By Lilian Schaer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association
Approximately $10 million in funding have been approved for producer-led projects under the Implementation stream of Growing Forward 2 (GF2) over the first three intake periods of the program.
Close to 400 projects in six different focus areas that have received cost-share support since the new program was launched in 2013, according to the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), which delivers the program to producers.
Almost half of the approved projects are from the greenhouse, fruit and vegetable sector, representing about 43 per cent of allocated dollars.
As well, more than $3 million have been allocated to additional projects through the Capacity Building stream.
“Uptake from the farm community has been strong for both streams. In fact, Implementation applications doubled from the first to second intake period alone,” says John Laidlaw, Program Manager with the OSCIA. “The last two intake periods have been particularly strong in both the quality and quantity of applications we received.”
Laidlaw attributes the increase to producers becoming more comfortable with the new program and to OSCIA continually adjusting and improving its materials and processes in response to participant feedback.
While previous funding programs followed a first come, first served principle, the Implementation stream uses a merit-based competitive application process. In this stream, cost-share of 35 per cent is available.
There are six focus areas for applicants: Environment and Climate Change, Assurance Systems, Market Development, Animal and Plant Health, Labour Productivity Enhancement, and Business and Leadership Development.
The Environment and Climate Change area of focus has received the largest number of applications so far, which Laidlaw says is not surprising given the history of previous environmental programming, such as the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program.
Funding decisions are made based on an application’s merit and how well it meets the specific criteria for the chosen focus area and selected Best Management Practice (BMP), as well as the impact the project has on achieving the nine desired outcomes of the GF2 Program.
To date, approximately 35 per cent of all approved projects in the Implementation Stream are valued at less than $5,000, with about half falling in the $5,000 to 49,999 category. Only about 15 per cent are considered large projects at over $50,000.
There are equal opportunities for applications across the province, except where stated in the Implementation Program Guide, such as if a farm property is located in a preferred watershed area, for example.
“We don’t evaluate an application based on geography or sector unless it is a Best Management Practice that is targeted to a specific watershed or a preferred commodity,” Laidlaw explains, adding that it is more competitive for farmers to be approved for cost-share in BMP categories that receive a lot of applications.
This means a good application may not be approved for funding during one intake period where a lot of similar proposals are received, but may be successful during a subsequent intake period with fewer like applications.
“When there are fewer applications in a particular BMP, it’s not as competitive, but a poor application will not be approved. Your project has to have merit to receive cost-share,” he says. “And if some BMPs consistently aren’t as well subscribed, we’ll have to look at these BMPs and consider making some adjustments.”
All project applications are first reviewed to determine eligibility and then, using the Focus Area Project Information Form, evaluated based on merit. Projects can be declined if they meet the BMP requirements but do not have a high enough merit level as compared to other projects within the same BMP category for each application intake period.
Key to having a good quality application says Laidlaw, is ensuring that the necessary assessments or plans for the project in question have been completed and that proper documentation of that work is submitted with the proposal.
The Capacity Building stream of Growing Forward 2 provides 50 per cent cost-share to help off-set these kinds of expenses.
Other than merit, the main reasons projects are declined are if an incomplete application is submitted, if the applicant is applying to the wrong BMP or is trying to obtain funding for something that is not eligible.
OSCIA provides some written comments to unsuccessful applicants to give an indication of why their project wasn’t approved, and farmers can re-submit a proposal multiple times.
“If you’ve just missed some information or applied to the wrong BMP category, you can reapply. But if your application was declined because of ineligibility, your project will not be funded no matter how often you re-apply,” says Laidlaw.
“If you didn’t rank high enough, there may be things that you can do to improve the merit of your application, such as complete an Environmental Farm Plan, and resubmit a stronger application. But if you’re not in a priority watershed, for example, sometimes there is nothing you can do to improve your application because cost-share funding is first directed to address the highest priority risk areas in the province. There has been strong demand for funding in all focus areas, and not all projects can be funded,” he adds.
If a project has already been completed, farmers can still submit a funding application, but it must be in the same program year as when the project was completed. OSCIA’s program years begin April 1 and end March 31.
The next intake period will be open November 10 – December 11, 2014. More information about GF2 funding opportunities for farmers is available at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/en/programs/growing_forward_2.htm or by contacting the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s regional program leads at http://www.ontariosoilcrop.org/en/programs/workshop_leaders.htm.