“If you saw my application – it would make a grown man weep”
– BRIAN STERLING
First, there was the Environmental Farm Plan in 2005.
It met with rave reviews from producers, who lined up in droves to become involved in the process – and to get their share of freebies from the four-year program’s $34-million budget, such as cost sharing for a range of environmentally friendly management practices and tools.
But then the funding ran out. After a year-long hiatus, the province came up with the Environmental Farm Action Plan as part of the federal-provincial Growing Forward’s environment suite of programs.
The word “action” was added, but the total funding was reduced to $12 million. It covers a total of 11 Best Management Practices eligible for government-producer cost sharing.
Manitoba’s own climate change action plan, or MCCAP, has nine BMPs, and payments from both programs can be applied for with one application. Maximum payable under EFAP for a single farm is $160,000, and $100,000 under MCCAP.
But there is widespread dissatisfaction with the way funding is being doled out. Many farmers who rushed to get on board for the first EFP incarnation are wondering whether it was worth the trouble of applying.
Brian Sterling, a cattle rancher from Tilston, voiced his concerns over the program in a question and answer session at Ag Days.
He claimed that of 300 applications submitted at the Melita and Boissevain Go Centres, just 10 had been approved for funding and none of those were representative of the livestock industry. Instead, the funds appeared to have gone to help grain farmers purchase mid-row banders for their air seeders.
Program staff confirmed that up to 75 per cent cost-share funding for mid-row banders up to a maximum of $30,000 was available under the MCCAP program, but that most of the funds paid out were in the $15,000-$25,000 range.
“If you saw my application – it would make a grown man weep,” said Sterling, whose own application sought funding for windbreak panels to improve winter site management on his ranch.
In his comments, he argued that a whole-systems look at the environmental benefits of cattle on the landscape probably outweighs any other agricultural practice.
“I cannot see how mid-row banders beat the livestock industry as far as environmental goods and services are concerned,” he said.
Sterling added that due to their ignorance of the environmental facts, he suspected that the managers of the program had put the cattle sector at the bottom of their priority list.
“As a livestock producer in the southwest, what assumptions are we supposed to make when out of 300 applications, we don’t have any relating to the cow-calf producer accepted? What is their message to us?” he asked.
He said that he was unable to get the actual number of applications from three municipalities in the southwest that harbour the greatest concentration of cattle in the province, but he believed that there was a “significant” number of livestock-related BMP applications.
“To have none accepted? I know that I won’t apply again, and I don’t think that anybody I know will apply again.”
Kristen Phillips, an environmental education specialist based at the Virden GO office, said following a presentation on EFAP and MCCAP programs that the number of applications varied across the province. In some areas, there was a deluge of applications, but relatively few in others.
Across the board, only nine to 10 per cent of the applications were approved for funding. First in line for cheques were EFAP plans that offered in-depth, clear explanation of the environmental and GHG mitigation benefits, said Phillips, who was involved in the ranking and review committee’s work.
“Producers who spent a bit more time talking about the environmental benefit did receive a higher ranking in the first round,” Phillips said.
MOVING MONEY OUT
The cut-off date for funding this year was Sept. 15, which left only six to eight weeks to rank and review the applications before getting the money out the door before the end of the fiscal year.
Also, one of the criteria for approval of EFAP projects was the requirement that the work be completed between Nov. 1 and Feb. 15 because budget money can’t be carried forward.
“For quite a few of the livestock ones, it wasn’t realistic to complete it within that fiscal year.”
Applicants are being encouraged to rewrite their pitches to make them clearer and resubmit, Phillips added.
“Just because you received a rejection letter doesn’t mean that you’ll never get accepted. It just means that we had a limited amount of funds and we had to make decisions somewhere.”
Leloni Scott, director of the agri-environment centre at Carman, said that a “very big misinterpretation” appeared to be behind widespread dissatisfaction with the EFAP decision-making process.
“But it really wasn’t designed to be equitable. It was designed to give a positive environmental outcome,” she said, noting that the government had come under “pretty severe criticism” from the auditor in the last program for not providing good value for public money.
Scott denied that livestock were being given short shrift in the consideration process, pointing out that a number of BMP applications for expanded manure storage and winter site management were approved.
But she noted that the majority – over 1,000 applications – from the southwest were requests for funding to build fertilizer storage facilities, and that some were from farmers whose stated acreage wasn’t large enough to match the storage volume requested.
“A lot of those – the majority of them – came from the southwest part of the province. In the end, we did not fund any of them,” she said. “I think people just thought, ‘OK, they’re giving away free fertilizer storage.’”
The fact that it was already late in the year before the program was announced meant that funding had to be matched with work that could be done quickly. Under such circumstances, putting mid-row banders on air seeders was something that could be done quickly and benefit the environment.
“Do you wait another year, or do you at least try to have some environmental programming?”she asked. [email protected]