Producer confidentiality becomes a concern

Manitoba farmers worry the confidentiality of their environmental farm plans may be at risk, now that the provincial government has taken over administering the program.

The Farm Stewardship Association of Manitoba (FSAM) will no longer administer environmental farm plans (EFPs), following transfer of the program to the province under the Growing Forward agreement. FSAM will disband July 31.

Farmers had a high degree of confidence in FSAM because it was an independent producer-driven corporation and not an arm of government. This made them feel secure about the confidentiality of personal information, said Alan Ransom, FSAM chairman.

“FSAM was very clear with producers that the information would be held in confidence,” said Ransom, who farms near Boissevain.

“I think producers may (now) have a concern about that. I hope the province is able to find ways to deal with it.”

Provincial privacy legislation limits the personal information contained in EFPs which the government can access. But farmers were never told when they originally signed up through FSAM that the province might eventually take over the program, said Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers president.

KAP is proposing that it, not the government, be the holder of information to ensure continued confidence in the program. Discussions with the province are underway, Wishart said recently.

“We have made a proposal. Nothing has been confirmed yet.”

FSAM has delivered the EFP program in Manitoba for the past three years in partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

The program to the end of 2007-08 delivered nearly $38 million in government funding to over 8,000 on-farm projects in Manitoba. Another $4.8 million was allocated for 2008-09.

Farmers also spent an estimated $64 million of their own money on a wide range of projects, including improved cropping systems and livestock waste management.

In all, nearly 6,000 participants managing almost nine million acres (over half the agricultural land in Manitoba) have completed EFPs.

MAFRI led EFP workshops and provided 40 per cent of the funding. AAFC provided the remaining 60 per cent. FSAM reviewed EFP workbooks and verified their completion.

To qualify, producers must complete a series of two workshops. To date, 876 workshops have been held.

Ottawa recently announced $29.8 million in EFP funding through Growing Forward for the next go-around, with the province administering it. Since FSAM no longer has a role, the board voted to disband the organization, said Ransom.

It’s not clear how the province will review individual farm plans now that FSAM will no longer do it, he said.

Loni Scott, who directs MAFRI’s agri-environment knowledge centre, said the province already does much of the EFP support works. Adding workbook reviews is not a big step, she said.

“We think it’s going to provide a lot better client service, actually.”

Scott said the province already has policies and procedures to ensure confidentiality of farmers’ personal information, such as for crop insurance. The same will apply to EFPs, she said.

“Certainly I think it’s no different than any other way we protect client information in our programs.” [email protected]

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