Why Environmental Farm Plans aren’t just for livestock farmers

All three Prairie provinces offer to cost-share programs for producers who have completed an Environmental Farm Plan and adopt beneficial management practices

The Environmental Farm Plan isn’t just for livestock producers, especially as the pressure increases on crop growers to demonstrate their sustainable-cropping practices to the food industry. But before we look at how the EFP is playing an important role in regional and global sustainable-sourcing initiatives, let’s look at what cost-sharing projects related to crops are now available within the EFP across the Prairies.

First, a refresher on the EFP definition. The Environmental Farm Plan is a voluntary self-assessment of a farm or ranch which determines environmental assets and risks and then develops an action plan to reduce the identified risks. The EFP has value because it provides opportunities to change a farm to benefit both the environment and the producer’s bottom line, says John Neufeld, communications manager at Manitoba Agriculture.

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Many EFP cost-sharing initiatives are related to manure, addressing proper storage and handling so that soil and water don’t become oversaturated with nutrients. Many of the best management practices (BMPs) related to crops — like proper application of fertilizer and crop protection products, no till and so on — are largely now standard practices for farmers and are therefore not incentivized through cost-sharing. However, some are. Let’s start in Manitoba.

Manitoba

Neufeld says that since the EFP began in Manitoba in 2004, more than 6,400 producers with over 10 million acres have completed an EFP. Completion makes a producer eligible for funding through “Assurance: Beneficial Management Practices” of the Ag Action Manitoba program.

In particular for crop management (but also encompassing livestock), notes Neufeld, “Resource Management Planning” (BMP 101) supports comprehensive farm resource planning relating to air, land and water

“This includes 4R Nutrient Stewardship, soil testing and many other practices,” Neufeld explains. “Another activity that is noteworthy is BMP 302: Intercropping. This BMP is intended to promote intercropping legume crops with non-legume crops to reduce N fertilizer rates, and to promote other annual intercropping mixtures with clear environmental benefits. This includes equipment modifications to enable seeding intercrops in a single pass.”

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is currently updating its EFP requirements, but Ministry of Agriculture representatives say that much of the core content is expected to stay the same, with additional opportunities to be added for education, resources and extension. There are currently 12,000 completed EFPs in the province.

Under today’s rules, either a completed EFP or an equivalent sustainability assessment is required to access funding for most BMPs under the province’s Farm Stewardship Program. One example of a funded crop-related BMP is variable rate mapping, with 30 per cent or maximum of $2,000 ($8 per acre) provided for one-time consulting services and associated zone mapping costs for variable-rate fertilizer and irrigation applications.

Alberta

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry reports more than 12,000 EFPs have been completed in the province. Cost-sharing is available to increase fertilizer nutrient efficiency such as controllers, software, subscriptions or “unlock codes” for management/operation of sectional control, as well as sectional control systems for application of granular, liquid or gaseous fertilizer. The program also covers similar BMPs for sprayer equipment.

EFP participants may also qualify for cost-sharing projects relating to shelterbelts and eco-buffers, to a maximum of $10,000 at a 50 per cent cost-share. Eligible costs include first-year establishment (e.g. site preparation, planting, weed control), purchase of trees and shrubs to a maximum of $5 each, mulch, watering system components for trickle or drip systems and more. First-year fencing expenses for excluding livestock from the shelterbelt are also partly funded.

EFPs and sustainable sourcing

Sustainable sourcing is increasingly important to companies of all stripes, especially food companies.

Just as it sounds, the process involves buying goods from suppliers who can demonstrate they are following sustainable practices relating to the social, economic and environmental aspects of production, processing and distribution.

Environmental criteria in these initiatives usually include soil stewardship, proper nutrient management and crop production product use, biodiversity, and water enhancement and protection. These are all concepts addressed by the Environmental Farm Plan.

Paul Watson, EFP director for the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) and national co-chair for EFP harmonization across the provinces, says that the Alberta EFP is in the process of being made equivalent to the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative’s (SAI) Farmer Sustainability assessment version 2.1 (FSA 2.1). The SAI has dozens of members, many of which are global food industry players such as Unilever, Nestlé, McDonald’s and McCain.

Watson says getting the EFP to be recognized by the SAI is important because it’s a widely used and recognized global program which has been benchmarked against other sustainability tools. He says Quebec has already led the way for Alberta and he foresees that all other provinces are likely to follow suit.

“If Canadian agriculture doesn’t participate in SAI, there is some risk of being left behind. We are heading into an era where being part of a sustainability program and being able to demonstrate that you meet sustainability benchmarks is a standard part of doing business.”

Watson notes that established use of the EFP has positioned Canadian farmers well for sustainability, and while he can only specifically speak about the Alberta EFP, he believes harmonization with the SAI will mostly be a matter of participants adding a little documentation.

In 2015 he and his colleagues started talking about how the Alberta EFP could be harmonized with the SAI, and it’s now on the cusp of equivalency for silver level. “We’ve had two summits about this and there will be a workshop in November,” Watson reports. “The Quebec EFP has already achieved silver, but a formal announcement has not yet been made.”

He adds that there is an audit process required to achieve SAI silver level, but that this is typically done at the supply chain level and not the farm level.

Manitoba’s Neufield adds that some Manitoba companies are using the assessment of the EFP for sustainable sourcing requirements and producers with a valid EFP will be potential suppliers. For example, Manitoba’s Roquette Pea Processing has identified the EFP as the best means to ensure its producers meet its sustainable-sourcing standards, and Manitoba Agriculture has collaborated with Roquette to develop a specific pea production chapter in the provincial EFP. Watson says commodity purchasers in Alberta have also expressed interest in a similar path.

Representatives at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture note that more companies in that province are also looking at integrating sustainable-sourcing requirements into their supply chains.

“The Ministry of Agriculture is updating its EFP to align the content with the Farm Sustainability Assessment, an international sustainability assessment tool developed by the SAI Platform,” they state. “With a new EFP in place, producers will still need to work with various companies to satisfy other requests, such as a verification audit.”

For more on the EFP in your province

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