Pesticide residues can create a marketing challenge for Canadian producers – one that agri-retailers can help to solve.
Producers are facing a new challenge that can threaten their profits, even after a successful harvest showing excellent yields.
The regulation of pesticides for agricultural use is not consistent from country to country. What is accepted within Canada may not be accepted in another jurisdiction, meaning that a producer will face trade challenges when selling their product.
Three recent trends have brought the issue of pesticide residues to the forefront of Canadian agriculture and trade: increasing global concerns over the safety and quality of food; a shift away from Codex international food standards; and analytical chemistry, which makes identifying trace amounts of pesticides easier and more accurate.
“Because there can be different maximum residue limits (MRLs) for different countries, most buyers will fall to the most restrictive limit on a given commodity,” says Katlyn Richaud, sales agronomist with Munro Farm Supplies in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
Richaud explains that if a producer has high residue levels in the grain they sell, it can lead to some major issues. “Not only could the producer and grain elevator that shipped the grain be given fines, they might also have to cover the costs of the entire load of grain that was contaminated, which can be several thousand tonnes if it was shipped by sea,” she says.
High residues can also be cause for increased testing and checks on grain being shipped at the border, and in some cases may lead to a border closure for specific commodities.
Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, explains that shipments of Canadian grain are tested for pesticide residues in parts per billion or even parts per trillion, and customers of Canadian grain will complain if samples of vessel shipments contain pesticide residues that are at, or are close to, international maximum limits.
“Shipments can be rejected if the residues are over that limit,” says Dahl. “Also, if a country has not approved a particular pesticide, it may impose a zero-tolerance for any residues – meaning a shipment can be rejected if anything is found.”
“Rejected shipments will not only cost farmers because of the lost sale, but it damages our reputation as a reliable supplier of safe grain.”
A proactive approach is necessary to minimize residue discrepancies in product, so that producers have access to trade opportunities. Agri-retailers and suppliers are proving essential to the process of “keeping it clean”.
Richaud of Munro Farm Supplies helps her producers follow the restrictions for pesticide uses outlined in the Government of Manitoba's yearly publication The Guide to Field Crop Protection. She says it’s key for everyone in the value chain to be aware of the MRLs from country to country, and stay within the most restrictive standards.
“Agronomists and agri-retailers have to know what the MRLs are, and what the pre-harvest interval time is for pesticide, before recommending them to producers,” she says. “Suppliers test and register their products before they come to market, to make sure that this information is available.”
Agri-retailers must ensure that the products they stock have the MRLs in place and are approved for use in Canada by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency within Health Canada. “We check, and re-check, any products we recommend for use before the producer picks it up, to ensure there will be no question as to the safety of the grain grown,” says Richaud.
A further problem can arise if a product registered in Canada does not have approvals in other major markets. Producers should always be encouraged to talk to their grain buyer before using a new product for the first time.
Innovations in digital agronomy platforms can also provide some support in tracing the cleanliness of a shipment, by providing an accurate spray history that can be quickly accessed by producers and agri-retailers. However, Richaud cautions that this is not yet a foolproof practice.
“Many agronomists are using some version of a scouting platform, but these have a varying level of what might be accepted as proof of the cleanliness of a crop,” she says.
Agri-retailers can find support from organizations like Cereals Canada and Pulse Canada, in searching for more resources to help their growers keep residue levels down.
Pertinent information on crop protection products is available to agri-retailers through documents like Pulse Canada’s annual advisory, which this year covers nine products that may affect market and trade opportunities for producers. This advisory is typically released in the spring of each year. It can be found, along with other key crop protection resources from Cereals Canada and the Canola Council of Canada, on the MRL advocacy website www.keepingitclean.ca.
Pulse Canada is also advocating for the recognition of scientific standards and increased harmonization around the world when it comes to MRLs, and Gord Kurbis, director of market access and trade policy, encourages others in the industry to do the same.
Kurbis explains that as global discrepancies present a challenge, the best plan of action is for everyone in the value chain to stay informed. “The entire agriculture industry continues to learn as the external environment evolves,” he says.
It remains in the hands of producers and the agri-retailers who advise them to keep educated and responsive as standards and best practices for meeting maximum residue limits evolve. Only by staying one step ahead can all levels of the ag sector protect producers’ access to markets, and ultimately the profitability of their operation.
Get Up to Date on MRLs
Use these resources to stay up to date on MRLs and best practices.
Step-by-step instructions to ensure canola and grains are ready for export. Provided by the Canola Council of Canada, Cereals Canada and Pulse Canada.
An easy-to-use calculator that provides the MRL of any pesticide on a given crop. Free trial provides MRLs for the United States, and a subscription is required to access MRLs for global trade.
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