Farmers renew call for national environmental farm plan program

OTTAWA — Farmers say a national environmental farm plan could be a good base line tool for them, given the demands from consumers and the proliferation of sustainability programs from other players in the food chain.

Jason Lenz, chair of Alberta Barley from Bentley, Alta., said he still uses the EFP he completed in 2006 and admits it requires an update.

“At least once a year I go back to my EFP binder and use it as a reference,” he told the second national EFP summit.

“I’m also starting to see how the national EFP may be able to be the go-to model for the delivery mechanism for sustainably sourced food.”

Lenz said an EFP could provide tangible proof to consumers and customers that farmers are doing their best to protect the environment and grow safe, healthy food.

EFPs have been available through federal-provincial programs for about 25 years, and about 70,000 farmers have completed them.

Each province delivers its own plans, and summit co-chair Drew Black, environmental policy director at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said the intent of a national program is not to replace them.

“This is not the nationalization of each EFP,” he said.

Instead, it is about setting a base line of equivalency for environmental assurance so that producers who complete the plans in their own provinces are all considered the same.

“If we’re looking to make some claims around sustainability, I think this is absolutely key,” Black said.

Doug Sell, who operates a mixed farm on 3,000 acres north of Strathmore, Alta., completed his EFP about 12 years ago.

“What was neat to me was the fact that it made me as a food producer look at my operation very critically and analytically,” he told the meeting.

He said he knows his farm has become more environmentally sustainable since he began farming in 1978. The challenge is convincing consumers of that, he added, even though he can verify his practices.

“Can I expect an ever demanding consuming public to say, ‘Farmer Doug … is that good enough?’ ” he said.

“I think yesterday it was. Today and tomorrow, I’m not so sure.”

Andrew Campbell, an Ontario dairy farmer and owner of Fresh Air Media, said producers are focused on protocols and procedures that make their farms environmentally sustainable.

“The problem that we really face is then we don’t tell a single person about all that good stuff,” he said, noting there is an illusion that communication has occurred.

Campbell is active on social media, and Lenz said he hosts tours for buyers and the public.

Lenz said farmers who have completed EFPs should talk about why they did so with their neigh-bours and others.

He and other speakers said farmers have to be involved in developing a national base line so that it meets their needs.

Sell said farmers no longer operate in isolation, largely because of social media, and are already late to the party in terms of telling their stories. An EFP could go a long way to meeting consumers’ ex-pectations.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay opened the summit by saying the Canadian brand of a clean environment is well recognized on his trips to other countries.

He said the Chinese middle class population is growing faster than Canada’s, and they want safe, high quality food.

“If our EFPs are linked across the country, that will make our brand even stronger in the markets in China and around the world,” he said.

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