Stakeholders updated P.E.I.’s environmental farm plan to better serve farmers who look to improve the sustainability of their operations
By Kate Ayers
The Prince Edward Island Federation of Agriculture strives to help farmers create practical plans for their operations and ensure management decisions are environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable and economically viable.
P.E.I.’s Enhanced Environmental Farm Plan is one way farmers can work towards these goals, manage risks and maintain market access, the federation’s website said.
Like Ontario’s Environmental Farm Plan (EFP), P.E.I.’s program addresses many aspects of a producer’s operation to identify environmental risks and opportunities.
“P.E.I.’s EFP covers management of pests, nutrients and soil; field windbreaks; irrigation; potato, manure and grain storage; barns; buffers; woodlots; wetlands and composting sites,” JoAnn Pineau said to Better Farming. She’s the federation’s industry development officer and the executive assistant of the P.E.I. Wild Blueberry Growers Association.
To improve accuracy and reduce the burden of paperwork, officials redesigned the program so delivery agents can help farmers complete a digital EFP.
“This shift does not mean the participants now complete their EFPs online. When producers meet with our delivery agents, a staff member completes the farm plan on a software platform called ‘Record+,’ (R+) provided through Logiag,” Pineau said. Logiag is an agricultural service firm in Châteauguay, Que.
“Prior to 2012, delivery agents met with producers one-on-one or in a workshop setting, where producers drew their farm and field maps by hand and completed all the questions in a hard-copy binder.”
Now, delivery agents collect basic geographical information (i.e., property numbers, field slopes and lengths, watersheds, soil types, etc.) in advance of meeting with a producer and enter that data into the software, Pineau said.
After this process, “we meet with producers to discuss agricultural management practices,” she added. Delivery agents then input those discussion points into the software program and produce final reports that provide risk assessments.
“This report also includes colour-coded field and farm maps indicating the geographical information gathered prior to meeting with the producer. I feel cutting out the workshops, hard-copy binders and hand-drawn maps makes the process more efficient for all involved,” Pineau said.
“Producers receive more detailed information about the land they’re farming and the software allows us to focus on management practices when we sit down with producers.”
Farmers who develop EFPs have open and honest discussions with delivery agents during the process. Producers and delivery agents review day-to-day operations, which helps raise farmers’ awareness and protect the environment, Pineau said.
“Sometimes producers do not realize that the identified areas pose a risk. But, more often, the program raises producer awareness about options that are available (i.e., alternative management practices or funding programs) to avert the identified environmental risks,” she added.
In addition, farmers who complete EFPs may be eligible for funding to support operational improvements and could increase their products’ marketability.
“Participation in the program allows producers to be eligible for funding programs, such as the Agriculture Stewardship Program, the Farmland Financing Program, and the Future Farmer Program, through the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture and Land,” Pineau said.
“I’ve seen some producers use their EFPs as marketing tools – especially producers who sell directly to the public.
“I’ve also seen producers use the plan as a method of demonstrating responsible farming practices when approaching individuals to lease land or when approaching financial institutions to purchase land,” Pineau added.
The possibility of a national benchmarking program presents an exciting opportunity for provinces to work together to optimize production and environmental sustainability.
A Canada-wide EFP “has the potential to standardize the program across Canada,” Pineau said.
“In review of conversations with stakeholders in other provinces regarding this initiative, I am confident a national program would still allow us to focus on areas specific to our regions. For example, particular types of erosion are of much more significant concern in P.E.I. than in Alberta.
“I think a national program could be very helpful on a global stage, and could perhaps open new markets for our producers,” Pineau added. BF