Alberta farmers identify priorities for environmental action
June 8, 2006:
As Canadians take action on the environment with Canadian Environment Week June 4-10, Alberta farmers are taking steps towards identifying environmental priorities on their farms and ranches. These producers are developing Environmental Farm Plans (EFPs) to deal with these challenges.
An EFP is a voluntary, confidential self-assessment process that helps agricultural producers evaluate the environmental risks and strengths of their farms and ranches, at the same time identifying the priorities they rate as most important to the sustainability of their operations.
"Canadian Environment Week, which coincides with World Environment Day, has as its objective raising public awareness of environmental sustainability at the community level," says Therese Tompkins, program director of the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan (AEFP) Company, the non-profit group which delivers the EFP program in the province. "The EFP program is an excellent example of how farms and ranches are taking a leading role in this area."
High on Alberta producers’ environmental priority list is water source management, says Tompkins. More producers are testing water for domestic use and taking steps such as increasing the use of backflow prevention devices, which prevent contamination when filling sprayer tanks and livestock troughs.
Storage of petroleum products is another issue on the minds of farmers and ranchers, who are improving security and fuel dispensing practices and protecting against spills, says Tompkins. "They have also been preparing emergency plans and ensuring access to clean-up equipment."
Another priority is the storage and handling of pesticides. "EFP participants clearly want to minimize on farm pesticide storage during non-use seasons," says Tompkins. "They’re increasing security, improving spill or leak containment in storage areas, improving tank filling practices and reducing the on farm transportation of pesticides."
Soil management is another issue producers are tackling by reducing tillage and addressing several wind erosion risks. "They’re also increasing the adoption of organic amendments in the rotation, among other activities," says Tompkins.
Farmers and ranchers have also been taking steps to better manage household wastewater. Ensuring good design and construction of septic systems, improving subsurface distribution of sewage effluent and improving monitoring of disposal areas have been priorities for EFP participants.
Producers have also used the EFP program to access funding for these on-farm environmental improvements. Each farm that completes an EFP is eligible for $30,000 for beneficial management practices (BMP) implementation through the Canada-Alberta Farm Stewardship Program (CAFSP). To date, Alberta farmers have committed or spent over $10 million on close to 1000 individual BMP projects, and will be reimbursed almost $4 million under the CAFSP program.
"The goal of EFP is not only to provide a healthy landscape for the next generation, but also to maintain market access for agricultural products," says Tompkins. "Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety and quality of the food they eat, which is driving interest in how that food is produced. EFPs enhance Canada’s reputation for producing good, wholesome food in a healthy environment, helping this country’s food products compete in world markets."
For more information on the Environmental Farm Plan program, visit the AEFP Web site at www.albertaEFP.com. AEFP was established in 2002 as an industry-run, non-profit corporation that delivers EFP services to Alberta farmers. Through the Agricultural Policy Framework (APF), the Government of Canada provides major funding to the EFP program in Alberta, with the Government of Alberta providing additional in-kind support services to help the agricultural sector develop and implement EFPs. For more information on CAFSP, contact the program office toll-free at 1-800-667-8567.
Additional support has been provided by the Agriculture and Food Council, through the Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Initiative, the Alberta Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture Council (AESA) and various ministries of the Government of Alberta. Contributions have also come from more than 100 local municipalities, businesses and agricultural organizations.