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Environmental Farm Plan

An environmental farm plan (EFP) is a voluntarily prepared, formal, written assessment of environmental issues or risks 1  on a farm such as soil erosion, potential sources of water contamination or pesticide drift. An EFP contains an action plan detailing the beneficial management practices (BMP) that should be put in place to mitigate or eliminate those risks. These potential on-farm agri-environmental risks and BMPs are identified by the farmer in consultation with agrologists, EFP facilitators/coordinators, and supporting materials (e.g. EFP workbooks and reference manuals).

A BMP is any management practice that reduces or eliminates an environmental risk. 2  There are BMPs for a wide variety of agri-environmental risks such as pesticide storage and use, fertilizer storage and use, grazing, and surface water management, to name a few.

In 2011, 35% of Canadian farms had a formal EFP, while 2% indicated they were in the process of developing their EFP. Sixty percent of Canadian farms did not have an EFP (Table 1).

Only in Quebec and the Atlantic Region did the number of farms with a formal EFP exceed the number of farms without a formal EFP. Approximately seven out of ten Quebec farms had a formal EFP, possibly because of provincial legislation that targets nutrient and manure management issues. 3  In contrast, fewer than three out of ten farms in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia had a formal EFP (Chart 1), possibly because the EFP program is newer in western Canada than it is in other parts of the country. 4 

Of the farms with an EFP, the majority had either fully or partially implemented the BMPs recommended in their EFP (95%). Eastern Canada and British Columbia had the highest proportion of farms with fully implemented BMPs, while around one in five farms in Saskatchewan and Alberta had fully implemented the BMPs from their EFP (Table 2).

The main reason given for not implementing BMPs was economic pressures. More than half of Canadian farms with an EFP or an EFP under development gave this as the reason for not implementing BMPs. The other major reason reported for one quarter of Canadian farms was lack of time (Chart 2).

Almost four out of ten farms received financial assistance to implement their BMPs. Approximately half the farms in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan reported receiving financial assistance to implement BMPs compared to just over one out of five farms in Quebec (Table 3).

Surface Water

Many farms in Canada have some form of surface water. It is important to manage agricultural lands adjacent to surface water carefully because the quality of this water can be affected by agricultural activities. Surface water can be contaminated by nutrient or pesticide run-off, or by livestock. Allowing livestock to have direct access to surface water can cause soil erosion along stream banks and can further contaminate water with sediment and manure. 5 

Permanent wetlands as defined in this survey are areas where water is present year-round and can include marshes, dugouts, and small lakes. 6  More than a quarter of Canadian farms reported having permanent wetlands on their operations in 2011 (Chart 3). Permanent wetlands were most commonly reported by farms in Saskatchewan and least commonly reported by farms in Quebec. Approximately half of the farms in Saskatchewan and 7% of farms in Quebec reported permanent wetlands (Table 4).

Seasonal wetlands are defined as areas that normally have water present until late summer or early fall and are generally too water-logged to plant crops. 7  However, seasonal wetlands may be utilized for grazing or harvesting hay during drier parts of the year. Three out of ten Canadian farms reported having seasonal wetlands on their operation (Chart 3). As was the case for permanent wetlands, seasonal wetlands were most common on farms in Saskatchewan and least common on farms in Quebec. Seasonal wetlands were present on over half of the farms in Saskatchewan and 7% of the farms in Quebec (Table 4).

Waterways are channels that contain flowing water for at least part of the year and can include streams and drainage ditches. 8  Four out of ten Canadian farms reported having waterways on their operation (Chart 3). Waterways were most commonly reported by Quebec farms, occurring on just over 70% of farms. Waterways were least common on Alberta and British Columbia farms, with approximately 30% of farms in these provinces reporting having them (Table 4).

Extended grazing

Livestock kept in an open field during the late fall and winter period is a farming practice commonly referred to as extended grazing. Livestock are kept outdoors to graze or feed and are not confined to a paddock or building. Grazing in an open field setting allows manure to be deposited directly by livestock rather than using a manure spreader. However, BMPs such as regularly moving feed, shelter, and bedding sites need to be implemented to ensure nutrient deposits are spread throughout the landscape while avoiding environmentally sensitive areas. 9 

In Canada, close to four out of ten livestock farms used extended grazing practices. This practice was most common in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where more than 60% of livestock farms reported this practice. This practice was least common in Quebec, with 6% of livestock farms having livestock in an open field setting during this time (Table 5). A primary reason for this difference between provinces is that this practice is most suited for beef livestock, and much less for dairy cattle.

Pesticide Use

Pesticides are used by farmers to protect their crops from pests such as weeds, insects, fungi and parasites. However, these chemicals can pose environmental and health risks if they are not properly managed. Pesticides should be applied and stored according to label instructions to reduce risk of soil or water contamination. In most provinces, pesticide application must be undertaken by someone who is licensed or certified to do so. Agricultural operators are also advised to apply pesticides only when necessary. 10 

Herbicides are used to combat weeds. In 2011, approximately 70% of Canadian crop farms reported applying herbicides (Chart 4). Herbicide use was most common in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with more than three quarters of crop farms in these provinces applying herbicides. Herbicide use by crop farms was least commonly reported in British Columbia (40%) (Table 6).

Insecticides are used to protect crops from insects. In 2011, the majority of crop farms in Canada did not apply insecticides (85%) (Chart 4). Insecticide use was most common in the Atlantic Region and British Columbia (approximately 30% of crop farms) and least common in Quebec and Alberta (approximately 10% of crop farms) (Table 6).

Fungicides are used to prevent the growth of fungus on crops. In 2011, almost one quarter of Canadian crop farms applied fungicides to their crops (Chart 4). Fungicide use was most common in Manitoba, with 42% of crop farms in this province applying fungicides, and least common in Quebec (10% of crop farms) (Table 6).

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