Pearce: Ontario’s EFP program takes next step

Speakers at the Farm, Food and Beyond press conference (r to l): Alan Kruszel, OSCIA; Dr. Gord Surgeoner, Sustainable Farm Coalition; John Maaskant, Farm and Food Care Ontario; Robert Cash, the Provision Coalition; Don McCabe, OFA; Scott Graham, Presidents’ Council; and Lorne Small, CFFO. (Ralph Pearce photo)

Next year it will have been 25 years since Ontario introduced the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) for farms, and leading up to that anniversary, it’s worth noting more than 38,000 farm families have participated.

In spite of some growing pains in the late 1990s, the EFP has grown to provide the Ontario agri-food industry with a solid reputation for excellence in environmental stewardship and the framework for traceability.

Now, seven organizations have joined in Farm, Food and Beyond, a collaborative effort to upgrade the EFP, including a focus on different levels of sustainability as well as helping to bridge the gap between farming and consumers.

Dr. Gord Surgeoner, chair of the Sustainable Farm Coalition’s steering committee, was the moderator at a press conference held during the first day of the 2015 edition of Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show near Woodstock.

Representatives of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Christian Farmers’ Federation of Ontario (CFFO), the Presidents’ Council, Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT), the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), Farm and Food Care Ontario and the Provision Coalition were on hand with short presentations.

The focus of Farm, Food and Beyond, he said, is to extend the foundation previously laid out by the EFP, which was voluntary, but also clarified the methods that farmers used to carry out various management practices.

With this new program, the focus will be on “people, the planet and profitability”. As much as consumers may be demanding traceability or defining sustainability in their own terms, said Surgeoner, farmers must be profitable in their operations.

“Everyone has their definition of sustainability and if you look at many of them, it’s usually for a single crop or a single customer, and our farmers could be doing five or six things for everybody,” he said.

“We believe that we needed to say what we thought was sustainability, and farmers have to be profitable; without profitability, no farm is sustainable — and that doesn’t come out in a lot of equations.”

Surgeoner also emphasized there will be another four million people in Ontario in the next 25 years. That increases the importance of sound science and the ability to evaluate technologies — and of legislation protecting farmland and assuring farmers continue to use the land wisely.

Part of the mandate for this group is to extend communication outward from the producer to the food value chain and the consumer.

OFA president Don McCabe said it’s also important to build the vehicle from within the agri-food industry, to avoid having regulations imposed from outside the industry.

“We have such an information age and so much information coming at us, we need to be using that in our management decisions, but we also need to be looking past the farm gate like we never have before,” said McCabe, pointing to the intergenerational gap currently on the farm.

Older generations, for example, aren’t as connected as their children, who use smartphones to order parts for a tractor while reducing their downtime.

“We have marriages of technology, marriages of ideals, and we have a society that doesn’t trust the farmer. So we need to be able to start backstopping and bringing our credibility back further into the future.”

Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont. Follow him at @arpee_AG on Twitter.

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