What producers need to know
Most Alberta farmers and ranchers are familiar with Alberta's Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) initiative but may be wondering where it fits today.
Many producers have developed an EFP and may be wondering what is involved with keeping it updated it or why they should bother. Others have started work on their plan and are wondering how best to continue. Some will have even less familiarity with EFP and need to find out what's involved with getting started.
Here's a quick overview of the EFP program in Alberta and what producers need to know to continue to use the tool.
An EFP is exactly what the name implies - a plan that ties together environment and farm to get the best results for both. It's more than a plan, it's a process - and a tool that farmers and ranchers can use to assess and improve their environmental stewardship, at a direction and pace they choose themselves.
Producers use a workbook to undertake a self-assessment of their operation. This gives them knowledge and options to develop a plan that is the right fit for what they want to accomplish. Along the way, producers have access to knowledgeable Technical Assistants who can help answer questions and provide advice. The outcome is a plan they know is technically sound, doable and in line with their overall farm management planning.
"Producers who have developed an EFP generally are pleased with their efforts and what they've learned," says Perry Phillips, Coordinator of the EFP program in Alberta. "They get a better idea of where they're at with regard to the environmental – agricultural relationship on their farm and have a new way to look at management choices – and some new resources to fall back on."
The program is voluntary and producers are under no pressure to do anything they don't want to, he says. "The program is about positioning farmers to make decisions around environmental concerns they may not otherwise be aware of – but those decisions are theirs to make. It's the producers who ultimately choose where they want to go and how they want to get there."
The EFP process has three main elements that all revolve around awareness, assessment and planning. Producers complete these steps as they move through the EFP workbook, which they can now access online or by request acquiring a handheld 'binder' from one of the technical assistants providing EFP services around the province.
Inventory of 'natural characteristics.' The first phase of the process outlined in the workbook is to develop an inventory of the "natural characteristics" of an operation. Producers identify soil information, topographical features and water resources that have a major influence on the way they farm. They also determine the inherent environmental impact these characteristics have before considering their own management practices. "Most farmers who complete this process agree it is a different way of 'looking at their farm' and say it is a valuable learning step," says Phillips.
Practices and risk ratings. The next step looks at the practices used on the operation and assesses their impact on the environment. "Farmers follow a rating system that helps them determine the level of risk associated with their management practices and whether or not certain changes might be beneficial," says Phillips.
Planning phase. The next component is the planning phase. Producers use the EFP 'tool' to create a plan that allows them to address the areas of concern and higher risk they have identified in the previous two components.
Certification option. If a producer wants to take their EFP a little further, they can have their plan reviewed by a trained EFP Technical Assistant and receive a Letter of Completion that can then be used to prove that they have developed a plan based on their own assessment of their situation.
"Most producers see a benefit to going this extra step," says Phillips. "It helps make sure their plan is the best it can be and facilitates the link to certain stewardship funding programs and potential new marketing opportunities."
Information is available for producers who are at different stages of experience with the EFP program.
Updating plans. The EFP is a statement of commitment toward environmental stewardship practices, meant to be a living document, updated regularly for each operation. There are many reasons to consider updating. For example, EFPs are required for certain stewardship funding programs.
They may also affect how agricultural property is valued, in the course of buying or selling farms. And they also fit into marketing opportunities for some agricultural products/commodities.
Partially completed plans. Those who have started work on their plan can use the information they've already developed and get help to complete it.
New participants. Producers can get information in several ways. They can visit the Alberta EFP website, at www.albertaefp.com. They can contact ARD, which coordinates the program, at 310-FARM (3276) toll free anywhere in the province. They can also contact an EFP program Technical Assistants – a link to a list of TAs available across the province is on the Alberta EFP website. The website also includes a range of background information and news about the program that is regularly updated.