The Department of Agriculture and Land is putting more money into community pastures as part of a move to regenerative agriculture.
During debate on his departmental estimates, Minister Bloyce Thompson told O'Leary-Inverness MLA Robert Henderson there are seven pastures across the province that collectively have almost 10,000 acres. The agriculture and land minister said two of the pastures have shown an interest in moving to a regenerative agriculture model and "our department’s staff are going to help them launch this project and I’m pretty excited about it."
Regenerative organic agricultural practices sequester CO2 and store it in the soil and above ground as organic matter. Perennial polycultures, agroforestry, and reforestation can sustain and increase both above ground and below ground carbon.
The long-time Liberal MLA said he was pleased to hear about the plan, adding "I do think it plays a role in developing a livestock strategy. " The former agriculture minister told Thompson the pastures represent a significant amount of land that is underutilized by livestock producers and "they do need to upgrade their pasture management skills so they can have more cattle per acre, so to speak."
Henderson wondered if there was anything in the budget that would help a private farmer increase and improve his stocking rate per acre. The agriculture minister agreed that issue has to be looked at adding "it's not going to be in this budget because we want to use kind of a test pilot for community pastures. If we can get them, I’d love to hire a dedicated staff for regenerative agriculture, regenerative pasturing on Prince Edward Island and if we can get a specialist, or even students coming onboard for the summer months to work on this. I think there’s a great opportunity there. "
The minister went on to say "I think we can improve our stocking numbers. We’re underutilizing our land right now and we need the livestock, we need the manure, we need the regenerative agriculture. It’s a win-win."
Henderson cautioned the minister that in a number of the community pastures, there are beef producers that put cattle out and they’re not making large amounts of money and it is sometimes difficult for them to invest lots into land that’s not their own.
"I would hope that those grants would be fairly reflective of that cost reality," the Liberal agriculture critic said. " In other words, 50/50 grants may not always work in community pastures."
Thompson agreed, saying it would take a high percentage of government funds to get it going, but "then once it’s established hopefully, if it’s designed right, it will run itself." Henderson, who guided a motion calling for a livestock strategy through the legislature last year, said he supports the effort and would work with the minister and industry any way he could to move the issue forward."