Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Living a 'true five star country lifestyle'

Posted: November 7, 2012

Christoph Weder of Prairie Heritage Beef says the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) process is a key building block to strengthening a beef operation.

Producers involved in the premium beef brand are required to have completed an EFP and Weder believes this attribute is something more beef buyers are interested in. But while Weder wants to produce what he calls "Cadillac beef," he doesn't need - or want - what many view as "the five star Cadillac Escalade lifestyle," with all the bells and whistles typically associated with business success.

"Everyone has their own values. For us, the ability to live out here and make a good living ranching in a way we can take pride in is all the reward."

At a basic level, the most tangible benefits are simple ones that make themselves evident everyday, he says. "For many of the ranchers I know, it's just kind of nice to go into your pasture and see its got sedges and willows growing on the edges, a few deer passing by and ducks flying through, as opposed to one that's been beat up all around. You can't put a price tag on that. That to me is the country version of a true five-star lifestyle."

New buffer zone calculator

Posted: November 7, 2012

Crop producers can test drive a new buffer zone calculator that helps them understand the concepts behind new buffer zone guidelines for Canada launched in 2011.

The new guidelines represent a more customizable, sophisticated approach that allows applicators to modify the buffer zone based on how they conduct their application, says Jock McIntosh of Alberta Environment and Water, one of the people involved in developing the guidelines and the calculator.

"The calculator can help applicators understand how to modify labeled no-spray buffer zones for the specific conditions of their site," says McIntosh. Information on drift mitigation along with the buffer zone calculator can be found on the Health Canada website at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/pest/agri-commerce/drift-derive/index-eng.php.

McIntosh says the calculator is a valuable learning tool and encourages applicators to test drive it. As more feedback is received, it will help decisions on potential options to make the calculator a better tool and available in more field-friendly versions, such as a smartphone application.

Banff, Jasper and the EFP

Posted: November 7, 2012

For Christoph Weder of Prairie Heritage Beef, a long time proponent of the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) process, a clear tie that binds these two National Parks with the farmer environmental stewardship tool is excellence in biodiversity.

In the case of EFP, promoting good practices for biodiversity is also part of strengthening the reputation of Canadian beef. And Weder believes all market segments of the beef business can benefit from being on top of their game in environmental management.

"We need to keep doing good things and keep telling our story," he says. "Beef production, for as much as it gets beat up in the media at times, is probably the most sustainable form of agriculture because it allows for biodiversity on huge tracts of land.

You can go across my ranch and see more biodiversity than you'll see going through Jasper or Banff sometimes. And people forget that. With Prairie Heritage Beef, that's the kind of thing we've used in developing our marketing and we find with our customers it is paying off."

Building a brand for stewardship

Posted: November 7, 2012

Harnessing tools such as EFPs helps drive new North American opportunities for potato growers, says Edzo Kok of the Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA).

The industry approach in Canada is based on a thorough approach to documenting benchmark information on current industry practices, while also documenting clear targets for progress, using tools such as grower surveys and Environmental Farm Plans (EFPs).

The results are helping the industry build momentum and target growth opportunities, particularly in the North American market, says Kok, the PGA Executive Director. "The top customers we deal with are very pleased with what we're doing and are actually pointing to the potato industry as an example for their other suppliers to follow."

New generation of soil management

Posted: November 7, 2012

Canadian farmers are driving a new generation of developments in soil management that are changing the face of Canadian agriculture.

"Farmers are very aware of sustainable soil management today," says Glen Shaw, executive director of the Soils Conservation Council of Canada (SCCC). "Soil management techniques such as reduced tillage farming systems have revolutionized cropping systems. Rather than tilling fields, crops are planted through the soil-protecting residue cover of the previous crop. That residue cover prevents erosion and improves soil health."

Another growth area is precision agriculture where producers use new technology such as GPS units linked with new generation application capability to precisely apply exact amounts of agricultural inputs and manage their land in the most sustainable way.

"Soil conservation is so much more than erosion control today," says Shaw. "Food producers see their farms as part of broad food production systems directly linked with issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, water quality, air quality and biodiversity."

Cattle industry aids bird habitat conservation

Posted: November 7, 2012

As the world looks for ways to protect grassland birds and other threatened migratory bird populations, cattle producers across Canada have emerged as an important part of the solution.

Migratory bird populations have dropped sharply worldwide, with many grassland bird species high on the list of priorities for conservation action. Beef farmers and ranchers own or manage approximately 21 million hectares of grass pastures in Canada that are also prime habitat for these birds.

The greatest threat to these migratory bird populations is loss of habitat, said Jon McCracken, a biologist and national director of Bird Studies Canada, a not-for-profit bird conservation organization. "The decline of migratory birds is a global phenomenon that we are experiencing here in Canada," said McCracken. "For grassland birds, the biggest issue has been the loss of grasslands, whether native prairie, rangeland or hayfields. If it weren't for the cattle industry, we'd have lost many of these threatened bird species already."