The Alberta Environmental Farm Plan (AEFP) program is heading in new directions. In January 2015 the Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta hired Paul Watson as its Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) Director. Under his leadership, the organization is preparing for the next evolution in agriculture.
“Consumers want to know their food is safe and healthy, and that it is produced in an environmentally and ethically conscious way,” says Watson. “Major food processing companies and restaurant chains are responding by requiring that the products they purchase be sustainably sourced.”
Sustainable sourcing refers to 1) products that are safe and of high quality 2) agricultural production that protects the natural environment 3) production methods that secure the social and economic conditions of farmers, their employees and local communities and 4) production that safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed animals.
Watson sees a good fit for EFP as the backbone for the environmental component of sustainable sourcing programs. As sustainable sourcing becomes increasingly prevalent, Watson foresees a need for many more Alberta producers to prepare and implement an EFP.
As director, he has two goals: to make the EFP process simple and easy for producers to complete, and to ensure the EFP process is responsive to industry and producers.
“If EFP becomes the environmental platform of sustainable sourcing programs, our organization will need to do thousands of farm plans per year, not the current few hundred a year,” says Watson. “Sustainable sourcing requires documentation and we are working towards reducing the amount of time spent on completing an EFP. A new version of the online workbook will occur later this year. When complete, this WebBook will pull data from other sources to make EFP it easier and quicker for producers to complete.”
Watson anticipates the need to modify the EFP periodically to meet sector-specific needs. To ensure appropriate input, AEFP has formed a Stakeholder Advisory Committee with representation from the crop and livestock industries and other partners. Changes to the program will be made in consultation with this committee and the AEFP Operations Committee.
Watson believes Alberta producers have nothing to fear from sustainable sourcing. “I am confident our producers often meet or exceed international standards around environmental practices. What we’re missing is the documentation; and that could give Alberta Producers a market advantage.”
“Changes are coming to agriculture in Alberta,” said Watson. “But together with the agriculture industry, we are working to make sure Alberta farmers will be ready when those changes arrive.”