Retailers and producers need to work with industry stakeholders to reap the benefits of the Canadian Field Print Calculator.
With an increasing number of food companies asking for sustainability data from the production chain, agri-retailers can play a key role in gathering this information and helping producers tell their sustainability story.
“Food companies are asking for this data and agri-retailers are one way of accessing it from producers,” says Denis Trémorin, director of sustainability at Pulse Canada in Winnipeg, and a panelist from the “Sustainability via Canadian Field Print” panel discussion at the 2017 CAAR Conference.
“The food companies aren’t interacting with producers directly; this is done through a grain company or agri-retailer who connects producers to the food companies.”
One way in which agri-retailers can help producers establish that connection is by helping them use the Canadian Field Print Calculator to gather the required sustainability data. The calculator is an easy-to-use, farm-level measurement tool that allows producers to confidentially assess and document their environmental performance against national and regional benchmarks using their own field data.
“The calculator itself is just a data entry form, but it’s also a mechanism to get a broader conversation going,” says Trémorin. “Being a part of this conversation will allow producers to compare their results to others in their region, expose them to more information like new research and help them adopt better sustainability practices.”
Farmers will adopt the calculator when they see value in it, whether that’s as a timesaving device, or through potential opportunities for niche markets that extract a premium.
The Excel-based tool requires basic information on farming practices, soil and climate to model a crop’s estimated sustainability based on four indicators: land-use efficiency, energy use, climate impact and soil erosion risk.
Since 2012, the calculator has been piloted on 120,000 acres from 500 western Canadian fields and is now being used in several regional pilot projects across Canada. Trémorin is expecting approximately 65 producers to use the calculator this year.
Michael Ferguson, an independent farm advisor, works with producers who are using the calculator. He believes that retailers will gain advantages by bringing new ideas, products and services – like the calculator – to the table.
“That advantage may not be seen instantly, but it will come in time as producers familiarize themselves with the calculator and what it can do for their operation,” he says.
By using the calculator, Ferguson’s customers are beginning to realize the importance of record-keeping for all activities on the farm, which he says saves them valuable time and spreads awareness in the long run.
“Once they are aware of the power and impact that information can have is when farming practices will change. Farmers will adopt the calculator when they see value in it, whether that’s as a time-saving device, or through potential opportunities for niche markets that extract a premium,” he says.
The Addition of Producers
Lorne Boundy is a merchandiser at Paterson Grain in Winnipeg and was also a panelist on the “Sustainability via Canadian Field Print” panel at the 2017 CAAR Conference. He says it can be difficult to get producers to track their sustainability efforts since there’s little offered as an incentive.
“The end user wants it but doesn’t want to pay for it because the customer doesn’t want to pay for it. The farmer doesn’t want to give the information because they’re not getting paid for it. We need to find a happy medium to maintain market access, especially long-term, since consumers keep asking questions (about sustainability),” he says.
Without access to specific sustainability data from producers, the industry will have no way to answer those consumer questions. According to Boundy, responding with generalized information won’t do the trick.
We need to find a happy medium to maintain market access, especially long-term, since consumers keep asking questions (about sustainability).
“Painting with a broad brush will not work when it comes to sustainability,” he says. “We need to be able to drill down to specific fields.”
One aspect of the calculator that should be an incentive for producers to get involved is the information it also provides on economic sustainability, says Trémorin, who adds there’s a direct correlation between economic and environmental sustainability.
“This is very much an inputs and outputs calculator, driven by fuel use, fertilizer use, zero tillage, land-use efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions – and those are driven by an economic consideration,” he says. “These things will give you both a better economic performance and a better environmental performance.”
Calculating a Sustainable Future
Trémorin has several goals for the calculator over the next five years, including finding it a new home. The calculator is currently government-funded with some industry support, but he hopes to see it housed and managed by a separate organization, and is currently eyeing the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops to take it on.
Other goals include getting more Canadian food companies involved with the calculator and integrating it into existing agronomic-based software platforms – which already contain producer information.
Boundy agrees with this goal. Given that much of the data collected by the calculator is based on farm practices and input uses, he says combining it with an agronomy program makes good sense.
“A lot of what’s in the calculator is based on farm practices – what the farmer is putting down for fertility, how and where he’s putting it down, whether he’s following the 4Rs, and, ultimately, what product he gets off the field. With a lot of the data already focused on agronomy and how the producer is growing the crop, the calculator can expand on that and fill in the gaps,” he says.
Everyone in the chain of production has a stake in the data being collected. For Boundy, his long-term view of the calculator’s success requires that all these players get involved – making the process much more seamless.
“This will not happen immediately, but it will happen within the next few years. I believe it’s needed for the long-term success of these types of programs.”