I was on a speaker’s panel a few weeks back with a farmer who said he never wanted to hear the word sustainability again. I understand the sentiment, but we as an industry are going to be hearing that word more and more from customers and consumers around the world.
Farmers shy away from sustainability because they see people who want to shut down modern agriculture. They see more forms, paperwork, and bureaucracy. These are legitimate concerns. But it does not have to be that way.
Canadian farmers have a good sustainability story to tell. I don’t know of a single producer who does not want to turn their land over to the next generation in better shape and more productive than when they started farming. Preserving the air, land, and water for the next generation is the very definition of “sustainability.” But we lack the tools to tell our story in a coherent way.
The time has come for the grain, oilseed and special crops sectors to accept the responsibility and opportunities that come from demonstrating the sustainability of modern agriculture.
Most farmers have already adopted sustainable practices.
We do not have to re-invent the wheel to move forward in a proactive and concrete manner. Animal agriculture has long been under pressure to demonstrate good animal welfare and sustainability practices. These industries have responded with the development of codes of practice that help define the right (and wrong) way to raise animals in Canada. These voluntary codes provide ranchers and farmers with the tools needed to demonstrate good practices and the ability to defend themselves with scientific backing when agricultural practices are challenged.
The grain industries should follow this lead.
What will a code of practice for grain production look like? It is critical that the recommendations use the best-available scientific studies from accepted sources. Recommended practices should be practical, manageable and consider economic implications. If they are not, farmers will not follow them.
The code would be voluntary. That means that it will not require farmers to fill out additional forms and paperwork.
A voluntary code can also serve as the foundation of something more robust, such as verified production contracts upon the mutual agreement of willing buyers and sellers.
Farmers must be directly involved in the development of the code of practice. If the code is going to build the trust of consumers, its development must also include scientific expertise, non-governmental organizations with interest in sustainability, customers, and processors. And the code must be open to public review upon its development and publicly available when completed.
The development of a defined code of practice will assist in efforts to gain public trust in Canadian agriculture, domestically and internationally.
I believe market access issues in the grains sector could be eased by the development of a code of practice, in addition to alleviating issues that may cause market access and public trust concerns going forward.
Canadian farmers, exporters, and processors will have a concrete tool to demonstrate sustainability to their customers. We will be able to show, with the backing of science, what we are already doing to preserve our land, air, and water.
Further, the development of a code of practice will be a valuable tool in communicating beneficial management practices to farmers.
Farmers are members of producer organizations through check-off funds. These commissions will have the direct opportunity to be involved in the development of the code through organizations such as Cereals Canada, the Canola Council of Canada and Pulse Canada.
I encourage you to use your farm groups to follow the development of the code and the potential benefits and to be heard if you have concerns.
Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.