The Gleaner
Agriculture

A Canadian first: farmers to be compensated for environmental stewardship

The Quebec government is reaching out to farmers as partners in protecting the environment and the fight against climate change, with the goal of benefitting both farms and Quebec society as a whole.

The just-launched direct compensation program is the flagship measure of the Sustainable Agriculture Program (PAD), which provides $125 million split into three phases: agri-environmental research, training, and direct compensation for producers who go above and beyond the legal requirements.

In an interview with The Gleaner, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, André Lamontagne, expressed his pride at the outcome of two years of collaboration with stakeholders in the field. “We’re saying that we are ready to work with the producers to accelerate a change in practices, to improve soil health, and ultimately to improve our environmental health overall.”

The Minister also suggested that a high rate of producer participation could change the face of the agricultural landscape, which is particularly relevant in the Haut-Saint-Laurent where 94 per cent of the land mass is zoned for agriculture. “That’s the objective … We are truly a leader in Canada with this; … all agricultural operations will be able to benefit from crop diversification, will be able to benefit from soil protection, a reduction in herbicide use, will be able to increase biodiversity, to improve soil cover to build soil organic matter and health.”

Alain Primeau, who farms 180 hectares of cash crops in Saint-Chrysostome, says the direct compensation will allow him to mitigate the business risk associated with more sustainable practices. “For sure it will encourage us to do more. It’s a question of finding ways to get people on board. The environment is going to be a major issue, and people are going to have to take care of it.”

 

André Lamontagne, the minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as well as the MNA for Johnson
André Lamontagne the minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food as well as the MNA for Johnson spoke with The Gleaner about the provincial governments new compensation program for farmers PHOTO National Assembly of Quebec

 

Primeau was already planning to direct seed nearly half of his fields and would therefore be eligible for more than $5,000 in compensation, according to the framework available on the MAPAQ website, which provides for $17 per hectare of untilled soil in the fall.

If he decides to go a step further, by planting a cover crop between his rows of no-till corn, he could earn over $8,000 under the new program. “Sometimes it can be risky, sometimes it doesn’t work… there are weather-related challenges, but it usually works. It’s clear that this kind of program will encourage people to try, and that’s going in the right direction.”

Josiane Carrière, co-owner of the Ferme Urdani dairy farm in Saint-Anicet, welcomes the initiative even if she thinks her 70-hectare farm would not be eligible for the highest levels of compensation. “We’re a little too small; if we plant a cover crop, we generally harvest it for protein for the cows,” whereas the program requires that cover crops be left in the ground to provide maximum winter soil protection.

The veteran farmer also expressed doubts about the requirement to plant cover crops before September 15.
“We’re in an area where it’s profitable to grow corn, so we grow a lot of it, but it’s harvested late in the season. We know that we can plant cover crops in October without any problems and have good yields … but this program will certainly encourage cash-crop producers to review their rotations and reduce the amount of time they spend in the field tilling. There are farms that hardly work the soil at all, and others where the plough almost never sleeps.”

While many of the practices eligible for the program don’t apply on organic farms, small farms, or livestock farms, Minister Lamontagne suggests that the program aims to maximize the potential environmental benefits by targeting those that have the greatest impacts. “All farms will benefit from agri-environmental improvements regardless of the size of the operation. It’s clear that we have large [agricultural] areas, and that if these farms succeed in making small changes over large areas, it will yield big benefits.”

Primeau, who is also involved with the Producteurs de grains du Québec, particularly appreciates that the remuneration is accompanied by a training component. “We’re already doing some of that with the association, and what I’ve noticed is that it’s not as hard to convince young people. They’re more motivated to get involved with this kind of initiative. We have to find new techniques and it’s mostly about information; we have to raise awareness. We are looking to do more, so if the minister gets involved, it’s a plus for sure.”

“We’re providing an incentive to accelerate the rate of change,” concluded Lamontagne. “What we are launching is the beginning of a beautiful adventure, I would say; of a beautiful transformation.”

To register for the compensation program, farmers can consult the following link between March 7 and April 30 or contact the Financière agricole du Québec for more information: www.fadq.qc.ca/initiative-pratiques-agro.

 

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