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By Ken Lewis, Conservation CoordinatorAs ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) grows in Red Deer County, in Alberta, and across Canada, more and more people are talking about it, which is awesome.I am often intrigued by some of the myths and rumours about the ALUS Program, that people share with me. I figured it might be time to tackle some of these head on.MYTH: The ALUS Program is about taking land out of agricultural production.REALITY: The ALUS Program does not take land out of agricultural production. ALUS does provide a new revenue stream for farmers and ranchers for a new agricultural product: management that produces increased ecosystem services. In some cases, ALUS farmers convert land that is marginal for annual crop production (for example because it’s too wet, too saline or too prone to erosion) to land that is managed for ecosystem service production. For clarity: in many cases, ALUS farmers/ranchers graze or hay the same land that they are earning ALUS payments for.MYTH: If I do an ALUS Project on my land, ALUS will dictate what I do on that land.REALITY: The ALUS Program has general management practice guidelines (not rules) for the land involved in an ALUS Project. These guidelines describe the same practices that are known generally as “best management practices” for the types of land involved in ALUS: riparian areas, saturated soils, steep slopes, flood-prone areas, etc. ALUS recognizes that the ALUS Farmer/Rancher is the single best person to know how to manage their land to produce ecosystem services. ALUS also recognizes that the ALUS Farmer/Rancher has to make different management choices every year, or even every day or week, depending on what’s happening with weather, other parts of the farm, markets etc. ALUS is designed for maximum flexibility for the ALUS Farmer/Rancher.MYTH: If I sign onto ALUS, the land is “locked-in” forever, and I can’t even sell my land without permission from ALUS.REALITY: ALUS Farmers/Ranchers sign contracts with the ALUS Program (called “ALUS Conservation Agreements”. These contracts are NOT registered on your land title. The contracts are usually for 5 to 10 years, and provide an assured income from the ALUS acres on the farm. ALUS Farmers/Ranchers can end their contracts at any time, subject to standard contract cancellation clauses (for example, if a farmer decides to cancel their ALUS Conservation Agreement, that decision will result in the stoppage of annual ALUS Payments). Ultimately, land enrolled in ALUS is still your land…do with it what you want.MYTH: ALUS is run by a bunch of tree-huggers.REALITY: ALUS was founded by agricultural producers (Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers was one of the 2 founding organizations, along with Delta Waterfowl). ALUS Canada, the organization that coordinates ALUS across the country, is headed up by Bryan Gilvesy, a rancher who has had land in the ALUS program since it started in his community. In Red Deer County, ALUS was started by the County’s Agricultural Services Board, and is now guided by the ALUS Partnership Advisory Committee, made up of a majority of Red Deer County farmers and ranchers. The ALUS Program is staffed by Ken Lewis, who comes from a farm in Mountain View County, and by ALUS Farmer Liaisons Stephen Smith (a farmer from the Pine Lake area), and Tom Towers, who ranches south of Red Deer. ALUS Farmers / Ranchers represent a broad cross-section of Red Deer County producers: mixed farms, cattle farms, crop farms, multi-generation farms and new farms, big farms and small, in all areas of the County.MYTH: ALUS is too good to be true.REALITY: For decades, farmers and ranchers in Red Deer County, around Alberta, and across Canada, have been calling for a program that pays them for the invaluable ecosystem services that they produce for society, on their farms and ranches, without taking away their ability to manage their own land in a way that’s also best for them. With ALUS (finally!) it’s here.To find out how ALUS might work on your farm or ranch in Red Deer County, please give me a call (403.505.9038) or email (klewis@rdcounty) anytime. Or, call our Farmer Liaisons (Stephen at 403.318.3371 or Tom at 403.352.6901). We look forward to hearing from you!