Thank you very much.
On behalf of Manitoba's Keystone Agricultural Producers, I'm pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you today on prairie agriculture's role in the development and implementation of a national conservation plan.
Keystone Agricultural Producers is a general farm organization, a member of CFA, representing individual family farms as well as 22 commodity groups within the province. So we represent a broad base of the agricultural spectrum in our province.
Let me start by saying that we are passionate in our belief that farmers and farm groups must play a significant role in both the development and implementation of a national conservation plan, if it is to achieve widespread success. With proper programming to help inform and provide incentives to farmers, we are certain they can bring the bulk of soil, water, and habitat stewardship to sensitive areas as needed.
Farmers are uniquely connected to the environment because our economic survival depends on our ability to successfully integrate our farms into the surrounding landscape. We learned long ago that attempting to simply use land and water resources without giving back is rarely successful in the long run. As we get into defining how an NCP could work, KAP believes it should identify conservation and environmental priorities, and then establish a framework that guides both government and other stakeholders in the development of tools that will achieve these priorities.
I might add that we must be realistic in identifying all stakeholders who are involved in using resources, both directly and indirectly. One of the basics of an NCP should be a commitment to engage all stakeholders and create a meaningful dialogue. That being said, I do want to stress that goals that bring together environmental successes and farm successes need to be given priority in this process.
Because of the nature of our work, many conservation problems affect farmers directly. These, as we all know, range from excess moisture and flooding to alien plant species that have inadvertently been introduced into our environment from around the world. These problems impact many thousands of hectares, certainly some food for thought.
Let me move on to implementation. Currently there are three methods of achieving conservation goals. An NCP should recognize the effectiveness and the role each one can play. First is education, a critical step. For example, farmers often hear government and the urban public calling on us to do more to protect the environment, but often we're not provided with information on how we can do this.
Providing this information can be a government initiative or an industry initiative. Take the example of the environmental farm plan program, which Ron alluded to. Funded under the federal-provincial Growing Forward policy framework, this has been very successful and it has educated farmers on reducing the negative impacts of their agricultural operations and how that will interact with the environment.
Participating farmers are guided through a self-assessment of the environmental performance of their operation and assisted in identifying areas for improvement. After completion and an approval process, they become eligible for various government incentive programs to help them cost-share the expense associated with implementing beneficial management practices that will improve the environmental performance of their farms.
The EFP program has been tremendously successful in Manitoba. To date, I believe 6,427 farms have completed it. That's significantly higher than the 30% quoted by Ron, but Manitoba has been very successful, so that's good. An NCP, in our opinion, should recognize existing programs like this.
Wouldn't it be remarkable for an EFP model that could provide a framework for education programs in other industries? A good example of industry-led education is the way in which KAP is partnering with the lake-friendly conservation initiative in Manitoba to educate farmers about how they can reduce the impacts of how their farms operate on Lake Winnipeg.
The lake currently has high levels of nutrient buildup, blue-green algae growths, and pockets of eutrophication, which are threatening its health and its entire ecosystem. There is no single point of pollution to blame for the problem, and all citizens in the Lake Winnipeg watershed must take action. The lake-friendly initiative and KAP are working with government, academics, and NGO stakeholders, like Delta Waterfowl Foundation and Ducks Unlimited and IISD, the International Institute of Sustainable Development, on a communications strategy that strives to influence ail Manitobans. An NCP needs to identify, recognize, and promote initiatives like this and take action at a local level.
I promised you three methods of achieving conservation goals, and here's the second. It's called incentives. Because there are often significant costs associated with a landowner undertaking a conservation project or a farmer changing his production practices, and society as a whole benefits from this effort, KAP believes that incentives are a necessary part of the equation.
By incentives, I mean compensation. KAP has been active in encouraging the development of an ecological goods and services program like the national alternative land use services program that provides compensation as incentive for adoption of sustainable practices. If done correctly and with adequate funding amounts, this is a very effective system. A national conservation plan must ensure that this principle of society paying for ecological benefits is a pillar of its program development.
Regulation is the third method of achieving conservation goals, and I want to touch on this briefly. KAP understands that there are instances when regulation is necessary. Unfortunately, Manitoba farmers have witnessed the development of regulations in the absence of sound scientific foundation and industry consultation and without the flexibility to be effective. The result is a regulatory environment that stifles industry growth, adds significant cost to farm operations, and fails to achieve its conservation goals.
Regulations must be based on peer-reviewed science. It is the responsibility of regulators to balance political and public pressure against sound science, using the latter as the primary rationale behind regulations. Regulations must include stakeholder consultation and input, because if they are not enforceable or reasonable they are often completely ineffective in achieving their goals.
Finally, an NCP should establish a framework for the development of conservation regulations that take into account unnecessary costs, or costs that are placed on only one sector. Those making the regulations must consider the economic impact of their new rules, and where significant impact on the industry results, they must attempt to find a better way to help offset the costs to the stakeholders affected.
In closing, I'd like to sum up by giving you an example of what has happened in Manitoba. KAP has been pressing our provincial government to develop and commit to a water strategy that addresses all issues associated with water in Manitoba, including its conservation, management, and use. This is contrary to what is presently happening, which is that issues with the health of Lake Winnipeg are addressed separately from the flooding that we periodically face. Manitoba needs to stop looking at the issues around the natural environment as silos and start treating the system as a whole. It is only now being realized that a strategy needs to recognize and address issues collectively if there is to be a successful outcome.
I would encourage you to take the same approach when looking at the conservation issues for Canada. Regardless of whether the goal is conservation-specific plants, animal species, or entire ecosystems, an NCP must be comprehensive in the same way.
This ends my presentation, and I thank you for the opportunity to speak today.