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Get with the plan, Stan! an EF plan that is

While the popular Environmental Farm Plan process in Western Canada has dropped off the radar to some extent, the program is still alive and well and of value in all Prairie provinces, say program officials.

Prairie farmers and ranchers who over the past decade have completed Environmental Farm Plans (EFPs) consider them invaluable tools in helping to manage their farms with greater sustainability. Many involved in the process believe EFPs will be even more valuable in the years ahead.

Perry Philips, Alberta’s EFP co-ordinator, says the province is extensively revisiting its EFP process in 2012. “We’ve adopted a continuous improvement component with the EFP program,” says Philips. “We expect there will be increased demand for EFP to be a comprehensive, consistent and rigorous tool for producers as certain sectors of the industry seek ways to demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship. The EFP program, led by Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development (ARD), needs to ensure this is possible through EFP resources, services and processes.”

The Environmental Farm Plan program has been around for nearly 10 years. As the federal government’s new Agricultural Policy Framework — Growing Forward II, is anticipated in April 2013, it’s not entirely clear if changes will be made to the program, but it’s almost certain that it will continue in some form.

Voluntary program

Environmental Farm Plans are voluntary, confidential, self-assessment tools used by producers to identify environmental risks and opportunities on their farms and ranches. As part of their EFP, producers develop an action plan to identify beneficial management practices (BMPs), which could reduce environmental risk on their operations.

Farmers then have the option to enact the action plan, and producers with completed plans are eligible to access cost-shared government funding that can be used to assist with the implementation of approved BMPs on their farms.

“Developing an EFP shows producers care about environmental protection and want to be good stewards of the resources they manage,” says the Provincial Council of Agriculture Development and Diversification Boards, (PCAB), which delivers the program in Saskatchewan. “EFPs provide a way to increase awareness of environmental issues, to improve environmental management practices, to foster public recognition of farmers’ stewardship efforts and to positively position Canadian agricultural products in world markets.”

The EFP process and funding programs available may vary slightly in each province. Following is a rundown of the EFP process in each of the prairie provinces and lists of further resources.

Saskatchewan EFP

Saskatchewan has developed a list of 70 beneficial management practices that minimize or mitigate possible environmental risks related to agriculture. These BMP’s fit into 30 categories dealing with air, water, soil or biodiversity and include improved manure storage and handling, wintering site management and erosion control structures.

Producers completing EFPs are eligible for cost-shared funding under the Canada-Saskatchewan Farm Stewardship Program (CSFSP) to help implement BMPs on their farms. The matching grants range from 30 to 75 per cent of the total cost of the project. Each has a different cap amount ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. The cap is determined based on the project’s environmental benefit. For example, corral relocation away from a primary water source would have a larger cost-share cap than purchase of a GPS system.

In Saskatchewan, retroactivity is allowed for BMPs already implemented as part of the EFP within the current fiscal year an application is received. Farmers should contact a program rep for details.

To date about 11,500 Saska-tchewan producers have completed EFPs. Saskatchewan does allow producers who have capped out CSFSP assistance can have their program cap reset, provided their original EFP is at least five years old. Co-ordinators are advising producers to submit their applications as early as possible if they still have projects that they want to complete before the March 31, 2013 deadline.

The Saskatchewan EFP process

Step 1: Workshop 1

There are 10 program representatives who deliver two free workshops throughout the province. Producers attend Workshop 1 and are introduced to the EFP workbook and begin assessing the soil and site characteristics of their own operation.

Step 2: At-Home Farm Assessment

Producers review all aspects of their operation and complete the worksheets in the workbook that apply. They identify possible solutions for identified risks and develop an action plan, specific to their farm or ranch.

Step 3: Workshop 2

With a completed workbook and the help of the program rep at Workshop 2, producers finalize their action plan to manage any identified risks and prioritize action items.

Step 4: Peer Review

Completed action plans are submitted to a Peer Review Committee for a compulsory review. The action plan remains confidential and anonymous and is reviewed by a panel of producers who already have endorsed action plans.

Step 5: Implementation

Once the Peer Review Committee has endorsed the action plan, producers are eligible to apply for cost-shared funding under the Canada-Saskatchewan Farm Stewardship Program (CSFSP).

For more information on Saskatchewan EFPs visit the PCAB website at: http://saskpcab.com/environmental-farm-plan or call 1-866-298-7222 to speak to a program representative.

((EFP)) Manitoba EFP

Since 2005 nearly 7,800 producers have attended EFP workshops across Manitoba. The program is delivered through Manitoba Agriculture, Food & Rural Initiatives (MAFRI), with 12 employees who conduct EFP workshops around the province on a regular basis.

EFPs in Manitoba are reviewed by Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP). KAP also plays an important role in providing feedback to MAFRI on environmental programs. For example, KAP feedback given to MAFRI during the revision of the EFP workbook makes it more relevant and easier for producers to use. The workbook now has more questions with a more specific focus, making it easier for producers to zero in on specific management practices as they assess their operations. It also features the latest pest management knowledge, regulations affecting farm operations and a chapter on climate change, which focuses on actions farmers can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate.

In 2010, in consultation with industry partners, MAFRI also developed a commodity-specific EFP chapter which includes detailed questions and information relevant to each individual commodity group.

“This addition to the EFP process allows a commodity group to meet contracting requirements (as demanded by consumers) and remain viable in their industry,” says Laura Grzenda, a landscape stewardship specialist with MAFRI. “This is a good example of the movement towards recognition of the EFP as a tool to ensure on-farm sustainability at a national and eventually global level.”

MAFRI encourages producers to review their EFPs, especially producers who have acquired new land, sold land or changed farming practices. A renewal of the workbook will also help develop a more suitable action plan for identifying and managing environmental risks on the farm. To be eligible for funding a producer is required to update their EFP Statement of Completion certificate every five years.

There are 11 best management practices categories eligible for cost-shared funding under the Environmental Farm Action Program (EFAP). The amount that the government pays towards a project ranges from 50 to 75 per cent and the cap for the maximum amount allowed under each category ranges from $15,000 to $160,000. A change for 2012 is that funding will no longer be available through the Manitoba Sustainable Agriculture Practices Program.

The EFP Program in Manitoba

1. Workshop 1

Trained facilitators introduce producers to the EFP workbook and begin by assessing and recording the soil and site characteristics of their operations. Resource maps and aerial photos are provided to facilitate environmental analysis of the producer’s land and operation.

2. Completion of Asset and Risk Assessment at Home

Producers progress through their workbook, reviewing all aspects of their operations. They identify environmental assets and potential risks and record their findings in the workbook.

3. Workshop 2

With a completed workbook and the help of the EFP workshop facilitators, producers create their customized action plans by identifying the steps required to manage or reduce identified risks, and prioritizing their action plans.

4. Work book Review

To access financial incentives, completed workbooks must be reviewed by a third party review agency (Keystone Agricultural Producers) to ensure all risks have been assessed and an action plan has been developed.

5. Implementation

After the action plan has been reviewed and issued a valid Statement of Completion certificate, producers are eligible to apply for financial incentives under the EFAP.

For more information on Manitoba EFPs visit their website at: www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/growingforward/gf_programs/aaa19s16.html

Alberta EFP

More than 12,000 producers have participated in the EFP initiative in Alberta, although not all of these have current, completed EFPs, and some farmers have upgraded their existing EFPs in the past couple of years.

Alberta has more than 30 technicians and a provincial co-ordinator to assist farmers with EFP development. Since 2009, instead of workshops, most EFPs in Alberta are now started or upgraded by EFP technicians, most working for local municipalities, meeting face to face with their producer clients. Throughout the entire process the participant has continual access to the local EFP resource person.

A new option to complete EFPs online is also in the final stages of development. The EFP “Web-book” is currently being tested by a handful of Alberta producers, who are working on their online EFPs. The new online EFP accounts are administered through EFP technicians. It is expected that the online EFP option will be formally launched in early 2012 and then be available to all Alberta producers.

Alberta has three Stewardship Plan funding programs, which require completion of an EFP as a prerequisite: Integrated Crop Management, Grazing and Winter Feeding Management and Manure Management. Each fund different BMP’s on a cost-shared basis and are run until the funds are allocated, so producers are encouraged to apply early.

The Alberta EFP Process

1. Introduction and preparation

Participants contact a local EFP technician and begins to collect information about his or her farm operation, such as soils reports and actual distances to water sources. The EFP tech may also help by gathering additional information such as well reports and aerial photos.

2. Discussion with resource person

The EFP technician helps the participant learn to use the EFP workbook to assess his/her potential environmental concerns and receives information on technical resources.

3. Completion of EFP at home

Participant completes chapters that apply to his/her operation and identifies and prioritizes situations that need to be addressed, then completes the EFP.

4 Submission of EFP for review

Participant submits EFP to an EFP technician for review. The tech offers suggestions to strengthen the plan and ensure appropriate risk mitigation and returns it to the producer along with a letter validating the farm plan has been developed. Although it is not compulsory to have EFPs reviewed, if the producer intends on applying for certain funding streams through the Growing Forward program, they require this letter from an EFP technician verifying the Farm Plan has been reviewed and the EFP is considered current and effective.

5. Continuous implementation of EFP improvements

Producer puts the EFP into action through BMPs according to priorities, and re-evaluates the EFP on an ongoing basis.

For more information visit Alberta EFP website at: www. albertaefp.com

Or for details on the stewardship funding programs visit: www.growingforward.alberta.ca/ProgramAreas/EnhancedEnvironment/index.html. †

About the author

Contributor

Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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