My farm is little and part of me felt like the tugboat amongst a sea of freighters with the group taking the Environmental Farm Plan workshop in Kirkton this summer.
Amongst the livestock and crop farmers, my little farm doesn’t require me to review Pesticide Handling and Storage, Storage and Feeding of Ensilage or Milking Centre Washwater.
But even small farms have to fill in chapters on Water Wells, Disposal of Farm Wastes, Water Efficiency and Energy Efficiency.
And I wanted to. For the potential to receive grants, sure. I have property on the Lower Maitland and as my focus shifts from livestock to wildlife, I hope to plant more trees and potentially create a pond/wetland. I also have sloping fields and I hate to see the rills that can form after a heavy rain.
Mostly, I want to be responsible. I may not have hundreds or thousands of acres, but I have my 100 and that is what I have been charged to be a steward of.
So I sat under the tutelage of Margaret May,who is the regional program lead with the Ontario Soil and Crop Insurance Association and has been facilitating these EFP workshops for decades now. She has a no-nonsense approach and I was all for it. There were farmers in the group who thought it was funny to talk about shooting beavers, or using up old-oil to burn old wood piles amongst other anti-environment approaches. I’m not sure if that was bluster, or fact or a little of both. I just thought, “really?” We, as farmers, represent the people who work the land and are taking care of the earth and its creatures. Why present yourself as careless smartasses?
But I also get the frustration of so many rules. There is so much to DO as farmers. Adding the responsiblity of manure storage distances, monitoring of fuel storage and disposal of plastics and other wastes, amongst all the other best practices in the 300-page binder, is a lot.
It takes considerable energy and planning to be environmentally responsible and judging from my worksheets and the review comments I was sent back, I’d better watch my own actions. I have an open manure pile for horse manure that I honestly believe I manage well. However, I do have water courses on my farm so any increase in livestock will require some new strategies in terms of redirection clean water away with berms and eavestroughs. If there is runoff, I would need runoff collection, a flow path or a vegetated filter strip (in place).
I will also admit I did find the process of answering all the questions somewhat tedious. Yet it was also enlightening.
I thought the group exercise — analyzing a mock farm with manure, horticulture and water well issues — an excellent way to come up with solutions. Moreso, it revealed most farmers feel the same way: “We’re doing the best we can and it will get done at some point.”
Will it though? Or will the binder sit on the shelf, as a “ticket” to future funding? These are questions we need to ask ourselves.
May encourages farmers to update their EFP every five years. “Continuously updating keeps you current with best management practices and funding,” she said.
A new version will come out soon with even more focus on soil health and water quality. “Sustainability IS water and soil health,” says May.
She belives EFPs are incredibly valuable, allowing farmers to learn more about their business and look at it via someone else’s eyes. She suspects some farmers are afraid to take the course in case their farm comes up as less than environmentally perfect. She assured everyone there aren’t any “environmental police” monitoring the books and that they never have to show anyone else the binder if they don’t wish too. Others come just to get the grant money. She know this.
“But I don’t care why you come in the door. If I can get you in here, I can help change your mindset,” she says. “We want an industry that is sustainable, with farmers that respect the environment. We want you to have market for your product with a society that respects what you do.”
May personally finds it very satisfying to see the process start in the classroom before farmers receive cost-shared funding to “improve their situation and implement a project.”
I don’t have a big project in mind, just yet. I recently planted a mini-forest and it took quite a bit of work to keep those trees watered and mowed around this summer. I do have a few small projects identified in the EFP’s Action Plan to work on that will help make my little farm the best it can be. ◊