Doug, Judy (who is the Extension Agrologist for Saskatchewan Agriculture at Indian Head) and their children, Nicole and Brad live on their farm near Indian Head.

With his experience in soil conservation and organizational management, Doug will provide strong leadership to the Soil Conservation Council of Canada.