Environmental farm incentives continue to grow

This week, the OMAFRA announced a commitment to bring an additional $3.05-million dollars to the province’s Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship program in 2011.

The program is an important component of Ontario’s broader Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) initiative. That comes on the heels of over $7.6- million in government funding in 2010 that was budgeted for environmental farm projects across the province.

We applaud the Ontario government for using incentives instead of regulations to promote environmental improvements.

Ontario’s Environmental Farm Plan was first referenced in a 1992 document entitled Our Farm Environmental Agenda produced by the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition (OFEC). At that time, the notion of an environmental plan for farms was nothing more than a concept. That same year, Ontario farm organizations including the OFA, Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada worked closely with OMAFRA to develop an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) pilot project that involved workshops utilizing an EFP workbook. That approach is still the format presently used in Ontario, and was modelled after Farm Assist – a farm-related, environmental risk assessment developed at the University of Wisconsin.

What’s unique is that the EFP is a self-administered, environmental risk assessment that also includes a plan indicating how concerns identified in the assessment should be dealt with. Both components are contained within the workbook, which relates to activities at the farmstead and farm field levels, as well as natural areas of the farm such as wetlands and woodlots. The Soil and Crop Association has always been the agency responsible for the on-ground delivery of the Environmental Farm Plan program, and it has done a remarkable job.

In the early years of the program, funding covered the costs of training and provided an incentive payment of $1,000 (later increased to $1,500) to participating producers who could demonstrate that they had adopted best management practices to reduce risks associated with a concern identified within their EFP.

As time went on, the OFA and partners lobbied to have the cost-share component of the program increased in order to achieve the common goal shared by farm organizations and government: to have more best management practices adopted by more farmers.

That goal was realized with the advent of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada program under the Agricultural Policy Framework and Growing Forward.

However, on a year-to-year basis the OFA did have concerns that the funds available for best management practice adoption were declining and we were emphatic in making that concern known to the OMAFRA. The current infusion of $3.05-million dollars will address that concern.

For 2011, the budgeted amount for the farm stewardship program was $6.3-million, but with the recent commitment from OMAFRA that figure will rise substantially, to almost $10-million.