The source of our food has been under increasing scrutiny and the need to stay one step ahead of this issue has never been more important. Many domestic and global markets are now factoring in environmental, social and economic considerations when sourcing products; and the demand to meet pre-determined sustainability requirements continues to grow.
The agriculture industry is also recognizing that public trust must be built and maintained if producers wish to retain their license to farm, and sustainable production practices are an important element in building that trust.
In response to these pressures, the Canada Grains Council formed the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) in 2013 with the goal of facilitating cross-commodity collaboration on sustainable agriculture issues and opportunities facing the grains sector. It is a national forum engaging value-chain stakeholders in assessing and responding to marketplace demands, and showcasing Canada’s performance in agricultural sustainability.
“We recognized the need for Canada’s grain value chain to respond in a proactive and cohesive manner to the growing global demand for sustainably grown ingredients,” says Tyler Bjornson, president of the Canada Grains Council.
The Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers (CAAR) is among the 50 CRSC members, which includes grower, industry, customer, consumer and environmental non-government organizations.
CAAR has participated in several recent CRSC meetings, recognizing that this broad industry think-tank is making important decisions and developing strategies that will impact crop production.
“Many groups like the CRSC are developing programming and best practices that may be directed at retailers, but will surely be directed at farmers,” says Delaney Ross Burtnack, president and CEO of CAAR. “If retailers are not on the cutting edge of understanding how these programs work and what is expected from farmers who participate in them, they will be unable to offer the expertise and customer service their customers need.”
Agri-retailers who stay informed about these programs and can help their customers implement the resulting strategies will be able to offer a level of customer service that other retailers may not be prepared to offer. They will also likely be recognized by their customers as leaders in providing sustainability-related information.
“Having the deep level of operational conversations with customers that will be necessary to help them implement the programs coming out of the CRSC, and other similar groups, may uncover business opportunities and reinforce the value of that retailer as a go-to expert for their customers,” says Burtnack.
Bjornson agrees, saying crop input retailers are often the primary source of crop production information for producers across Canada. They are trusted and reliable sources of information and are often approached by farmers for advice.
“This key influencer group will likely be sought out on matters of sustainability. Growers will want to know what these industry leaders think about sustainability and more importantly, what – if anything – they should be doing on their farms to comply with sustainability requirements or adopt sustainable practices,” he says.
“The CRSC will be an important resource for agri-retailers, updating them on agriculture sustainability developments and providing regional macro data on grain and oilseed production and best management practices associated with Canadian indicators of sustainability,” says Bjornson.
We recognized the need for Canada’s grain value chain to respond in a proactive and cohesive manner to the growing global demand for sustainably grown ingredients.Tyler Bjornson
These best management practices will be developed through the Sustainability Metrics Platform, one of three CRSC initiatives currently underway that are setting the stage for the development of programs that will measure and improve sustainability in grain production.
Incorporating the best available research data on regional
cropping practices, the platform will enable full metrics reporting for 10 major crops, and in doing so, provide a science-based point of reference for the state of grains sustainability in Canada. The Canada Grains Council is administering the initiative in partnership with CRSC member organizations.
Current activities include establishing a core set of environmental, social and economic indicators relevant to the Canadian grains sector, completing region-specific carbon life cycle assessments for each of the major crops grown in Canada and conducting a producer survey encompassing 1,600 respondents spanning all major crops and growing regions.
The output from these activities will be housed on an accessible platform for use by sector stakeholders. A multi-phase consultation process will be undertaken this spring to obtain input on how the platform can best serve the needs of key stakeholders as well as the broader industry. The first phase of the platform’s development is scheduled to be completed in early 2018.
The second CRSC initiative, the AgroEcosystem Project strives to support the environment pillar of the CRSC. An AgroEcosystem Working Group was established to spearhead the project, with one of its first activities being the development of a vision statement for the agricultural landscape from an environmental perspective.
To facilitate this process, the Soil Conservation Council of Canada led a workshop involving participants from environmental NGOs, industry associations and producer groups. The resulting vision recognizes the need to produce more agricultural products from the existing land base while protecting remaining habitat and ecological function.
Collaboration is Key
In all of its efforts, the CRSC strives to build on, not duplicate, the important work of other sustainability initiatives. The third CRSC initiative, the Seeking Synergies Project, is designed to do just that. The project has the CRSC working with three other sustainability programs, the National Environmental Farm Plan, the Canadian Field Print Calculator and the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program.
The motivation for this project came from a common desire to align several of the country’s principle crop sustainability programs and tools. While details of the alignment are still being defined, the CRSC is playing a leadership role in communicating with stakeholders on the collaborative efforts of these initiatives.
CAAR recognizes the importance of collaboration and is encouraging retailers to support their customers as these sustainability programs are implemented.
“Retailers are a key support network for the farmers who will implement these sustainability programs, and we need to be there around the table – both the roundtable and the kitchen table – to ensure these programs are successful and allow agriculture to continue its best practices for the long term,” says Burtnack.