Farmers urged to adopt sustainability measures

BANFF, Alta. — Albert Wagner believes producers are doing the right thing when it comes to running their farms sustainably.

“I think most farmers are right there. It is just, ‘do we have the documentation,’ ” he said at the Alberta Barley Commission’s annual meeting held in Banff Dec. 11.

He worries that as more corporations make sustainability a requirement to do business, those standards could become law. In that case, there would be no market premiums.

“The story of our life is that there won’t be any more money,” he said.

More corporations are adopting sustainability programs, and everyone agrees there should be a single standard. However, no one is sure what the specifications need to be and whether they are possible.

The consulting firm Serecon is working with commodity groups to release the Canadian Field Print Calculator to assess practices such as soil erosion, water use, carbon footprints and other environmental issues on the farm. Groups such as the barley commission hope it could become one of the tools farmers need to assess what they are doing.

“Farmers really want to do the right thing,” said Bob Burden of Serecon, which does valuations and appraisals as well as farm asset management and management consulting.

“They just need to know what it is and they don’t want you coming to their farm six times to collect the same information.”

He agreed there is not likely going to be more money, even while companies raise the standards of their suppliers.

For example, Kellogg’s has said it will use sustainability standards to source its top 10 ingredients and materials by 2020 and validate compliance among all direct suppliers by next year.

The Field Print program developed in the United States helps demonstrate sustainability on individual farms.

It provides a calculator that uses an index to evaluate farm practices such as equipment use, tillage, field sizes, soil carbon release, soil erosion and climate impact. It can assess 11 crops grown in Canada.

An index of 50 represents the average impact across Western Canada. The closer a farm’s values come to that index, the lower the relative impact and the higher the sustain-ability of production.

It accounts for the variability of weather and farm location and can provide information on what is being done right and where improvements could be made in farm practices.

Other companies work with farmers to grow better barley.

For example, Busch Agriculture Resources, which is a division of Anheuser Busch, wants to improve barley productivity and resource use efficiency, said Patrick Rowan.

The company wants to maintain close relationships with farmers so they can be more profitable, lower costs and minimize the environmental footprint.

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