LETTER FROM ONTARIO
Who's paying for environmental responsibility?
Everyone wants clean air, water and flourishing natural habitats--so maybe it's time everyone started paying for them

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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April 7, 2005: Last week, folks from across Canada assembled in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for a National Workshop. Farmers, farm leaders, rural landowners, municipal councilors, civil servants, economists, conservationist and environmentalists gathered to deepen their understanding of the ALUS concept. ALUS, A…. L…. U…. S…. stands for Alternative Land Use Services on private land. Others have used the name “environmental goods and services” or just “ecological services.”

The ALUS concept is gathering steam around the country. A plan forged by Prince Edward Island detailing Environmental Services Contracts awaits the signatures of funding agencies. Pilot projects are under discussion in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In Ontario, the Norfolk Federation of Agriculture has developed a pilot that is ready to do a benchmark survey. Nationally, a Deputy Minister’s Working Group has been mandated.

ALUS is about recognizing the stewardship activities of farmers on their private land. Farmers produce more than food and fibre. Their privately owned lands are also the source of much of our clean water, fresh air, biodiversity, abundant wildlife and attractive landscapes. Their approach to farming and their commitment to stewardship impact the quantity and quality of these environmental goods and services.

In the past, governments have used a scattergun approach to grants and project money for farm families to change farm practices with a goal of improving ecological services. But governments have shifted their approach. New rules and regulations simply demand that farmers on their private land deliver these environmental goods and services to the rest of us – for free. Municipalities want well-head protection areas. The Ministry of Environment wants buffers along every stream. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans wants every ditch that holds water to be fish habitat. The Species at Risk Act demands habitat protection.

Farm families can no longer carry the burden of these responsibilities on private land. Their commitment to stewardship has not declined – rather, the cost of stewardship is out of control. And because most farm commodities are marketed on a price-taker basis, the option of passing these costs on to consumers through the price paid for food production does not exist.

It’s time for an ALUS program. ALUS can be the farmer’s stewardship plan – designed by farmers and delivered by farmers. ALUS can conserve environmentally sensitive areas and enhance environmental goods and services on private land – without regulation on top of regulation.

ALUS is about society paying for environmental goods and services rather than seizing them by regulation. Farm families are very willing to increase forest cover by planting trees, set aside land for marshes, manage grasslands with songbirds in mind, maintain natural and healthy wildlife habitat, and keep the air clear and water fresh. Society should pay for these services.

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