THE NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL FARM PLAN CONTINUES TO TAKE SHAPE
BY IAN DOIG
Demand by agri-food businesses for sustainably produced crops continues to increase. Addressing this, provincial chapters of the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) program have been in operation for more than two decades.
A voluntary, whole-farm, self-assessment tool, it became the most utilized environmental ag program in the country. Helping farmers and ranchers identify and build on the existing strengths of their operations, it also helps mitigate risk in implementing sustainability-focused practices. A substantive 35 per cent of the country’s ranchers and farmers, representing about 50 per cent of Canada’s agricultural land, have completed an environmental plan. The Alberta Environmental Farm Plan was launched in 2003 and has been operated by the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta since 2013.
Building on the strength of the provincial plans, the National Environmental Farm Plan (NEFP) is a work in progress intended to harmonize EFPs across Canada.
Westlock-area farmer John Guelly is an Alberta EFP Stakeholder Advisory Panel member and Alberta Canola Producers Commission director. He said there’s a buzz about sustainability requirements. “It hasn’t hit my farm or my area, but we have a good idea that it’s coming.” He believes Alberta farmers won’t be required to have them in place for a few years, but the eventuality may arrive with short notice.
Though the idea of forming a national body has been percolating for years, its formation was kick-started at the initial NEFP summit in Ottawa last fall. Guelly suggested there was desire to get ahead of the curve tempered with acknowledgement that establishing the structure will take time.
The only impediment he foresees is the diversity of Canada’s agricultural landscape and the unique makeup of its EFP organizations. “Part of establishing the national program is to make it more uniform across the country,” he said. “So there could be some pushback from some provinces to make sure some things are included and others dropped.” The challenge is in retaining all the necessary customer requirements.
In Guelly’s experience, environmental planning proved a positive experience. “It’s very practical and useful to have on the farm.” The potential benefits in establishing the national program are simple, he said. With each Canadian farm having a national environmental plan in place, agri-food customers know their marketing requirements are addressed.
The NEFP annual summit will take place in Ottawa, Nov. 1 to 2. Alberta Wheat Commission government relations and policy manager Erin Gowriluk will chair the event, while Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay will speak at its opening reception.
“It is my objective to ensure that all of our industry partners feel engaged in the development of a truly national initiative that reflects the needs of Canada’s agri-food value chain from farm to fork and coast to coast to coast,” said Gowriluk.
“Canada’s Environmental Farm Plan is unique in the world. It is developed by producers, for producers, to encourage continuous improvement. Now, we build on that solid foundation by ensuring it prepares participants to meet market requirements with respect to farm level sustainability.”
The organization’s four standing committees—struck to develop NEFP practices—will deliver reports on data collection management, verification/assurance and standards.
Andrew Graham, executive director of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, is chair of the NEFP Standards Committee. He said the committee’s central goal is to determine how to achieve bronze-level recognition within the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) 2.0 program for all provincial and territorial EFPs. The intent is to tout the EFP as equivalent to the globally accepted SAI Platform.
“Compliancy with FSA 2.0 Bronze will recognize the time and effort already invested by the farmer/rancher in the development of their EFP action plan and effectively streamline the FSA assessment process,” he said. He added that multinational companies can be expected to influence the standard-building process. McCain Foods, for example, sources product based on compliance with an accepted industry standard for potato production.
“It may take a while for it to be implemented, but the federal government is in support of the program, and that’s a good sign,” said Guelly of the NEFP. “I think they’ll be the ones that will create the incentives for farmers to get on board. With proper incentives, we’ll get even more buy-in from farmers.”