GROW to pay farmers for ecological initiatives

New conservation district programs are being rolled out. GROW is one of them.

Agricultural landowners in Manitoba have a new opportunity to develop eco-friendly projects for the management of the province’s watershed system while earning compensation on the land they are constructed on. 

The Manitoba government passed legislation last year to modernize the province’s natural resource conservation policy. The Watershed District Act replaced an old conservation model with another that emphasizes water safety and watershed management. The previous 18 conservation management areas have been folded into 14 that follow regional watersheds; opens non-municipal entities to help with watershed management plan implementation; clarifies district board policies and procedures; and streamlines each district’s ability to operate. 

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The Virden area sits in the Assiniboine West Watershed District (AWWD), which incorporates the Upper Assiniboine, Lake of the Prairies and Little Saskatchewan watersheds. This includes smaller waterways like the Arrow-Oak, Birdtail, Qu’Appelle and Shell Rivers. 

Growing Outcomes in Watersheds (GROW) was established to run alongside the government’s new conservation management system. The program focuses on watershed health management, resiliency to climate change and improved water quality by allowing producers to apply for compensation to cover the ecological goods and services they provide through completed eco-projects on their land. The program is being managed at the local level with GROW committees in each watershed district. 

AWWD manager Ryan Canart says the principle of the program is to pay producers for taking on initiatives that improve the region’s water conservation and safety efforts. 

“Producers can be paid to protect wetlands, improve water retention, or take water conservation measures – anything that will help with wetland retention or conservation,” Canart told the Empire-Advance. “We don’t want to compete with quality, profitable land. This is a chance for producers to take marginal land out of contention and be compensated for the ecological benefits it can provide.” 

Canart said the program is still in its development stages. He suspects administrative preparations will be aligned and ready by mid-May. Among the initiatives landowners can approach GROW with are sowing grass along buffer zones; constructing water retention infrastructure such as dams; converting low quality crop land to perennial crops; and more. 

Canart says the AWWD’s GROW committee is being put together this month. The group – half of which must be farmers – will design a payment schedule, determine applicable lands and develop application procedures before its available later this spring. 

“That’s one of our priorities. We want people living and working on the landscape to determine the policies and procedures,” he said. 

“It’s great to have a new program offering a broader range of projects and a good idea to recognize the ecological benefits produced by landowners.” 

The change to Manitoba’s watershed authority system is being funded in part by a provincial government investment of $50 million, which has been placed in a trust that produces interest for long-term revenue. The GROW program will be administered to the watershed districts by the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation. 

© Virden Empire-Advance