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Oct 18

Working together sets environmental coalition apart

Posted on Oct 18 By: Geoff Geddes

Is it possible to be a throwback and progressive at the same time?

The Agri-Environmental Partner- ship of Alberta (AEPA) certainly hopes so as it tackles current issues with a consensus-based approach.

“We’re a partnership of government, industry and public stakeholders working together to proactively address agri-environmental subjects from a policy perspective,” said AEPA Industry Co-Chair Jack Swainson.

The AEPA was formed six years ago to address the need for a transparent partnership between government and the agricultural industry.

“We wanted to keep the agricultural community informed of current concerns and have a forum where we could talk and ensure we were on the same page,” said Swainson.

Currently, 14 board members provide communication links to 24 agricultural organizations, as well as federal, provincial and municipal government agencies. Together, they identify agri-environmental priorities, set broad policy direction and coordinate resources to target key issues. Among the livestock commodities involved are the Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Pork, Alberta Milk and the Egg Farmers of Alberta.

On the crop side, Alberta Barley Research Manager Garson Law sits on the AEPA, as does Neil Boyd, a producer representing the Alberta Pulse Growers.

“When Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development introduces a new policy, we’re the first organization to review it and provide feedback on how it will affect agriculture. If you’re ever going to be heard by government, it’s here,” said Boyd.

The AEPA board is jointly chaired by representatives of Alberta’s agricultural industry and the provincial government. While the AEPA has no power to affect change, it can establish project teams to explore priorities in detail and develop innovative, balanced policy recommendations.

“Project teams are typically composed of people from various parts of Alberta’s agri-environmental community,” said Swainson. “We also bring in subject matter experts, if necessary.”

They currently have a Land-use Framework Advisory Team and a Water Advisory Team.

In December of 2008, the Government of Alberta released the Land-use Framework (LUF), which is an approach to managing long-term growth in the province while balancing social and environmental goals. The LUF Advisory Team formed in 2009 to develop a Land-use Framework engagement strategy.

“They identify key strategic directions to engage the agriculture industry and provide input regarding the LUF policies, strategies and regional planning processes,” said Swainson.

In 2011, the Water Advisory Team was created to inform agriculture stake- holders, including the AEPA Board, its members, water and watershed organizations, and others with a water man- date. The team facilitates participation in provincial water initiatives and the development of water policies related to agriculture and land use.

“While each team has its own priorities, their agendas are really complementary,” said Swainson.

Given these agendas, the AEPA includes an environmental organization outside of government to provide some balance.

“It may be a cliché, but knowledge is power,” said Morgan Stromsmoe, who represents Ducks Unlimited Canada on the AEPA. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so informing producers is vital. How can they make decisions and influence agri-environmental policy regarding their farms and their futures if they don’t have all the facts?”

Terence Hochstein, who represents the Potato Growers of Alberta, takes it one step further.

“These days, it’s not what you know or who you know, it’s both,” said Hochstein. “We offer access to some very influential people in government, something that many of our members might not otherwise enjoy.

“Given the current economic climate for many in agriculture, knowledge and access can represent the line between success and failure.”

For more information on the AEPA, go to www.agpartners.ca.

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