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Prairie Farmers Embrace Environmental Farm Planning

by 5m Editor
28 April 2007, at 9:09am

CANADA - Developed as a component of Canada's Agriculture Policy Framework the National Farm Stewardship Program (NFSP) is part of Canada’s National Environmental Farm Planning Initiative. The federal-provincial program is administered regionally by various delivery agents on behalf of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and provides technical and financial assistance to support the adoption of beneficial farm management practices.

Program Targets Agricultural Producers

“Agricultural producers are eligible to apply to the program,” explains Jim Melville, manager of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada’s Regina-based Client Service Centre which oversees the Canada-Manitoba, Canada-Saskatchewan and Canada-Alberta Farm Stewardship programs.

“It was identified to try and encourage producers to look at their operations through the environmental farm planning process and the NFSP is an incentive program to assist farmers to implement portions of their environmental farm plan where they see deficiencies in their environmental operation.”

First Applications Received in 2005

Melville notes the first applications for funding under the program were received from Alberta in January and February of 2005 and the first applications from Manitoba and Saskatchewan were received in the spring of that year.

Funding Conditional on Approved Completion of Environmental Farm Planning

“The only pre-requisite of application is that they have to have completed the environmental farm planning process and have a peer reviewed farm plan in place with a statement of completion issued by one of the provincial delivery agents,” Melville points out.

The environmental farm planning process is completely voluntary and strictly confidential. It is administered on a provincial basis through independent delivery agents. Although there are some differences from province to province in terms of delivery, the initiatives are similar in terms of basic structure, intent and outcomes.

“We deliver the environmental farm plan initiative primarily through a workbook,” explains Mike Slomp, executive director of the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan Company. “It’s something that we have put together with the provincial and federal departments of agriculture. They serve as a self awareness tool for producers. Producers would show up at a workshop and we would walk them through the chapters in the book hoping that they would become more aware of the various risks on their farm as it would relate to farming.”

Planning Process Centres On Water

Slomp notes, “Most of the risks that we would identify for them relate to the impact they might have on the quality of water on their operation. The water sources, the water bodies become the reference point or the protection issue on most of the farm operations.”

Process Involves Series of Two Workshops

“The first [workshop] we introduce the workbook and then we give the assignments where producers go home and they do a lot of stepping out of distances between the various water bodies and the potential risks on their farm and they’re asked to identify the various risks,” Slomp explains.

“They are then asked to develop an action plan and an action plan means, now that you’ve identified a risk what do you propose in your timeline, according to your priority, to address those issues? We ask them to provide long and short term action plans.”

Slomp notes, “When the individual farm plan is completed then it is presented anonymously to one of 13 review committees that we have around the province. Those review committees are farmers from the local area who have completed their own environmental farm plan. We ask them to critique each plan, again anonymously from the perspective of local growing conditions from the perspective of, has the farmer or has the plan covered off actions for every risk identified on the farm? When that is completed we issue a certificate for the producer and that formal education and awareness process is complete and the farmers begins to implement as many actions or improvements or adoption of BMPs as they can at that particular time.”

Same Principles Apply in Saskatchewan and Manitoba

“The workbook is actually broken down into three sections,” says Allan Ransome, chairman of the Farm Stewardship Association of Manitoba (FSAM).

“The first section looks at the resource base of that individual farm, the soil types – they look its natural risks, that’s what Mother Nature has given you. Then in this next section, section B there’s 19 sections in it and what it does, it melds the individual’s management, what is that person’s management with regards to this farm resource that he has. So it looks at everything from water source protection to feed storage all the way through to soil management down to energy efficiency. What a producer does is he goes through that section and identifies his assets or his liabilities. It’s a self assessment.”

“Once he’s completed that he goes to the third section which is his environmental farm plan and this is where he addresses those areas where he has a higher risk and puts timelines in terms of how he's going to address it and when he's going to address it.”

50 Percent of Manitoba Farmland Enrolled

The Farm Stewardship Association of Manitoba celebrated its second full year of operation at the end of March.

“There have been over 5700 producers attend at least the first workshop,” Ransome says. “Out of that 5700, up to now, there’s over 4100 workbooks that have been reviewed and have a statement of completion. Out of those 4100 about 2700 are livestock producers. We do track the number of acres that are covered under the environmental farm plan, and that is 6.7 million acres of agricultural land in Manitoba. That would constitute approximately 50 percent of the land at this point in time.”

Saskatchewan Boasts 77 Hundred Plans Approved

The Provincial Council of Agriculture Development and Diversification (ADD) Boards for Saskatchewan held the first environmental farm plan workshop in that province in December 2004.

“To date there have been over 11,500 farm units participate in at least the introductory workshop,” says Saskatchewan environmental farm plan coordinator Tamara Shields. “As of March 31st there were over 7,700 completed and endorsed action plans in Saskatchewan. I think these numbers are quite encouraging and they show that producers in Saskatchewan are very proactive and progressive people.”

“The response has been quite positive.” She indicates producers she has talked to have stated, “It really makes a person think about what you’re doing and what you could be doing.” Which tells her the whole goal of awareness is being met.

Slomp echoes that thought.

“Most producers have told us,” and he quotes. “I’ve learned a lot and one of the things I’ve learned, by doing an environmental farm plan is that I’m doing a lot of things well. The only added advantage is now I can demonstrate that I’ve done that.”

He notes, “The 6500 producers who’ve completed the plan, we offer them a farm gate sign that they can proudly display at the front of their farm. We see that as an example of how farmers are wanting to demonstrate to the consumers the public that might drive by that, yes I’m taking an additional step to demonstrate a commitment to looking after the environment.”

“There’s been an overwhelming acceptance by the producers,” adds Ransome. “Most producers, once they’ve gone through the process, have become aware of some of the issues. They do things differently.”

He adds, “This is without any incentive at all. And all of them find it a learning experience and they also would recommend it to their friends and neighbors.”

Uptake in Alberta Hits 10 Million Acres

The uptake in Alberta has also been impressive.

“We’ve had just under 11,000 Alberta farmers and ranchers begin the environmental farm plan process,” says Slomp. “Of those approximately 11,000 more than 6500 now have competed their plan and that 6500 action plans represents more than 10.5 million acres of farm and ranch land in Alberta.”

Program Offers Environmental Benefits

As Slomp explains, “The advantages for producers are the identification of risks on the farm.”

He suggests, “Probably the most important issue is the health of the farm family itself, by protecting the quality of the water that the family drinks, that the livestock drinks and the water that’s used in irrigating farmland.”

He points out the environmental improvements also create cost advantages. “Producers learn about things like GPS systems for example. GPS systems eliminate overlap and eliminating overlap means that they no longer double spray pesticides or fertilizers. The elimination of overlap also reduces the number of times the producer goes around the field reducing the amount of fuel used.”

“From the public perspective,” he adds, “we have a growing number of producers that can demonstrate that they have been taking greater care of the environment.”

Financial Assistance Offers Incentive

An added incentive, the Canada-Manitoba, Canada-Saskatchewan and Canada-Alberta Farm Stewardship programs offer cost shared federal provincial assistance to those who have completed the environmental farm planning process.

“There’s 30 beneficial management practices identified as eligible for funding under the farm stewardship program,” Melville explains. “Everything from improved manure storage and handling to water well management, to assisting with the purchases of equipment such as GPS equipment for spraying and fertilizer placement and then there’s some planning BMPs as well. It’s a pretty wide ranging program.”

Eligibility Varies

Melville notes, “There’s two levels of eligibility depending on the beneficial management practice. Some of them are funded at 30 percent and some of them are funded at 50 percent. The break is the environmental benefit to the general public. The ones with the lower contribution rate are more directed to where there is an environmental benefit but there’s also a bigger benefit to the farming operation. The higher contribution level assists projects where there is a bigger environmental benefit to the general public such as riparian health and things like that.”

However, he stresses, “The producer has to complete the environmental farm planning process before they can apply to the program.”

“That’s a key point. You’ve got to have approval before you implement the project.”

Another keys point, he adds, “The farm plan is a private document held by the producer and we, as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada don’t see that plan. When they apply to the program all that they have to do is provide a copy of their statement of completion that says that they have been through the process and that their plan has been pier reviewed and accepted.”

Applications Continue to Escalate

Melville notes, while the response to the program since it started in 2005 has been good but both last spring and this spring it has been amazing.

“In our office we are receiving probably at this time somewhere between 100 and 200 applications a day in our mail room from across the prairies.”

5m Editor