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  • Caylie Gnyra

Counties Hold Environmental Farm Plan Workshops


Participants work on their Environmental Farm Plans with the help of a specially-trained technician. Photo submitted

The Agricultural Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) held two Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) workshops in the Vermilion area last week. The County of Vermilion River hosted its EFP workshop north of Kitscoty at the County of Vermilion River Natural Gas Shop the evening of Tuesday, February 6, while the County of Minburn hosted theirs in Innisfree on Friday, February 9.

The EFP is a free, voluntary self-assessment tool for Alberta-based agricultural producers to identify environmental risks and create site-specific, custom-tailored design plans to mitigate, monitor, or compensate for those risks.

While the EFP can be completed online from home without assistance, the workshops provided extra support with the presence of specially trained local technicians who were available to walk farmers through each step of the process. Many participants found the in-person support of their technician to be invaluable.

Cathie Erichsen Arychuk, Director of Agriculture and Environment with the County of Vermilion River, explained three major reasons to do an EFP: first, out of a personal desire to learn about site-specific environmental risks involved in a farm operation and to explore ways of managing those risks; second, to comply with the requirements of a larger organization or governing body such as the Dairy Farmers of Canada; and finally, to qualify for access to provincial and federal grants that require a completed EFP to provide funds for improving farms’ environmental footprints. Underlying all three of these reasons is the individual and collective desire to steward healthy land for future generations of farmers, livestock, and wildlife alike.

The Environmental Farm Plan allows managers themselves to assess areas where the farm is managing the environment well and identify potential environmental risks and develop their own plan to monitor or mitigate those risks. The goal of the EFP is to provide farms with increased awareness of potential environmental concerns.

For those who have previously completed an EFP, ARECA has recently added a Habitat Management chapter focusing on the protection of habitat and biodiversity, acknowledging that the presence of wildlife is a gauge of how well the land is being managed. Species at risk are a particular concern, and a video on ARECA’s website describes various options for managing habitat for wildlife: “You can encourage species at risk to stay on your land in a variety of ways: set up a solar pump for off-site watering, protect trees and brush from cattle, install a hawk pole (as a sustainable way to lower pest populations), use barbless wire on fencing, keep riparian plants around water bodies, plant trees along creeks and rivers, use biocontrol to destroy invasive weeds, and move your cattle to avoid overgrazing.”

Large mammals and birds are not the only species of interest in ARECA’s sustainable agriculture practices: recognizing the essential role of pollinators, ARECA has also added an optional beekeeping chapter for those who maintain apiaries.

For those who have missed the workshops but are interested in completing an EFP, Arychuk recommends getting in touch with your local county or visiting the EFP registration webpage at https://www.albertaefp.com/alberta-efp-program/start/

From there, farmers will be assigned a local technician who can work with them one-on-one to complete the online workbook and action plan. The technician will help you complete your EFP and will then review and approve your plan once they are satisfied the plan is complete. Upon completion and approval of your EFP, you are free to implement your strategies as your time and resources allow, with your technician still available to support you along the way.

Voluntary stewardship stands at the heart of farmers’ collective responsibility to the land, and participating in the EFP helps farmers ensure the quality of soil and abundance of biodiversity that are the cornerstones of healthy ecosystems.

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