By Graydon Garner, Ducks Unlimited Canada

As of September 24, 2023, we are in the process of finalizing enrollment with producers for the Marginal Areas Program (MAP) for 2023. 

It’s been a busy summer of attending industry events and promoting the program to producers throughout the province, as well as fielding phone calls about moisture concerns (too high AND too low, depending on location) and establishing the forage crop. Our producers in the south have taken a beating from the drought, and for some this is year 7 of below average rainfall in their area. Farther north, our producers went from drought to flood in a matter of hours and are still trying to get a low-quality hay crop off as it just refuses to dry out before baling. 

Soil salinity, which is when moisture evaporates from the soil and salt from the water crystalizes on the surface, has been an issue that many farmers are battling. The other leading concern is increasing acres of Kochia, a weed that thrives in dry saline soil and has herbicide resistance, making it a tough competition to a crop. Salinity and Kochia management are the two main reasons producers are enrolling in MAP. 

Producers are also telling me that marginal crop acres just don’t pay their way as input costs continue to rise. The price of diesel is showing its effect on the freight industry, wreaking havoc on seed, herbicide, and fertilizer costs. Marginal acres that only produce a harvestable crop 20 percent of the time are under pressure, which is where MAP fits like a glove. 

Since my last report, I have attended events in Olds, Stavely, Rumsey, Delia, Calgary, and Medicine Hat to promote MAP. We also have a radio ad out on QR 770 and 107.7 talk radio, and I will be installing small signs on MAP projects that are seeded along secondary highways. Once the snow flies, I will be hitting the road throughout the Special Areas and the rest of Southern Alberta to attend events, talk to producers, and working to increase MAP acres for 2024. 

Spring 2023 Update by Ken Bailey

Pheasants Forever Canada’s (PFC) partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) in Alberta is increasing perennial cover on the landscape, providing valuable nesting and escape cover for upland game birds, including grey partridge and pheasants.

DUC’s Marginal Areas Program (MAP) offers a financial incentive to producers willing to plant perennial cover in marginal areas of annual cropland. PFC’s $50,000 investment in the program is boosting the incentive and expanding the awareness of PFC and our own Save the Edges campaign in Alberta.

“Many farmers have areas of low productivity that provide little or no financial return, whether because of salinity, poor soils, or because portions of their land are not easily accessed by the large equipment they use. MAP offers them $125/acre to convert that unproductive cropland to forages or perennial species,” says Pheasants Forever Canada President Perry McCormick. “Taking these areas out of cropland and seeding them to forages results in increased returns for farmers and huge benefits to pheasants, other ground nesting birds, pollinators and biodiversity. We like to think of it as farming the best, leaving the rest.”

DUC’s senior lead in agriculture, Craig Bishop, says they’re thrilled that PFC approached them about a partnership.

“In many ways DUC’s objectives align with PFC’s,” he offered. “Enhanced game bird habitat is the mission of both organizations, and our respective supporters tend to come from the same demographic.  We share a lot of values with PFC and believe it’s better to cooperate than to compete when opportunities to do so exist. PFC’s participation in this initiative will allow us to stretch the program further than we could without them. And that’s good for wildlife, including upland birds and waterfowl.”

Eligible lands are capped at a maximum of 40 acres per parcel (quarter-section), though they’re most typically five to 20 acres in size. In addition to the financial incentive, MAP also offers farmers a pollinator-friendly seed pack, a mixture of short- and long-lived perennial species that include vetches, clovers and sunflowers, though they’re not obligated to take advantage of this offer; roughly half do, the remainder seeding perennials of their own choosing.

“In addition to improved financial returns, there are several other benefits realized by the producers when they increase biodiversity in mostly monocultural landscapes,” says McCormick. “These include a decrease in the prevalence of herbicide-resistant weeds, enhanced carbon sequestration, a reduction in salinity, improved water and soil quality, and an increase in at-risk pollinator diversity and abundance. Research also shows that healthy landscapes that host safe spaces for pollinators realize increased local crop production. This program is win-win and we’re pleased to be partnering with DUC. Producers will benefit, but so will southern Alberta’s pheasant population.”

Thanks to our supporters, Pheasants Forever Canada is able to invest in Ducks Unlimited Canada’s (DUC) Marginal Areas Program (MAP).

View Factsheet

As a partner of MAP in Alberta, Pheasants Forever Canada (PFC) will help DUC provide farmers with a financial solution to areas of unproductive land. MAP offers an incentive of $125/acre to producers who plant perennial cover in marginal areas of annual cropland.

Pheasants Forever’s investment will help boost this incentive offer to producers and expand awareness of Pheasants Forever and our Save the Edges campaign in Alberta.

Increasing perennial cover on the landscape benefits upland game birds such as grey partridge, pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse. Perennial cover also benefits biodiversity, beneficial insects,  waterfowl and other wildlife species. Environmental benefits also include carbon sequestration and improving soil and water quality.

MAP will provide establishment advice and a bonus pollinator-friendly seed pack. The Pollinator Powerpack is a blend of insect-friendly flowering forage species.

MAP is a unique offer for Alberta growers to increase the profitability of marginal areas which are becoming easier to delineate through precision farming technology.

In addition to the incentive and pollinator bonus, MAP also offers access to Echelon from Nutrien Ag Solutions. Echelon’s crop advisors work with producers to create a precise picture of their fields, giving them the confidence to make better decisions in both planning and execution.