This important ag group keeps a low profile

Working quietly behind the scenes on difficult and complicated issues, the Canada Grains Council has become the country’s most important agriculture lobby organization.

You may never have heard about it. The council is rarely in the news and most farmers across the country have only a vague notion or perhaps no notion at all about its purpose and function.

In my work with the Inland Terminal Association of Canada, I’ve had an opportunity to be peripherally involved with the Canada Grains Council and watch it evolve. Over the past half a dozen years, it has developed a workable governance and funding model while gaining credibility with government bureaucrats.

The council picks its battles, only taking the lead on projects affecting a large portion of the grain value chain where a consensus position is possible.

With farm groups, grain commissions, grain companies and life science companies all part of the wide-ranging membership, you might think that consensus would rarely be achieved. Four farmers in a room typically generate five opinions. When you mix farmers and industry, how can consensus ever be achieved?

As it turns out, there’s agreement on a lot of issues, particularly those affecting trade.

Take for example, plant breeding innovation. How will the new technology of gene editing be regulated in countries around the world? Unlike the process for how standard GMOs are developed, gene editing doesn’t involve the addition of any foreign DNA into a crop. Will gene editing be treated similar to regular plant-breeding methods or will the onerous GMO rules apply?

For now, Europe is stuck with a court decision equating gene editing with gene transfer. The United States appears to be heading toward a much more relaxed view of the emerging technology. Meanwhile, the Canadian system for novel traits assesses the risk posed in each individual case. That’s a reasonable approach, but the process can be unreasonably onerous.

Working toward a harmonized, science-based approach across all nations involves an incredible amount of work and expertise. The Canada Grains Council has a full-time expert, Krista Thomas, to work with Canadian regulators as well as the international community.

Another huge issue domestically and internationally that affects all crops is maximum residue limits. Countries have various MRLs and MRL policies. With a wide array of crops and a multitude of chemistries, this has become a trade-disrupting quagmire.

Gord Kurbis, formerly of Pulse Canada, has been hired by the Canada Grains Council to lead this file. He’s also involved in discussions with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency over how it handles the re-evaluation of crop protection products. Quite frankly, the PMRA has been making some questionable decisions such as its proposed ban on neonics.

While Thomas and Kurbis are valuable additions to the Canada Grains Council, the person primarily responsible for resurrecting the organization and making it relevant and respected is the president, Tyler Bjornson. He’s a special individual with an amazing knowledge over a broad range of issues.

The Canada Grains Council is the industry’s primary conduit to the Grains Roundtable, a body through which the federal government gets feedback from the entire grains sector.

An immense amount of work is ongoing both domestically and internationally on very complex issues that directly and indirectly affect farmers. Although it receives little credit and few accolades, the Canada Grains Council has an important role in much of the work.

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

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