The Gleaner
Agriculture

25 years of achievements for the Club agroenvironnemental du bassin La Guerre

Agronomist Sylvie Thibaudeau is especially proud as she criss-crosses the La Guerre River watershed in Saint-Anicet this fall, because the landscape has changed so much over the past 25 years.

The fields of 35 local farmers, which used to be muddy brown come autumn, are now planted with cover crops or plants that were seeded for the main purpose of nourishing the soil and protecting it from the ravages of winter weather. Uncovered soil is vulnerable to erosion and the leaching of nutrients, which could then wind up in the La Guerre River and consequently Lake Saint-François. It is a significant issue that has been much discussed in the region.

Thibaudeau says that as the Club Agroenvironnemental du Bassin La Guerre is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it is a good time to highlight the work that has been accomplished by the more than three dozen farmers she accompanies who came together to improve their agri-environmental practices at their own expense. “It is a great way to pay tribute to them and to congratulate them on a job well done. The club’s work is a benchmark for Quebec in terms of sustainable agricultural practices,” she says.

Founded in 1996 by a small group of five producers who were already conducting field trials with new practices, the club also aspired to improve cohabitation between farmers and shoreline residents. It quickly attracted new members.

One of the club’s most important achievements was its work to characterize the watershed in collaboration with the Institut de Recherche et de Développement en Agroenvironnement (IRDA) and the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation (MAPAQ) during the summer of 2001.

“The objective was to obtain a precise diagnosis of the state of the water quality and land, and to then take ‘tailor-made’ actions to improve the quality of the La Guerre River,” says Thibaudeau. “These concerted investments in watershed land development, and the implementation of soil conservation farming practices, have translated into very tangible results in terms of water quality – most notably by reducing sediment and phosphorus exports at the watershed outlet by almost half.”

The results are unprecedented in Quebec at the scale of a watershed, and they have earned the club several accolades, including a Canadian Environmental Award in 2008, as well as a Conscienta Award of Excellence in Environment and Sustainable Development from the Conseil regional de l’environnement de la Montérégie.

 

A good example of cover cropping at Fermes Ajiro 1989 located in Godmanchester where the owners have converted all 390 hectares to semi direct farming PHOTO Sylvie Thibaudeau

 

“What we were doing became contagious,” says founding president Sylvain Gascon of the ripple effect of the club’s practices on neighbouring farms. “Cultivation techniques have changed. A lot of people have adopted semi-direct or no-till farming, which greatly reduces erosion. Then, many adopted cover crops. And now, we are developing semi-direct tillage, where we sow soybeans, for example, directly on a cover crop,” Gascon explains. “It seemed crazy when we first started talking about it, but it’s been established for three to four years now and is starting to spread,” he says.

Beyond the recognition received by the club, Thibaudeau points out that “The group’s dynamic, which includes sharing of information, participation in group activities, and mutual support between members, is another aspect that makes it a model to be replicated.”

After 25 years, the club has no intention of giving up; work in the fields is not over, and the work to raise awareness about sustainable agricultural practices has only just begun. The club has already organized several activities, including field visits, to enable Saint-Anicet residents to witness the progress being made. Thibaudeau says, “This work must continue, because residents are not very aware of these achievements and their beneficial impact on the environment (including their benefits on water quality). The effort required to implement them is also little known.”

Gascon says that while the group’s priorities have been achieved, there will always be room for improvement. “We will continue to evolve, and we will work to get new generations to follow these practices,” he explains. “I am very proud to see the second generation coming on board.”

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