I don't have to worry - I'll be out of farming before I have to do all that

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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July 28, 2004: “If we keep taking a piecemeal fragmented approach to dealing with issues, we will never make any meaningful progress…,” so wrote a friend in response to my recent commentary about a wave of government intrusions reinventing our countryside. I couldn’t agree more.

He referred to a report written by the World Wildlife Fund - Canada: Advanced Environmental Planning in Canada. This report is a challenging exploration of opportunities for farming to improve its stewardship of our environment.

On two issues the message is clear and convincing:

  • First, most Canadian agri-environmental programs are focused on upgrading the environmental risk management of the existing farming system. Because we’re not opting for more environmentally friendly farming systems, we are missing out on the possibility for far greater stewardship gains.
  • Second, while Canada--Ontario in particular--has a leading international reputation for environmental farm planning, this has not translated into a reputation for agri-environmental performance. Current programs do not position us as a world leader for action.

But the main message is profoundly flawed. Not that the concepts aren’t creative or thought through--it’s just that farmers and farming, in the grip of a wave of government intrusion – nutrient management, greenbelt, source water protection, farmland preservation -- just can’t handle any more layers of intervention, planning and paper trails.

World Wildlife Fund – Canada proposes an advanced three-tiered environmental planning program:

  • Tier one is a basic farm-level scan that leads to actions based on existing regulations. It’s similar to the environmental risk assessment and best management action plan that is the cornerstone of Ontario’s historic Environmental Farm Plan.
  • Tier two proposes plans for a transition to farming systems that are more environmental friendly and managed, not by individual farm entrepreneurs, but by groups or commodity associations.
  • Tier three pictures creating market pull for the adoption of agri-environmental systems, implying the development of performance assurance arrangements that lead to ecological labels.

While these are wonderfully creative concepts, farming just can’t handle them. Farming risks being swamped by a multi-layered, multi-jurisdictional tidal wave of government initiatives, both piecemeal and fragmented. A second friend took the trouble to call about that same commentary: “How much more can we handle? It is demoralizing people. I find myself at a loss for what to do. We seem to have lost an identity as an honest people. I’m hearing so many people at the elevator say, ‘I don’t have to worry – I’ll be out of farming before I have to do all that.’”

Ontario farmers can’t hear good ideas from the World Wildlife Fund until we’ve developed a practical and understandable approach to reinventing our countryside.


Copies of the World Wildlife Fund – Canada report Advanced Environmental Planning in Canada Thoughts on concepts, Tools and Implementation are available by emailing Kelly Solakofski at KSolakofski@wwfcanada.org.



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