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Progress Made in Several Areas to Strengthen Ties Between Agriculture and the Environment (PCN Summer 2014) JUL 9 2014 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Sharon McKinnon, CSWG Policy Program Coordinator

The Crop Sector Working Group (CSWG) continues to be involved in a number of agri-environmental issues on behalf of the Alberta crop commissions.

Through the Agri-Environmental Partnership of Alberta (AEPA), the CSWG has been working on land-use framework issues. The final South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP) is expected to be released shortly. Air and surface water management frameworks are part of the plan. The frameworks set triggers and limits for key environmental indicators in the SSRP and the other plans. The biodiversity management framework is taking longer to develop as it is more complicated to set objectives, triggers and limits for species at risk, for example, and for specific habitats. The North Saskatchewan Regional Plan is now underway with the formation of the Regional Advisory Council, for which AEPA nominated an agricultural representative.

The Alberta Wetland Policy, released in September 2013, will come into effect in the White (settled) Area of the province this August with the release of the Implementation Plan that is currently being developed by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD). At a recent industry briefing on the implementation plan, ESRD discussed the likelihood that there will be some form of wetland management frameworks in the regions, although it is unclear if there will be objectives set for wetlands with triggers and limits. We were assured that wetland restoration on private land will remain voluntary, which the CSWG has been pushing as a necessary condition in the implementation plan.

At the same time, there continues to be wetland loss on private land and the fact that landowners are rarely fined for illegal drainage doesn’t mean that enforcement of Water Act regulations around drainage won’t increase in the future. There is a level of frustration in the environmental sector that landowners are not held to the same level of scrutiny over wetland drainage as other industry players and municipalities.

Those of us representing agriculture continually point out the difficulties of farming around wetlands. There need to be better ways of managing both the interest of landowners and of wetland advocates. Part of the implementation plan will involve a wetland stewardship education component around the benefits and management of wetlands and regulations around the need for permits for any wetland drainage on private and public land. There is also ongoing research and policy development on creating incentives for landowners to preserve and restore wetlands.

The Bow River Phosphorus Management Plan (BRPMP) has been finalized, with work now beginning on the implementation phase. The BRPMP is a strategic level document that includes strategies and broad voluntary action areas for reducing cumulative phosphorus levels in the Bow River below Bearspaw Dam west of Calgary to Bassano. The CSWG was on the Steering Committee for the BRPMP and will continue to take part in the implementation phase. Phosphorus is less an issue for the cropping sector than for the livestock sector. However, there are actions, mainly around wetland and riparian management that the cropping sector can take to reduce phosphorus movement into water bodies.

Social license is something agriculture is hearing more and more and it is a key pillar for Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD). Social license is a term originally coined in the mining industry to reflect the public’s willingness to accept how the industry operates. The agriculture industry needs to pay attention as consumers become more and more concerned with where their food is coming from and how it is grown.

The US based Center for Food Integrity defines social license in the following way: “Social license is the privilege of operating with minimal formalized restrictions based upon maintaining the public’s trust to do what is right. That means that your practices align with the values and expectations of consumers, a community or a group of stake holders.”

The good news is that farming has a mostly positive social license but the challenge will be to maintain and improve it (see wetland issue above). Bad information leads to consumer demands for regulation, and more regulation means more costs to farmers. Our sector will need to be more proactive in managing positive messages around good environmental stewardship practices on the farm.

Agriculture More Than Ever is an industry initiative created to tell a positive story about agriculture. Many partners, including the Alberta Pulse Growers through Pulse Canada, have signed on to help lead the discussion on the positive things that are going on in agriculture, including on the environmental front. The CSWG will be working with ARD on social license and stewardship initiatives, so stay tuned for more action on this front.

A sustainable agriculture industry includes environmental, economic and social dimensions – good environmental stewardship, economic opportunities and a positive social license. We can have all of these.

Sharon McKinnon is the Crop Sector Working Group Policy Program Coordinator. The Crop Sector Working Group is the crop industry group focused on agrienvironmental industry issues. Alberta Pulse Growers is a member organization, along with Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Alberta Barley Commission, Alberta Wheat Commission, Alberta Potato Growers, Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, and Alberta Oat, Rye and Triticale Association. More information is available at