LETTER FROM ONTARIO
Save the planet--Go ahead, what's stopping you?
New research investigates lack of farmer participation in agri-environmental programs

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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Posted July 24, 2003: Dr. Charlotte McCallum has been looking into voluntary programs designed to protect the environment. Her latest report, coming out of two years of work for the Christian Farmers Federation, documents a variety of barriers that have kept many farmers from participating in these programs. Her curiosity about farmers ignoring agri-environmental programs was the result of a survey conducted at four farm shows two years ago. 537 visitors to the CFFO booth responded to her questions about participation in agric-environmental programs, motivation for participating and barriers to participation. More than half said that they had either never heard about agri-environmental programs or had heard of them but never participated.

Her survey asked: Why might you decide not to take part in a voluntary incentive program for environmentally friendly projects? Their responses:

  • Too many conditions might be attached -- 28%.
  • Too much time or paperwork -- 26%.
  • All in all, it might not be worth it economically -- 13%.
  • Don't like others involved in how I manage my land -- 9%.
  • I have the best environmental stewardship possible -- 7%.

Through key-informant interviews, focus groups, a stakeholder meeting and analysis of participation in the Environmental Farm Plan and Rural Water Quality Programs, McCallum has deepened her insight into these barriers to participation. Her latest report concludes that there are two kinds of
barriers: problems in the structural design and delivery of programs, and the perspectives of farmers themselves.

Problems of design and delivery start with limited funding by all levels of government. This limits access to programs. Federal and provincial governments approach program delivery differently, creating misunderstanding and resentment among farmers. Federally funded programs, the Environmental Farm Plan for example, provide equal access for all farmers; provincial programs, Healthy Futures, for example, are community-based, rely on local initiatives and require cost-sharing. Participation in some programs is reduced because an Environmental Farm Plan is required for eligibility. In addition, neither the federal nor provincial government is firmly committed to long-term agri-environmental programs.

McCallum found that the personal perspectives of farmers themselves are barriers to agri-environmental payments. Many farmers mistrust government and some delivery agents. Farmers believe that information about their operations could be collected and used against them. The paperwork and time needed to enroll in yet another program puts them off. Farmers have an aversion to the environmental movement and question conservation of the natural environment; yet, these groups will be stakeholders in future agri-environmental payments. The arrival of the Nutrient Management Act has created uncertainty and a decline in voluntary environmental activity.

McCallum's conclusion? Agri-environmental payments still have considerable merit but it will take a formidable act of political will and financial commitment to do it right.

The full report "Identifying Barriers to Participation in Agri-Environmental Programs in Ontario" by Dr. Charlotte McCallum is accessible at: http://www.christianfarmers.org/cffo-at-work/Ident_Barriers/Iden_Barriers_Index.htm.

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Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.