There is a lot of interest in Lambton County to find new ways to use farmland that isn’t being used for cattle or crops.
Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) helps farmers to build ecosystem-enhancing projects to improve the health of soil and water on non-productive farmland.
“Interest is growing,” says Lambton ALUS coordinator Lindsay Buchanan at the July 27 meeting of the National Farmers Union in Florence. “We’re changing mindsets about different uses for land.”
The ALUS program is unique as it pays an annual rental fee for land used. Funding comes from a diverse group of partners, the biggest of which is the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, which has just committed $5 million.
According to Buchanan approximately 200 acres of land in Lambton is currently sponsored with ALUS, the majority involving watercourse buffer systems, and seedings of tall grass prairie.
Everyone benefits, Buchanan says. Farmers get better soil with increased moisture, pollutants are filtered and green spaces are good for the public at large.Wetland creation is a goal. “Anytime we can hold back water on the landscape, we need to do that,” Buchanan says.
The indigenous species used in ALUS projects are drought resistant and do not require the use of herbicides or pesticides.
The bio-diverse mix of flowers and grasses in tall grass prairie attracts pollinators, and provides much-needed habitat for birds, such as barn swallows, which are currently in decline. It also adds biomass to the soil.
The program started in Manitoba 10 years ago and has edged its way across Canada with most projects in Alberta.
David Reid, ALUS hub manager for Eastern Canada and the Maritimes, said the program is community-driven and farmer-delivered.
“Farmers are in the best position to deliver conservation on their land,” Reid told the meeting, adding ALUS only goes in “if the farm community wants us.”
A former longtime biologist with the MNR, Reid hails from Norfolk County, where ALUS has been operating successfully since 2008.
The Lambton National Farmers Union wants to encourage local projects. President Emery Huszka presented ALUS with a cheque for $500 to be used to kick-start projects in Lambton.
“With a good seed, you get a good crop,” Huszka says, adding local farmers can make the difference.