Workshop helps area farmers improve the environment

About a dozen district farmers gathered Friday morning at the Emo Legion to attend a workshop on the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan Program (EFP)—a voluntary workshop that allows farmers to think critically about their farm and learn about more environmentally-sustainable practices.
The two-day workshop, directed by Stefan Szeder (Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association) and Gary Sliworsky (Ministry of Agriculture and Food) was held the past two Fridays, permitting farmers the week in between to complete the farm review worksheets and determine if they have any questions.
On the first day of the workshop, those on hand learned how to conduct a site evaluation and assess potential environmental concerns. The second day was set aside to discuss contingency and emergency planning, address questions, and to possibly develop a plan of action.
For instance, the farmers could consider the placement of their water wells to eliminate contamination or the storage of petroleum products to prevent spills and leaks.
Sliworsky indicated it’s good to have an emergency plan—just in case things ever go wrong.
During a quick introduction of the program, Szeder noted “there has been about 27,000 participants in the program since 1993 and we would really like to see this number increase.”
“The program has been a great educational and motivational tool,” he added.
Eric Busch, a one-year research intern with the OSCIA, agreed. “They [the farmers] are not required to make any changes to their farm,” he noted. “But, at the very least, they will be more aware.”
Sliworsky wants farmers to be able to identify areas that could be improved and be aware of things they’ve never thought of before. But he knows some of the problems may not necessarily be a quick-fix.
“If a farm has been around for 80 years or so and someone notices a problem with the location of the barn, you can’t just pick up the barn and move it the next day,” he reasoned.
Colin Neilson, who owns a farm near Dearlock, has plans to make some changes on his farm, but agrees it is a slow process because of time and money.
“I’m in the process of fencing off the streams so the livestock can’t get in,” he noted—an approach the EFP program suggests since livestock possibly could contaminate the water.
Neilson believes he is quite in-touch with the environment and has been involved in the EFP program in the past.
He knows taking care of the environment is important and that farmers should take extra considerations because they frequently deal with streams, wildlife, and nature.
Neilson said he’s impressed with the program and workshop because it covers a lot of subjects.
“It covers many things that pertain to everyone, such as field soil, but it also covers other things that not everyone has,” he indicated.
Neilson’s only suggestion is for there to be a workshop for non-farmers, as well, because there are many rural residents who also should be concerned about the environment.
And he would like to encourage even more farmers to be environmentally cautious.
Sliworsky hoped most of the farmers on hand generally are concerned about their farm practices, and not just the incentives that are attached to the program.
The farmers are urged to complete a plan of action considering practices which would be more environment friendly.
And Busch noted after a revision process, there are possibilities for financial help. Once a plan of action is deemed appropriate, that farmer is eligible to participate in the EFP cost-share program to help cover a portion of the costs of implementing the new projects.
There also are additional programs available for funding assistance on appropriate projects.
Although no one is forced to make changes to their farm, Busch feels there is some skepticism.
“They think if they identify their farm as having some environmental problems, that someone is going to make them fix it, which isn’t true,” Busch said, stressing the workshop is designed simply to bring about awareness.