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Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan
For over a decade, we’ve been involved in strategizing, instructional design, graphic design, writing, editing, printing, distributing, translation, testing, programming and evangelizing the Environmental Farm Plan, an award-winning product invented in Ontario now replicated across Canada and around the world.
Long before “green” was a mainstream term for environmental sustainability, grassroots members of our farming community recognized the importance of taking care of our soil, our water, our air, and the biodiversity of our wildlife.
Sustaining a rich healthy eco-system has always been essential to the viability of the family farm. Nurturing stewardship of that thin layer of topsoil is essential to the nutrition and health of all Ontarians.
The fertility of the land, and the responsibility that accompanies it, has been handed down from generation to generation of family farmers. Even before the word “sustainability” was coined in 1992 by Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, our farmers, neighbours, and families were continuously developing innovative techniques to share with our communities.
As our world was transformed into a global village, Ontario farm products began to feed distant markets. Ontario’s family farms became part of a national and global supply chain, supplying international food processors. To some innovative thinkers in our farming community, it seemed that informal sharing of knowledge wasn’t enough to meet the challenges of both environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness for Ontario’s family farms.
The idea for an “Environmental Farm Plan” originated in our community twenty years ago, within a group of farmers in the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association from Guelph, Ontario. The concept was ambitious yet simple: why not create a way that producers could learn about environmental farming techniques, and then self-certify every aspect of their operation against criteria established by the wisest elders amongst our farming communities?
By 1993, a pilot project was in motion in seven diverse counties across Ontario. Ontario’s Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) eagerly provided technical support.
Today, the “EFP” consists of workshops, a 23-section self-assessment binder, a companion electronic edition, and a network of volunteers and graduates from across our province working together to continue Ontario’s leadership in truly sustainable farming.
Farmers are involved in every stage of developing the Environmental Farm Plan (“EFP”), now stewarded through the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition (which is led by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Farm Animal Council, and AGCare (Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment).
The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) regularly delivers EFP workshop in communities across Ontario, in both official languages. Technical expertise is provided by Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
With over 35,000 participants since EFP’s humble roots in 1993, this international award-winning program continues to help Ontario farmers develop and adopt more environmentally sustainable practices.
And what do our farmers think of all this? When participants were asked “Would you recommend the EFP process to your neighbour?” Ninety-five percent said Yes.
What is an Environmental Farm Plan?
Now known as the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan (due to federal adoption, and mirroring of Ontario’s success in provinces across the nation), an “EFP” is an assessment voluntarily prepared by a farm family to increase their environmental awareness in up to 23 different areas on their farm.
Through local EFP two-day workshops, farmers highlight their farm’s environmental strengths, identify areas of environmental concern, and set realistic action plans with timetables to improve environmental conditions.
Each participant receives a comprehensive 23-section binder and other physical and electronic tools. Participants draft a formal sustainability plan for their family farm, which is then reviewed in confidence, with industry representatives, before implementation begins. Some participant are able to receive provincial and/or federal funds to accelerate their progress in achieving the sustainability goals they set in their plan.
The goal of each Environmental Farm Plan is to provide family farms with what they need to improve the sustainability of their farming practices. The farmer is challenged to think about their land, buildings, inputs, and practices. The producer is supplied with tools to rate their current conditions against best practices that contribute to environmental sustainability – the air, soil, wildlife, and water sources – around their farm. And, it asks the farmer to consider new ways of working that will decrease the risks to our precious natural resources.
Today, 75% of Ontario’s family farms have participated in the EFP.
A recent Agrivo study shows that energy saving initiatives by farmers in Ontario’s Greenbelt conserve enough energy to power 1,788 homes annually. And on-farm solar panel installations in the Greenbelt are generating enough electricity for another Ontario 170 homes.
Technologies installed with funding related to the program have resulted in a total annual realized savings of 135,912 cubic metres in natural gas, and 1,402,873 kilowatt hours in electricity. Meanwhile, 136,389 kilowatt hours per year are being generated by 13 on-farm solar photovoltaic systems.
Other cutting-edge technologies and practices implemented on-farm include the use of geo-thermal systems, installation of greenhouse heat-and-shade systems, milk plate coolers, and installation of solar hydronic water heating.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s EFP model has been adopted by other provinces, other countries, and even other parts of our industry.
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