New ALR Tree Planting Rules Gets it Right

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New ALR Tree Planting Rules Gets it Right

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 (ALC) 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.

Climate Change Adaptation for the Agriculture Sector

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is developing climate change strategy in an attempt to address the domestic and international climate change mitigation and adaptation challenges and opportunities. As part of this exercise, AAFC is holding a series of regional workshops across Canada to inform the fed’s development of a road map for climate change including identifying priority actions that can be taken to become more resilient to long-term climate changes.

I participated in one of these workshops this week in Vancouver with a large group dominated by government employees, and few industry representatives.

I believe we need to view the climate adaptation strategy holistically. The ability to adapt to any situation is strengthened by the fiscal strength of the sector and individual operations. In that light, all levels of government should re-examine policies and regulations that are undermining the viability of agriculture in Canada. For example, meat processing regulations have greatly hindered the profit potential and market outlets for livestock producers. Why should farmers worry about adapting their operations to changing climate if they won’t be in business next year?

It’s been said that diversification is the only free lunch. And diversity is a hedge against unplanned change. So we need to look to crop choice and the diversity of growing conditions employed to hedge against climate change. For example, if we focus again on the livestock sector, one strategy to adapt to cyclical drought is through blending forage production in pastures and silvopastures. In a dry year, tree cover will conserve soil moisture and understory forages can outproduce plants grown in the open.

We might also expect increased wind and water erosion potential with episodic drought and flooding. We need to buffer these extremes to preserve the productive landbase and protect other resource values. In that vein, we should move aggressively to increase the use of riparian buffers and shelterbelts in Canada and actively provide incentives to manage and rejuvenate old shelterbelts. A big step forward needed to increase producer adoption of agroforestry plantings is to eliminate the punitive regulations and property tax regimes that discourage their use. Agroforestry is a key for future production systems because it helps to both adapt to and mitigate (e.g. sequester carbon) climate change and offers diversification opportunities for non-timber forest resources.

Finally, we need to plan transition strategies for both cropping and conservation plantings. Priority areas should be those at the highest risk for radical shifts in ecological amplitude and thus the basic suite of suitable cropping opportunities. For example, if the sub-boreal belt shifts northward with warming, there will a host of species not suited to warmer, drier conditions, but the larger temperate belt will have changing growth patterns but it won’t render the crop options totally irrelevant. Impacts on weeds, diseases, insects, irrigation requirements and growing season (timing planting and harvest) will all need careful examination and adjustments to the current set of best management practice recommendations.

10 Ways Agroforestry Will Make the Planet Cleaner and Greener

In a world of seemingly overwhelming environmental problems, it is good to know there are practical solutions available to meet these challenges head on. Agroforestry is one of the ‘green’ technologies that can help the agricultural industry meet and exceed society’s demands for sustainable production practices. Or as I like to think of agroforestry, it is where the ‘green’ rubber hits the environmentally friendly road.

Agroforestry systems integrate trees or shrubs with other agricultural production (and also, in the case of forest farming, integrate cultivation of food, fibre or natural health products in forested systems). These systems blend agriculture, silviculture and conservation practices in the same land use system to reap the social, economic and environmental synergies that result. As my homage to Earth day, I wanted to focus on the environmental benefits of adopting agroforestry. A wonderful thing about agroforestry is that it can function to serve both conservation and production roles. Implementing conservation doesn’t become a financial burden for the land owner, in fact, it can generate income. Agroforestry is conservation that pays. So here are 10 ways agroforestry will make the planet cleaner and greener:

1. As Carbon Sinks. Reintroducing trees and shrubs on lands cleared for agriculture provides a practical means to increase the amount of carbon stored both in the woody material and in soil carbon.

2. Providing Wildlife Habitat. Trees and shrubs add to the both the structural diversity and biodiversity of our agricultural landscapes.

3. Preventing Wind Erosion. Shelterbelts are a proven technology for interrupting the potentially erosive force of wind.

4. Trapping Dust. Trees and shrubs can be planted in belts to trap dust along roads, or in pockets to eliminate point sources such as from the exhaust fans from barns.

5. Reducing odour. Research done at Iowa State University and published in the journal Agroforestry Systems, demonstrated that shelterbelts can provide long term, year round odour interception from intensive livestock operations (read swine barns), with increasing effectiveness over time.

6. Decreasing noise pollution. Work by the USDA has shown that a functional buffer of trees and shrubs can reduce noise by about five to ten decibels.

7. Preventing energy loss. According to the Agroforestry Division of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, properly designed and maintained five-row shelterbelts can reduce energy loss from buildings due to the effects of wind but as much as 25%.

8. Cooling water. The shade cast by trees and shrubs along streams and rivers cools the water, and through that, improves the habitat for fish and other aquatic critters.

9. Stabilizing stream banks. Deep rooted trees and shrubs anchor soil in place, preventing high water flows from eroding away stream and river banks and adjacent lands.

10. Improving the view. Good fences make good neighbors and a well placed row of trees and shrubs will make the whole community happy. Shelterbelts are excellent edge planning tools allowing for an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ solution to the less pleasant views of life.

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