Agriculture leaders aim to mend fences with environmentalists

    Agriculture leaders aim to mend fences with environmentalists

    The province's farmers are holding out an olive branch to the environmental movement in hopes of healing what has been, at times, an adversarial relationship.
    By Vancouver Sun October 29, 2012

    The province's farmers are holding out an olive branch to the environmental movement in hopes of healing what has been, at times, an adversarial relationship.
    Agriculturalists and environmentalists will meet Wednesday at B.C.'s first Forum on Agriculture and the Environment in Richmond.
    "I think we have a lot more in common with our love for the land than sometimes we let on," said Oliver cherry grower Greg Norton. "Without a healthy environment, there is no agriculture."
    There are points of friction, especially manure management, aquifer and air pollution related to nitrogen fertilizers and protection for fish-bearing waterways. But farmers are also uniquely positioned as stewards of the land to provide ecological services, habitat protection and promote biodiversity.
    Norton is the chairman of the conference, a collaboration between the B.C. Agriculture Council, an industry-led agriculture advocacy group, and the Investment Agriculture Foundation, which manages government-funded projects promoting innovation and conservation in agriculture.
    "We need to get away from the idea that it's agriculture versus environment," said Norton. "We've been living with that forever in agriculture and it's time to form partnerships."
    The conference guest list includes leaders from government, First Nations and conservation organizations, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Nature Vancouver, Ecojustice, Ducks Unlimited, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust and the B.C. Wildlife Federation.
    Norton believes the two old foes can find and wield new strength, especially in their ability to gain the support and attention of government.
    "Agriculture and environment are two neglected and underfunded ministries," said Norton. "Producers pay every day for environmental protection in this province and it's very hard to for us to compete with products that come from other countries where the standards aren't as high."
    Producers need the support of government if they are to be effective stewards of the environment, said Norton. He believes partnerships with the environmental movement can shine a bright light on the need for investment and innovation.
    The IAF has already funded pilot projects that pay farmers who reserve otherwise productive land to protect streams or threatened species or who take action to repair damaged ecosystems, Norton said.
    "Ecological services is a really exciting opportunity for collaboration between farmers and environmentalists," said EcoJustice conservation biologist Susan Pinkus. "Farmers are compensated for the milk or vegetables they produce, but they are producing ecosystem services and I don't think they get the compensation and the appreciation they deserve."
    Friction between farmers and environmentalists often stems from faulty environmental legislation and haphazard enforcement, according to Pinkus.
    "When environmentalists press for species protection that is arbitrarily applied against farmers by government, we get pitted against one another," she said.
    The conference will take advice on building bridges and forming a potent and united lobby from Peter Bloome, a professor from Oregon State University and a former board member of the Oregon Environmental Council. Bloome authored a report, Working on Common Ground, based on extensive interviews with the state's environmental leaders about their perceptions of agriculture and the environmental challenges faced by the industry.
    That document and an earlier report in which agricultural producers were asked about their environmental concerns were milestones in a decade-long collaboration that has made Oregon a leader in eco-friendly food production, said Bloome.
    "We needed to fix this relationship," said Bloome. "People are asking about their food, where it comes from and how it's grown."
    rshore@vancouversun.com Blog: vancouversun.com/green man
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    Source: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/n...0-41a8a016cfc8

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