Are you comfortable eating what you grow?

Some end-use customers for grain are developing sus-tainability protocols. Producers doing business with them need to abide by a long set of guidelines covering everything from labour practices to land use to sprayer calibration.


Some of the protocols are reasonable, but many were developed to cover other regions of the world. Not many prairie farmers are going to have a diked storage facility for crop protection products. Not many will have an official grievance process for employees. 


And why does it matter if land was recently broken to grow crops as opposed to being farmed for decades? This seems to be a stipulation designed to protect Brazilian rainforests. 


However, when you look at the crops we grow as food products, there are some practical considerations regarding cleanliness.


It’s sometimes said that the solution to pollution is dilution and that’s the approach used with large grain volumes. As long as test samples don’t detect an issue with impurities, the grain shipment is good to go.


It will be cleaned before going to end-use customers anyway, so why should we worry about a bit of contamination at the farm level?


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Because, purity should involve all partners in the value chain.


Most of us haul treated grain to the seeder and then use the same truck for hauling grain off the combine and grain to market. Is the truck washed out after carrying treated seed? Should it be?


Obviously, you don’t want a stray kernel of treated seed showing up at the elevator. They take a very dim view of this. But even if the truck is swept clean of all the treated grain, will there be some chemical transference to the next load or loads of clean grain?


I’ve never seen any data on this, but maybe guidelines should be developed.


Do you have an auger dedicated to treated grain? If not, how do you clean your auger? Is treated grain stored in a bin that’s later used to store harvested production? How do you clean that?


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Fertilizer is another issue. Most of us store grain in fertilizer bins at harvest. How thoroughly was it cleaned? It takes more than opening the hatch to be sure clumps of fertilizer aren’t clinging to the sides.


At harvest time, insects in the grain sample are often unavoidable. I’ve had pulse crops crawling with grasshoppers, but thankfully insect parts in the sample did not end up as a downgrading factor. Not sure what we can do about it, but bugs in grain are not very appetizing when you think of the grain being served at the dinner table.


Yes, some people voluntarily consume insects, but I’d like my dinner free of insect juice.


And I’d also prefer my food to be relatively free of bird and mice droppings. Birds like to poop in combine tanks and mice can be rampant in stored grain. 


What about spoiled grain in storage caused by water leaks in either bins or grain bags? Rotten grain can be vile and no doubt some of it gets mixed into what moves to market.


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Canadian grain is reputed to be some of the cleanest and highest quality in the world so we’re doing a lot of things right. But it’s also reasonable for each of us to be aware of potential contamination issues and make sure that what we’re selling is something we’d be comfortable feeding to our own families.


Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

  • Dayton

    Gee Kevin, your starting to sound an awful lot like an Organic producer. Contamination of food is always first and foremost on our minds and our consumers. Reminds me of the WP add a few years ago when a checkered dinner table was covered with all kinds of pesticides promoting chemicals. Good thing Joe consumer never saw that one, but it’s so true.

  • Welderone

    They say bees help produce 25% of the food in the U.S. This is huge with the amount of food the United States produces. Organic production is then wonderful as it does no harm to the bees. Many non organic producers are very wealthy and would think nothing of making another pass on their fields with chemical sprays when they think such a spraying is to their advantage. They say now in Minnesota grain farmers will need to show now to the state they do indeed need to spray their fields. This way the state of Minnesota can help save the bees and control unnecessary spraying. It would be good when Canada also looks at such an idea to help save the bee population.

  • Happy Farmer

    In answer to the question contained in the title of this article, YES for the past, present and future.