I normally point a skeptical lens towards government policies and can be guilty of viewing most compromises as deals that are bad for all involved. But I am pleasantly surprised with the balance and good judgement that has been shown in the new regulations governing tree planting on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in British Columbia (BC).
Under the new regulations, property owners in the ALR will need to apply to the Agricultural Land Commission to plant trees on properties larger than 20 hectares, if those trees are not for an accepted ALC farm use such as food production or agroforestry.
These new regs essentialy allow business as usual for the appropriate use of trees on farms in BC for food production in either conventional (e.g. orchards) or agroforestry settings, while putting the brakes on the recent carbon-credits driven mania. In a recent land rush, primarily foreign multinationals have been seeking to offset their emissions in Europe and the United States by buying and afforesting farms and ranches in the interior of BC. In essence, they were were preserving their unsustainable manufacturing emissions profiles, by ripping land out of agricultural production into carbon-credit reserves, with serious implications for the long-term sustainability of BC agriculture.
BC’s agricultural land base is far too small to remove large blocks of land to devote solely for carbon sequestration. Especially given that we can achieve improved food security and conservation without removing this land from production. With expanded use of agroforestry we can proverbially have our cake and eat it too. These new regulations are win for an integrated approach to land use.
It was my pleasure to facilitate the now defunct BC Agroforestry Industry Development Initiative (a.k.a the ‘BC Agroforestry Initiative’, ‘Agroforestry BC’) from 2004 to 2013.
Until last month an archive of the projects completed under the Initiative were hosted on www.agroforestry.info. In a move of pure frugality I have shifted hosting to Google’s Blogger platform here:
Here’s to keepin’ the agroforestry revolution alive in BC.
Ecological goods and services (EGS) are the natural outputs and processes that create health, economic or social benefits. In British Columbia, as in many other jurisdictions, agricultural operations tend to occupy portions of the landscape both high in biodiversity and supporting key ecological functions. Agricultural lands have therefore become a focus for the development of payment for ecological services (PES) programs as a means to reward private-land stewardship that restores or maintains EGS.
The Ecological Services Initiative (ESI) was established in 2009 to demonstrate and test the concept of PES schemes for agricultural producers. As a next step to advance support of EGS from agricultural lands, the British Columbia Agricultural Research and Development Corporation (ARDCorp) undertook a strategic review of the ESI and explored options for the future support of EGS from agricultural lands in BC.
The British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture is sponsoring a research project to help better understand the amount of soil nutrients deposited on livestock feeding grounds in the interior of British Columbia. This information will be used to build reference values that can aid ranchers in understanding the carry-over fertilizer effects from manure and feed remnants deposited on seasonal feeding areas (sites used for pasture, hay or other crops during the growing season, and also for feeding, watering and bedding livestock in the dormant season). Through better nutrient management planning, producers can lower the costs for their forage production while minimizing any risk to the environment, through avoiding over application.
Fifty-eight ranching operations from Kelowna to Smithers, and points in-between will allow researchers to access their feeding sites this winter (starting January 2015) to take samples of beef cattle manure and/or feed remnants. These samples will be sent for laboratory analysis to determine the total nutrient content (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) and its availability for crop growth.
Those participating in the study will be receiving, free of charge, the results of the analysis of the nutrients deposited on their own ranch, as well as the regional averages.
Expressions of interest to participate in this research project are now closed. Results are expected to be released in mid-2015.
Funding for this research is being provided through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
There can be many motivations for adopting agroforestry practices. While not a cure-all for land management, agroforestry presents a range of viable production options that can provide social, economic and environmental benefits through integrated use.
I think it can be constructive sometimes to view a silvopasture (integrated tree, forage and livestock production areas) as a form of insurance in the ranching sector. A living insurance policy through diversification that works on many levels.
First, it can be a form of production insurance as a means to diversify grazing resources on the ranch. Trees can help conserve moisture in their understory, and they delay the maturity of forbs and grasses. This means seasonal drought or high temperatures that can dessicate open grown-plants, are tempered in the silvopasture. These types of droughts can occur annually in some areas or are less frequent but still expected in other areas. But in both cases, having a portion of the ranch’s forage production derived from silvopastures insures against total forage losses. And silvopastures can maintain a source of higher quality green feed, when other grasses and forages have weathered away. Moreover, in northern areas, the main benefit may come from increased frost protection in the spring and fall. The ability of the overstory canopy to erase small radiative frosts adds valuable frost-free days to the growing season, thus extending the availabilty of higher quality grazing resources.
Second, it comes in the form of insurance for the whole operation against a significant downturn in beef cattle prices. Cattle markets are cyclical. Always have been, always likely will be (and I don’t see supply management systems taking root in the beef sector). Therefore, even the best and most efficient ranch operations in the world still need to plan for significant market down cycles where their profit margins will be dictated by conditions outside of their control. The BSE crisis in Canada has also taught us that export markets can collapse rapidly and for prolonged periods, with little fore warning in the modern globalized, food supply chains. Making sustainable use of another renewable resource on the ranch provides insurance against losses in your beef business bankrupting the operation. Silvopasture, and the opportunity to sell timber or other forest and non-timber forest products during a low in cattle prices, may be the difference for some ranches between staying in the business for the long-run and falling victim to short-term market pressures.
Third, silvopastures, through the host of ecological goods and services (EG&S) they provide, contribute to building and sustaining social insurance for individual ranches and the sector as a whole. Understandable, some producers may not relish the situation, but all must acknowledge the facts: if you live in a rural area, you are now in the minority. And if you farm or ranch, you are in the minority. The political power resides largely in urban centres, and without a constant and deliberate effort to build goodwill in communities, regions and nations, ranchers are more vulnerable to misguided policies and that will wrap them too tight in red tape to move, let alone carry out their businesses sustainably and profitably. Silvopasture and all agroforestry, through providing EG&S, aesthetics and other non-tangible benefits, contribute to sustaining the social license that the beef sector needs to keep operating in world increasingly dominated by urban dwellers divorced from the realities of agriculture.