Having a national environmental farm plan could make it easier for producers to market their commodities overseas.
“We recognize that farmers have international buyers from around the world that are sourcing Canadian products from more than one jurisdiction,” said Erin Gowriluk, government relations and policy manager at Alberta Wheat.
“If we can position ourselves here in Canada to offer them one comprehensive program, our buyers can be guaranteed to have a set of outcome-based indicators that are consistent — that producers are all working toward the same objective regardless of where they farm in this country.”
Farmers place a great deal of trust in the provincial environmental farm plan program, and so do their customers, she said. Groups like McCain’s, McDonald’s, and Dairy Farmers of Canada have already included the environmental farm plan as a piece of their sustainability programs.
“Incorporating a national standard makes sense for groups like that,” said Gowriluk. “You have these groups that are sourcing products from a variety of different provinces, and they’re including the environmental farm plan as a component of their national suite. But the environmental farm plan is different in Manitoba than it would be in, say, Quebec or P.E.I.
“Each province runs its own environmental farm plan, so you’re going to see differences between provinces.”
But having a national set of standards would still allow provinces to have their own set of specific environmental practices.
“Provincial environmental farm plans will remain in place because practices are not consistent across this vast country,” said Gowriluk. We need to… reflect the best management practices that make sense in that agro-climatic zone.”
Instead, standards will be “outcome based.” For example, preventing soil erosion would be a national standard but methods for accomplishing that would vary according to regional differences.
A single national plan would also mean producers, and those selling their products, would no longer have to satisfy “a whole host of different requirements.”
“What that does for our farmers and ranchers is it ensures that, wherever possible, they’re only ever going to be met with one set of sustainability requirements,” said Gowriluk.
The federal government’s carbon tax plan announced earlier this month has increased the need for a national environmental farm plan. Including financial incentives in the national plan could help farmers reduce their carbon footprint, said Gowriluk.
“I think a lot of farmers are prepared to make the investment, but some of the work that needs to be done at the farm and ranch level is going to be costly.”
The federal government will join the provinces and territories in Ottawa for a National Environmental Farm Plan Summit on Nov. 1, which will be the next step in developing a national program.
“The summit will essentially be the first time that they really sit down and have that conversation with their industry partners to talk about what a national program looks like,” said Gowriluk, who is chairing the summit.
The event will be open to the entire agri-food sector, she added.
“If you’re going to build a national program, you have to have all the provinces and territories at the table because they are the environmental farm plan experts,” she said. “But you also have to open it up to anyone else who might be interested in using this program in the future. We will have representatives from the entire agri-food chain — from farm gate to plate — to talk about what they need in a national program.”
After the summit, a steering committee will lead the development of a national plan, said Gowriluk.
“Farm organizations were on the steering committee that led to the summit. They’ve always been at the table, and they will continue to be at the table. It’s critical. All roads lead back to producers.”