National plan could help meet sustainability goals

OTTAWA — Harmonizing provincial environmental farm plans to create a national framework could help producers meet sustainable sourcing demands from buyers, delegates to the recent national EFP summit heard.

The move toward a national base line that all provinces would have to agree on is a response to the in-creasing emphasis on sustain-ability.

While sustainability historically has focused on environmental practices, the definition is expanding to include social and economic factors.

“We’ve seen that there’s a bit of (an) emerging role here for EFPs moving forward,” said Jamie Hewitt, acting deputy director of environment policy at Agriculture Canada.

For example, he cited the renewable energy directives in the United States and Europe.

“The amount of certification a canola producer in Canada has to go through to gain access to those markets is quite extensive today.”

Farmers who have gone through the EFP process have said it helped prepare them for additional certification steps, Hewitt said.

Proponents of a national framework say strengthening EFPs could be a producer-friendly way to approach this.

A benchmarking project found common ground and strengths among the existing plans.

Agricultural consulting firm Serecon examined the similarities and gaps in the 11 EFPs available in all the provinces and Yukon.

Markus Weber of Serecon told the summit that most of the plans contain about 300 best management practices, or 3,300 in total.

The BMPs were sorted into eight themes to more easily compare them: water, air and climate, soil, biodiversity, crop management, livestock management, manure management and other.

The themes were broken down into 24 topics, and 58 concerns were identified under those topics.

“Concern and risk is really where we did the bulk of our work to see if there were commonalities there,” Weber said.

Each of the 58 concerns was rated as to how each province deals with it, using a scale of zero, for it’s not in the plan at all, to four, for comprehensive guidance to the farmer.

Weber said each jurisdiction dealt with 21 of the concerns, while almost all dealt with another 21.

“Of all of the concerns/risks, 17 were found to be addressed by seven or fewer jurisdictions,” said the report. “Of those, seven concerns were addressed by three or fewer provincial programs.”

This doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem but is a function of how provinces differ, Weber said.

He said regulations also deal with concerns identified in the EFPs.

“Ultimately it will be up to this group, if this work continues, to decide what should and should not be in a harmonized EFP, but there is a lot of stepping on the same concerns from the regulatory side, from legislation, from EFPs, from private sector sustainability schemes,” he said.

“Should we all deal with them, or should we reduce some of that duplication?”

Weber said proponents of a national EFP have to decide its purpose.

“When I look at what we’re doing in terms of the benchmarking, there’s an attempt to take what was initially an extension tool, and is now an extension tool for producers by producers, largely, and turning that into a sustainability documentation tool,” he said.

The full benchmarking report has not yet been released.

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