Programs that benefit producers and the environment are win-win
Whoever said “the grass is greener on the other side” must have been standing in Alberta or Manitoba.
In 2020, Saskatchewan producers seeded a record-breaking 25,000 acres of grass through Ducks Unlimited Canada’s (DUC’s) Forage Program. Overall acres enrolled in the program were up roughly 75 per cent from the previous year. Goals for this year’s program? Even higher.
“Seeding forage ticks a lot of boxes for producers and I think we’ve seen an increase in interest in our programs as a result of that,” says Trevor Plews, DUC’s head of conservation programs in Saskatchewan.
While forage crops provide sustainable grazing sources for livestock, they’re also part of sound land management, and deliver many agro-ecosystem benefits. Planted forages diversify crop rotations, help prevent erosion, retain nutrients, and provide much-needed pollinator habitat. When used in crop margins, they can reduce herbicide resistant weeds, act as buffer zones to meet product label guidelines and help manage clubroot issues in canola crops.
DUC’s Forage Conversion Program assists with field-scale conversion of cultivated areas and pays $35/acre toward the cost of seeding. Uptake of this program has nearly tripled since 2017 with 396 Saskatchewan farmers participating over the last three years. The Marginal Areas Program (MAP) has been equally successful, burgeoning more than 10-fold in the same time period.
MAP was created for grain producers to trial the use forages to address salinity and other agronomic challenges. This program offers an option for farmers who have identified areas on their farm where they are realizing negative return on investment and pays a financial incentive of $125/acre to seed these areas to forage. In 2020, 40 Saskatchewan landowners took part.
One aspect of MAP that is attracting attention is the Pollinator Power Pak. This seed blend is a mixture of short- and long-lived perennial species that improves the value of the stand specifically for pollinators; it’s provided to producers enrolled in the program at no charge. The Power Pak supports populations of native pollinator species and honeybees that are critical to pollination of agricultural crops such as canola and soybeans.
While producers appreciate the injection of cash into their farm operations, many also find that DUC’s programs fit with their existing conservation goals. Mervin Mann operates Mann Bros. Ranch Ltd. and has been a DUC program participant since 2017. “DUC’s Forage Program has provided us with financial support toward stand reestablishment while allowing us to continue operating in the manor we are accustomed to,” Mann says. “Committing our land to 10 years in grass is our way of playing some small part in the conservation of nature and wildlife.”
In fact, increasing perennial cover on Saskatchewan’s landscape does exactly that, delivering environmental spin-offs like habitat for wildlife and beneficial insects, water quality improvements and carbon storage. “That’s what makes DUC’s Forage Program a real win-win,” says Plews. “When we land on solutions that not only benefit producers, both financially and agronomically, but also support a healthy environment, we all come away better off.“
Producers interested in DUC’s Forage Conversion or Marginal Areas Programs are invited to contact their local DUC office, call 1-866-252-DUCK (3825) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can also be found at DUC’s new producer portal, ag.ducks.ca.
Suzanne Joyce, Communications Specialist, DUC Saskatchewan