A Central Alberta based project is giving local farmers and agricultural producers the opportunity to further their education – all without needing to leave their communities.
The project’s main topic of conversation? Climate solutions that can benefit Alberta farms and ranches.
“We find that there’s not really a space for agricultural
producers to talk about climate issues as it relates to agriculture,
so we are trying to hold that space for them
— Derek Leahy, director of Rural Routes.
Rural Routes to Climate Solutions– a project with the Stettler Learning Centre– is using a hands-on approach to provide opportunities for agricultural producers to explore about the benefits of implementing climate solutions in their day-to-day business activities.
Now a year into the project, Rural Routes facilitates workshops and field days, bringing in different experts and presenters in the climate solutions and agricultural space. Attendees also have the chance to talk one-on-one with presenters after the conclusion of the events.
In addition, Leahy has found their podcast series is one of the best ways to disseminate information to producers across the province.
“Podcasts are a great way to provide access to the resources,” said Leahy. “They give the project some longevity, because people can listen to them whenever they want to.”
Adopting climate solutions
Agriculture may be one of the sectors most impacted by a changing climate, affecting growing season length and harvest timing, pollinators and pests. On the other hand, agriculture could be a significant lever for reducing emissions, since it is a natural way to store carbon.
According to Leahy, one of the most effective climate solution methods for Alberta farms is soil carbon sequestration – a process through which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and absorbed into the soil, decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Agricultural producers can activate and maintain the process by minimizing soil disturbance through reduced tillage methods and not overgrazing pasture land.
While there is an environmental payoff to implementing this method, soil carbon sequestration could also have economic benefits for Alberta producers.
“Carbon is a key element in soil health and fertility,” said Leahy. “The more you have in the ground, the better your land is doing. In theory, that should result in more productive farms and better yields.”
Another popular discussion topic at Rural Routes is on-farm solar and energy efficiency – adopting energy-efficient technologies that could have a long-term impact on the climate.
Leahy said because both solar and wind are prevalent in Alberta, agricultural producers could harness those elements to minimize their environmental impact and streamline some of the costs associated with operating a ranch or farm.
For example, large-scale dairy operations could install solar energy systems, which would make them less reliant on fluctuations in the energy market and result in a more efficient and cost-effective farm, said Leahy.
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE AROUND CLIMATE SOLUTIONS
For Leahy, providing producers with educational resources is one of the ways to empower rural communities, and begin to change the narrative surrounding farmers and the climate.
“Producers are so used to hearing people say that agriculture is bad and is destroying our planet, but in reality, the land is everything in agriculture,” said Leahy. “There is a connection to the climate.”
He said while there are many agricultural organizations that talk about ecology, diversity and soil health, there are few that create conversations explicitly around climate solutions. Rural Routes provides that space.
Currently, their primary audience is smaller-scale farmers, but Leahy said Rural Routes plans to engage more with the industry, talking with commodity groups and developing partnerships with some of the large-scale agricultural operations in Alberta.
“We are all pushing for the same thing,” said Leahy. “We want what’s best for the land, we’re just coming at it from a different direction.”