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Stewardship, biodiversity topics of winter workshop

Redberry Lake Watershed AEGP hosted its fourth annual winter workshop entitled What's in the Stew of Stewardship' redefining success on the farm on January 17th at the Ukrainian National Hall in Hafford.

Redberry Lake Watershed AEGP hosted its fourth annual winter workshop entitled What's in the Stew of Stewardship' redefining success on the farm on January 17th at the Ukrainian National Hall in Hafford.

Forty-two registered and attended the event travelling Northwest areas such as Rockhaven, Medstead, Langham, North Battleford, Debden, Richard and Blaine Lake to listen to the two focal speakers. Among those in attendance were seven Grade 10-12 students and one teacher from Medstead High School Green Certificate program and the following representatives: Terry Sled, Agri-Environment Services Branch; Karen Benjaminson, AESB: Garet Cormin, AESB; Katherine Finn Northern Saskatchewan Waterbasin Council; Jennifer Heyden, Saskatchewan Agriculture; Bill Henley, Saskatchewan Agriculture; Jeromy Brown, Saskatchewan Watershed; Richard McBride, Kelly Rempel and Dave O'Bertos, Ducks Unlimited.

Lorne Fitch is a provincial riparian specialist with Cows and Fish Department of Alberta. He was one of the individuals acting as a driving force behind the Cows and Fish, Riparian Habitat Management Project that is a partnership between the wildlife community, the cattle industry and the federal and provincial governments. The project aims to improve the condition of riparian ecosystems in the Foothills region of the Rockies through changes in grazing management strategies.

He explained stewardship and the elements of stewardship.

The elements of stewardship are threefold, he said: awareness, ethics, and choice. Part of stewardship is having pride of the land, a bond, knowledge and interest that will be passed down to future generations.

Fitch described three individual families who represented multi-generational farms as an example to emphasize the success of stewardship.

Some questions to ponder included: do we pay for stewardship or does stewardship pay for itself? Was this the right crop choice for us? How is the neighbour's stewardship crop progressing? Fitch said if we choose to depend on the lands to sustain us then stewardship awareness, ethics and action are the best chances we have to make the wise decisions today that will continue to sustain us into the future.

He explained riparian areas are essential buffers, mechanisms for dealing with water issues. An unhealthy riparian area falls apart with every rainstorm as there is no structural foundation to support the land.

"These systems can do a tremendous amount of work for us," says Fitch. "People have re-engineered our landscape which has changed the natural water patterns."

Road construction and other forms of development disrupt riparian areas causing ore runoff of sediment into natural water bodies and runoff into and down ditches. Urban and rural residents can work collaboratively to rectify the issues.

Lorne Fitch also discussed the biodiversity of pastures, creeks and critters. He said, if we overstress the landscape with our activities, something will suffer. There is a critical balance that must be met in order for everything to live in synergy. Fitch described factors that depict a well managed system, what causes nature's imbalance and what species indicators are.

There are always a group of individuals looking over the shoulders of farmers to find out what agriculture is doing. Stewardship is a mechanism that gives agriculture credit for dealing with the issues and for being pro-active. Many projects and ideas arise from the farm gate and extend out into the surrounding agricultural industry.

Richard McBride of Ducks Unlimited spoke briefly about the pasture management base map program. The program offers farmers another opportunity to work collaboratively with Ducks Unlimited. Farmers can have an aerial photograph completed of their land in exchange for the agreement that the land will be left in native prairie, bush and wetlands for at least 10 years. Other farm/producer programs include grazing DU land and Conservation Easements.

Don Ruzicka is an owner and operator of third generation Ruzicka Sunrise Farm in East Central Alberta. He described his farming experience as 'quite the journey' as he focused on getting his farm on the path to sustainability from diversifying to direct marketing. He discussed the combined effects of diversity, stewardship and biodiversity as a path to sustainability. Who is going to teach the next generation why they should love and care for the land if we don't show them, Ruzicka asked. He says he firmly believes nature is diverse when managed well and a prairie ecosystem can sustain itself.

Don Ruzicka admits massive debt and stress were big motivators for change.

"Clean water, healthy soils and wildlife habitat were a few of the things we needed to focus on, but also, how to make the farm viable," says Ruzicka.

His family sought training in holistic management, an economic school of thought that integrates pasture management, assisted them in making the shift from grain-based to grass-based farming and economic sustainability.

"We decided what we wanted in life and linked it to a pasture-management production model. By using that simple framework, we opened our mind to new thinking. We now make decisions based on what quality of life we want and how we want our farm to look," says Ruzicka.

His operation has planted 30,000 trees of 16 different species over the years, with over 200 birdhouses dotted along the fence posts.

Ruzicka continued to explain his methods of livestock watering systems, living in balance with nature, planting shelterbelts, building and installing bird houses to assist with pest control and his success with organic farming.

The speakers provided examples of first hand farming practices that have proven successful in their regions with assistance from various organizations.

Redberry Lake Watershed AEGP has been successful in attracting some keynote speakers on a variety of agricultural topics. These workshops present opportunities for livestock producers and farmers to educate themselves in the variety of farming practices and techniques.

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