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Evolving Environmental Farm Plans

An Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a voluntary process where a farmer self-identifies potential environmental risks and benefits on his or her farm, and creates a plan to mitigate those risks.

Patrick Girard, senior media relations officer with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says two of the agri-environmental projects funded from 2003-04 to 2007-08 were the Environmental Farm Planning and National Farm Stewardship Programs.

Girard says the initial objective of the National Farm Stewardship Program was to increase the adoption of beneficial management practices (BMPs) across the country through cost-shared incentives. “The program was successful, with the adoption of over 57,000 EFPs and 43,000 BMPs,” says Girard.

Like most farm programs, EFPs have evolved over time. Under the Growing Forward framework, responsibility shifted from the federal government to provincial and territorial governments.

“Under Growing Forward,” says Girard, these programs “remained a successful area of cost-shared effort among federal/provincial/territorial partners, with an additional 20,000 new and updated EFPs, as well as an additional 22,000 BMPs as of September 2010.”

Under Growing Forward 2, which will be implemented this April, EFPs may change again.

Provincial differences

EFPs vary slightly by province, but the general process is the same everywhere. Any interested Canadian farmer must participate in a workshop and complete a workbook identifying areas of environmental risk and potential improvement on his or her operation, then submit the plan for approval prior to achieving certification. Provinces are responsible for design and delivery of workbooks and training materials.

In Saskatchewan, for instance, the workbook is similar to the Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario workbooks. However, according to Tamara Weir-Shields, executive director of the Provincial Council of Agriculture Diversification and Development Boards, the workbook was “retrofitted” to Saskatchewan farming practices in 2004, and is updated on a regular basis.

Weir-Shields says that even before Farm Stewardship funding became accessible, the program generated interest in the province. “In the first little while the Farm Stewardship funding wasn’t set up yet but we had quite a few participants willing to go through the EFP regardless,” she says. “Once the program was put in place the number went up.”

The number of completed BMPs in Saskatchewan since 2009 is 9,050; $27,300,000 in cost-shared funding has been used to reimburse farmers for those BMPs, according to Weir-Shields.

In Manitoba, the EFP program is administered by the Agri-Environment Knowledge Centre within Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, with the assistance of Keystone Agriculture Producers.

Since the program began in 2004, Over 5,900 farmers have completed EFP certificates, assessing over 9.3 million acres of agricultural land, according to Laura Grzenda, a landscape stewardship specialist with the Centre.

In 2010 a chapter was added to the EFP program that focuses on sustainability in potato production specifically. In order to qualify for a processing contract in Manitoba, potato producers must hold an EFP Statement of Completion certificate.

Environmental stewardship

In Alberta, EFPs have a strong history, according to Perry Phillips, program co-ordinator of the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan. “Over 12,000 farmers have been involved in the process and many of these have updated their farm plans, although we don’t have anything in place that requires them to do so,” says Phillips.

“Certainly, access to funding programs has kept EFP popular for the last several years but there are far more sustainable drivers for EFP now as industry looks for a tool/process to meet the emerging needs around environmental stewardship assurance initiatives.”

Alberta’s EFP, which is run by Alberta Agriculture and supported by federal funding, is constantly evolving. According to Phillips, the Alberta workbook has recently undergone an extensive review, and an online “WebBook” will be launched in the coming months.

Phillips sees drawbacks in an overly customized approach to EFPs across Canada. “The sectors that see the benefits of EFP also see value in the entire industry rallying around it as a ‘standard,’” he says. “We don’t need differentiation between sectors in terms of stewardship, we need a universal approach. The organizations that I talk with about EFP say there needs to be provincial alignment and that EFP should not evolve in a way that it will be used to differentiate between provinces — or sectors.”

However, this isn’t a simple task, says Phillips. “While there is plenty of common ground here, there are also many differences between provinces (and sectors) in terms of stewardship priorities.”

Exactly how EFP programs will play out under Growing Forward 2 remains to be seen, although environmental stewardship initiatives are high on the federal priority list, according to Girard. “The new five-year agreement includes investments in strategic initiatives of over $3 billion for innovation, competitiveness and market development, including a 50 per cent increase in government’s cost-shared initiatives, with increased opportunity for provinces and territories to invest in environmental initiatives, among other areas,” he says. †

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Julienne Isaacs

Julienne Isaacs is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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