New seed treatment standards provide a guideline for operations, safety and environmental stewardship.
CropLife Canada and its partners have created a set of industry-wide standards that aim to bring consistency, legitimacy and a new level of safety and responsibility to the country’s seed treatment sector.
The Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards, most recently released in May 2016 and coming into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, are the first industry-wide set of regulations for the commercial seed treatment sector. Initially released in 2014, the May 2016 standards are an updated edition with additional clarity in key protocol areas, says Russel Hurst, vice president of sustainability and stewardship at CropLife Canada.
Once the standards come into effect next year, only certified facilities and retailers – designated Accredited Seed Treatment Operators – will be eligible to receive and apply designated seed treatment products.
The aim of the seed treatment standards is not to rewrite the book for those working in the industry, but to facilitate consistency and improvement. The standards will affect many aspects of the commercial seed treatment sector in the interest of elevating processes and proactively preventing incidents at facilities.
“The standards are composed of 76 protocols, focusing on best management practices, building codes, fire codes, electrical codes, occupational health and safety principles, as well as label statements,” says Hurst.
“One potential change would be label training on seed treatment personal protective equipment (PPE). In the past, the sector mostly worked with fungicide. Now, we’re in fungicide/insecticide combos and we need to make sure the facilities are using the appropriate PPE for the product. It may be more than just gloves; it needs to be in a well-ventilated area with appropriate spill containment.”
To carry out industry-wide implementation of the new standards, CropLife has worked with the Agrichemical Warehousing Standards Association (AWSA) to perform facility pre-audits since the first draft of the standards were released in 2014. “The pre-audits function as a gap assessment for facilities,” says Hurst, who also serves as executive director of the AWSA. “They help pinpoint what needs to be done in order to receive accreditation.”
Pre-audits were also offered as a way for older facilities to receive grandfathering clauses for certain aspects of their operations – provided the assessments were done before March 31, 2015.
Once a facility has gone through a pre-audit, they have until Dec. 31, 2016 to complete a full audit with a certified Seed Treatment Auditor to receive accreditation.
The AWSA will continue to offer audits once the standards have come into effect, and is committed to helping organizations meet the new regulations in a realistic and achievable way. “If there are changes to be made in order for a facility to receive accreditation, we will work with a corrective action plan,” says Hurst.
Merle Hoegy, president of Brussels Agromart in Brussels, Ont., says he found the process of certifying his facility fairly straightforward. In order to receive grandfathering, Brussels underwent a pre-audit in 2014, and their final audit was completed in October 2016.
Hoegy notes that his company’s workload to comply to the new standards was light – and expects other agri-retailers to find the same. “It’s not really making changes, but bringing a few things up to standard such as ventilation, diking and product storage,” he says. “But it was nothing that couldn’t be done readily.
“It hasn’t been too bad for us, because we have always had the chemical warehouse standards, and a lot of the seed treatment standards follow similar lines. For us, it’s straightforward because we’re used to the other audits you have to go through.”
Because of their commitment to compliance with other industry regulations, Hurst says agri-retailers should have little problem adopting another set of safety and stewardship standards.
“In the agri-retail sector, there’s a culture where they are familiar with processes like these; they are familiar with environmental health and safety regimes,” he says. “As part of their day-to-day operations, they live environmental health and safety 365 days a year.
“For other subsets of the industry, this might be brand new to them – and in some cases, other seed treatment facilities may be going from zero to 100. For an agri-retailer, this is just another program that they’re part of.”
While required changes at many agri-retails have been minor, Hurst believes the new standards will also give retailers a chance to further improve their operations.
“The reality is, the vast majority of agri-retails are doing a good job already,” he says. “Generally what we’re looking at is tweaking – making slight improvements in their operations. It allows them to take a step back and say ‘What’s my current practice? Do I have any gaps between my practice and what the industry standard is?’”
Growing the Industry
The fast-growing nature of the agricultural seed treatment industry is what spurred CropLife Canada to take action and create a best-practice baseline for industry processes.
As products became more complex and the industry more developed, a need for standardized practices became clear. “CropLife Canada, our partners and all of Canada’s agri-retailers take pride in having world-class programs, and at the time there wasn’t anything for seed treatments,” says Hurst.
“Companies had individual policies, procedures and technical supports, but we didn’t have anything from an industry standpoint. We were looking for a very consistent process. By developing a standard, we can say ‘This is how it’s done,’ versus having ambiguity.”
Hurst expects the standards to bring a higher quality of both practices and products to the sector. “These are highly sophisticated products,” he says. “When we ensure a base level of handling processes, it ensures a consistent quality of product in the marketplace and in in-field performance.” The new regulations may also improve agriculture’s access to new and improved products by providing a predictable model of registration for new treatments.
Hurst notes that these standards will also provide tangible proof of the seed treatment sector’s commitment to safe and environmentally responsible practices.
“At the end of the day, it’s good for the industry – the freedom to operate; the social license aspect,” he says. “This is a quantitative measure that we can showcase and say ‘As an industry, we are doing this and it’s not fluff.’”
Those working in the seed treatment sector recognize the value in showing a commitment to responsible and proactive processes. Hoegy notes that although complying with the new rules may take a bit of legwork, it’s a worthwhile process that will benefit both ag workers and the public.
“It’s just a matter of pulling out the guidelines, going through them step-by-step and making sure you’ve got it covered,” he says. “It might be a bit more painful for places that don’t yet have these guidelines in place, but from a public standpoint it’s much better. Hopefully it will prevent any incidents from occurring. From an environmental point of view, we have to be proactive and we have to stay on our toes.”
Hurst has high expectations for adoption of the new standards, and hopes that its benefits will be apparent. “Our goal is, 10 years from now, nobody in the industry will say ‘Implementing these standards wasn’t a good idea,” he says.
Visit www.awsa.ca to view the complete Accredited Seed Treatment Operation Standards and find an auditor.
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