Perry Phillips says it’s hard to argue with the decision of more than 12,000 Alberta farmers and ranchers to develop an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP).
There’s no doubt that business reasons were an important reason since an EFP is needed for financial support under various programs or to build food-product branding that includes specific environmental standards.
But in many cases that process of voluntary self-analysis was driven by a simple wish for environmental progress. Producers wanted to confirm what was being done properly on their operation and what wasn’t, and to more clearly understand what was needed to meet current standards.
Phillips, who runs a family beef operation of his own, is a longtime trainer with the EFP program. He says producer feedback shows many appreciated the experience of completing an EFP, the opportunity to analyze their operation on their own terms, the access to technical assistance and the opportunity to communicate with other producers.
Many of those reasons still apply and in fact, Phillips believes the EFP is as relevant today as ever.
New EFP process
A major change to EFPs in Alberta is the way in which the product is delivered. Today it can be delivered directly to producers or in groups through workshops set up by producer organizations. Co-ordination of delivery has been assumed by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD).
The process is straightforward. Producers who wish to complete an EFP can contact a local extension person by calling the toll-free ARD helpline 310-FARM (3276).
In addition to the hand-held workbook that most producers have used, the same material is now available on a CD-ROM. Both are available free of charge.
The fundamentals of the rest of the process remain the same. One of the first steps in completing the EFP is to assess the farm’s soil and site characteristics. Producers also learn how to use the workbook, complete the relevant chapters, use checklists to review all aspects of their operation and finalize their EFP. The local extension person is available for assistance throughout the process.
Once completed, the producer has the choice to submit their Farm Plan to their EFP resource person for a final critique and review. This is encouraged because it gives producers an impartial third-party view of their analyses. Once reviewed, it will be returned with any suggestions and a letter of completion.
“The EFP is designed to be a living document built to be implemented continuously from one year to the next according to the priorities the producer has established,” says Phillips.
“Updating on a regular basis makes sense. Recent experience shows producers have documented real progress using the approach of revisiting and updating the EFP.”
One of the strengths of the EFP process has been the quality of technical assistance available to producers. That continues today, says Phillips. Producers anywhere in the province have access to direct personal assistance from a range of well-qualified technical assistants.
A completed EFP is needed for applying for financial support under the Growing Forward Stewardship Plans program for some on-farm environmental improvements. Demand for this financial support has been significant and may be oversubscribed this year. The best place to get more information on what is available is atwww.GrowingForward.Alberta.ca.
But Phillips says the main reason for the interest in EFPs is that the environment has never been more important. It is a crucial element in marketing agriculture and food products today. Consumers are increasingly aware of food safety and quality and how their food is produced. Canada and Alberta’s reputation in domestic and international markets is critical to competing effectively.
That is one reason why more food brands are building around verified production systems and more producer, industry and government programs revolve around that approach.
For more information on EFPs in Alberta, call the ARD producer toll-free helpline at 310-(FARM) 3276 or visitwww.albertaEFP.com. That site has resource materials from the program’s past efforts, and will have the latest information on what’s new with the current EFP effort.
Improve farm health and safety
Build acceptance of the operation among neighbours and the public
Increase personal satisfaction and knowledge
Add value to the farm property
Build agricultural sustainability
Reduce farm inputs such as herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers and fuel
Demonstrate to the public, government, regulators, lenders and investors that environmental risks are being managed
Increase the understanding of legal requirements to environmental issues
Identify what you are doing well and what needs improvements.