Environmental farm plan programs fit well together

OTTAWA — Preliminary work indicates that existing provincial environmental farm plans align fairly well and that could make it easier to establish national EFP stands, a recent conference heard.

The idea isn’t to replace the provincial programs but ensure they are equivalent by establishing a base line. A national EFP is one way that Canada could assure sustainability to customers and consumers.

A committee established after last year’s first meeting on the topic chose to measure the Ontario plan against the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform’s Farm Sus-tainability Assessment tool to see if the provincial plans could meet a standard.

SAI Platform is a voluntary membership global organization of about 90 stakeholders, including farm organizations, end users and processors working together on on-farm sustainability. It is already used in 25 countries.

“We’re talking about setting a basic bench line for what is sustainable on farms and how can we help farmers do that,” said Nick Betts of SAI Platform program.

The FSA tool is a 112-question document designed so that farmers around the world are able to answer them. Standards in Africa will vary from those in South America and those in Canada, he said.

The questions are essential, basic and advanced, and responses determine whether a farmer falls into bronze, silver or gold performance categories.

The Ontario plan was assessed against the bronze criteria.

Bronwynne Wilton of Wilton Consulting Group said it was a bit tricky because the FSA tool uses a yes or no answer system while the EFP uses a scale of one to four.

However, the benchmarking did find that the EFP could meet at least the bronze level.

Wilton said there were still gaps even when assuming that a farmer answered a three on the one-to-four, worst-to-best scale for every question.

Part of the issue is that the FSA tool also includes economic and social sustainability questions while the EFPs only focus is on the environment.

She said gaps are partially filled by Canadian legislation.

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett asked how the FSA tool deals with regulations in different countries. For example, Europe has a different position on genetically modified plants than North America.

Betts said one of the industries already using the tool is the European sugar beet sector.

In Europe, GM beets aren’t allowed while in North America they are preferred.

“The challenge that we face is, to be sustainable you also have to meet local regulations,” he said.

Wilton is also working with the Sustainable Farm and Food Initiative in Ontario, which is a collaboration of farm organizations and food processors who are looking at all the sustainability pillars, not just environment.

She said a national EFP could definitely be the environmental pillar, but there are data sharing and verification issues to address.

“We know and hear anecdotally that Canada is known for its trusted sustainable based food supply, but where’s the piece of paper?” she said.

The SFFI wants to increase transparency and reduce duplication in assuring sustainability.

Wilton said stakeholders say they want a unified approach across provincial, national and international borders.

“Twenty-five years ago when EFP was initiated, the food system wasn’t as integrated world-wide,” she said.

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