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Norfolk County Alternative Land Use Services Pilot Project

The Norfolk County Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) Pilot Project is a farmer-driven, farmer-led initiative based on the ALUS concept of paying farmers for the provision of ecological goods and services produced on their land.  ALUS empowers farmers to protect, enhance, and increase natural capital on the farm.  This natural capital comes in many forms such as wetlands, riparian zones, forest cover, native grasslands, pollinator habitat, etc.  These areas provide society with a steady flow of ecological goods and services vital to healthy human populations.  The ALUS Pilot Project targets marginal land to be restored into patches of healthy, functioning ecosystems that provide the greater society with purification of water and air, pollination, biodiversity, erosion control and sediment retention, soil renewal, and so forth. ALUS operates on the belief that land use practises employed by Canada’s farmers and ranchers are part of the solution to the environmental issues and loss of natural capital facing Canadian society today.

Photo of ALUS Project Coordinator, Kristen Thompson

Photo of ALUS Project Coordinator, Kristen Thompson

Through the ALUS Pilot Project, farmers in Norfolk County are eligible to enrol up to 20% of their worked (marginal) agricultural land to be restored into patches of healthy, functioning ecosystems for the provision of ecological goods and services.  Examples of this include wetland creation in low, wet areas of a field where annually, optimal yields are not being reached; or retiring field edges (headlands) adjacent to water courses to establish deep rooted, perennial grass and forb (Tallgrass Prairie) buffers.  More examples of projects completed through the Norfolk ALUS Pilot Project can be found at

Since its inaugural year in 2008, the ALUS Pilot Project has engaged 57 farm families on 62 different farms.  The Norfolk ALUS team has welcomed roughly 900 people to the County to participate in over 40 farm tours demonstrating the work being done within Norfolk’s agricultural community.  In addition to this, the ALUS message has been communicated to nearly 3000 people across Ontario through participation and involvement in workshops, lectures, meetings, etc.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Norfolk ALUS Pilot Project visit the website at or contact Kristen Thompson at – (519) 426-5999 ext: 2220.

What do you think are the most pressing food and agriculture issues facing Ontario?

There are many issues facing the agricultural sector in Ontario that deserve both attention and action.  The dramatic expansion of agricultural operations, from small family farms to large commercial operations, has made it increasingly difficult for small family operations to stay in business. Even more so, it has made it increasingly difficult if not impossible for young farmers to take over the family farm, or branch out on their own.  As farms grow in size and become corporate, ties to the land shift from the historical and cultural family connections that fostered good land stewardship in the interest of protecting local resources to corporate business relationships.  These large business operations do not hold the same connection to the land and stewardship on the farm diminishes to reflect a more intensive, production based relationship with the land driven by the bottom line.  Larger farm sizes also mean more land being rented; land rental does not foster the same tie to the land as the family farm and these short term connections lead to reduced good land stewardship initiatives and vested interests in the future of the land and the resources it possesses. For example, here in Norfolk, one family farm is now growing cash crops on 10,000 acres of sensitive sand plain land.  Historically, 10,000 acres of land would have supported approximately 100 tobacco farm families a couple of decades ago.  Consequently, rural populations suffer, school enrolment declines leading to closure, local economies suffer from fewer consumers and fewer businesses, etc.  The shift away from tobacco and other crops on small family farms means that in order for farmers to survive in the sector today they must grow on larger acreages and use larger equipment.  The move to larger equipment means the removal of windbreaks, originally planted to reduce wind erosion of these sensitive sandy soils. These removals have a great potential to impact the environment negatively and the ability of the soils to support continued agriculture.

What policies could best address these issues?

A provincial wide ALUS-type program for the payment of ecological goods and services will provide a new income stream to farmers and will reward good land stewards for protecting the resources of today for the future.  The payment of ecological goods and services is not meant to be a profitable means of income, but is meant to make environmental stewardship practises a part of the working landscape that does not detract from farm incomes.  This will help some farm families stay on the farm and encourage commercial agricultural producers to assess their yields critically and select areas that could be used towards the production of ecological goods and services more effectively.

In addition to this, a payment for ecological goods and services program provincially implemented will help to retain a healthy landscape, vital to human populations, and make it worthwhile for even cash croppers to farm around natural areas and return their marginal lands back into native habitat.

A provincial ALUS type program will also stimulate more agro and eco tourism by creating more natural spaces to be enjoyed.  As mentioned above, the Norfolk ALUS Pilot Project, in just two years of operation have brought roughly 900 visitors to the area.

An emphasis on the 100 mile diet and buying food locally will help farmers generate more business and will help retain some farm families making a positive impact on the local economy.

What role do you see Sustain Ontario playing to address these issues?

1)    Promote the Alternative Land Use Services/Payment for Ecological Goods and Services

2)    Promote local food: connect consumers and farmers with local markets, information on where to purchase local foods, and how to maintain a local food based diet year round.

3)    Promote support for family farms and support government policies that benefit rural communities.