Grain sector eager to establish sustainability protocols

Industry collaboration aims to reduce competing programs, reduce inefficiencies, build public trust and increase market demand

OTTAWA — The grain sector has begun to work together to cut through the clutter and send a clear message to consumers about sus-tainability in that industry.

The Seeking Synergies project is a collaboration of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops, the National Environmental Farm Plan, Canadian Field Print Calculator and the 4Rs Nutrient Stewardship Program.

CRSC executive director Fran Burr said they want to build credible, national, cross-commodity sustainability protocols that producers and the public will accept and understand.

“Public trust is a major driver to sustainability, and public trust eventually translates into market demand,” she said at the national EFP summit.

The idea is to build on existing initiatives, rather than duplicate them, but Burr said the overabundance of ways to measure grain sustainability has made it difficult for all involved. Both farmers and end users are confused.

The four organizations decided to examine where they align and overlap and determine how they could co-operate.

“There was a big desire for a clearing house, particularly when it comes to public trust,” she said.

The network is “absolutely aligned” on minimizing the impacts of sustainable sourcing requirements on producers, she said, and all want to have a common message.

The organizations will share data, work to improve producer acceptance and engagement, and in-volve other initiatives.

One issue to sort out is the brand identity of those involved. The programs already have brands that they have worked to build. Burr said she wasn’t yet sure if CRSC should be the umbrella brand that the others support.

However, she said action is required.

“There is a proliferation of competing initiatives, programs, schemes, creating confusion and inefficiencies,” she said. “There are some obvious first steps that we can take to start working together.”

Mark Reusser, a member of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s executive, asked why, if the goal is to avoid duplication and simplify things, a single national EFP wouldn’t be good enough to meet sustainability requirements.

Burr said EFPs are strong on the environmental aspects but less so on the social and economic sus-tainability that food companies are demanding.

Eric Ritchie of McCain Foods said the company’s potato sustain-ability initiative is a result of customers McDonald’s and Cisco telling it their growers had to get on board.

He acknowledged that it is working with 600 Canadian growers, rather than tens of thousands of grain growers, but he said they have a definite advantage over McCain’s American suppliers who don’t have a sustainability program.

Dairy Farmers of Canada has proAction, a mandatory national assurance program built on the EFP in each province.

“We want to be proactive, so we want to chart the course for the industry before it’s charted for us,” said Cheryl Schroeder, national program co-ordinator.

Grain Growers of Canada president Gary Stanford said growers know more demands are coming.

“Is there some way we can get ahead of the game, so that way other countries, or even some of the big companies like General Mills and McDonald’s, will be happy to buy our grain?” he said.

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