Grain code catches farmers off guard

Some farmers are feeling blindsided by a proposed grain industry code of practice.

Jeff Bennett, a Saskatchewan grower, started a Twitter thread last week asking his fellow farmers if they were aware a code is being developed.

He raised some concerns about the proposed code, suggesting it is an industry-driven process rather than a grower project and that the voluntary code could become mandatory.

Bennett also wondered if provincial commissions are guilty of making decisions about the code without the knowledge of their levy-paying members.

“Seems like commissions are in favour with your dollars paying the way,” he tweeted.

Other farmers chimed in on the thread saying they too were unaware of the initiative and are wary that everything is unfolding behind the scenes like they feel it did with the seed royalty issue.

Susie Miller, executive director of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops, the group spearheading the initiative, said they have been publicly talking about the project at every opportunity since the steering committee was formed in September 2019.

She noted that more than half of that committee comprises representatives from producer groups.

The committee has contacted 38 farmer organizations across the country to provide background information on the proposed Responsible Grain code and extended invitations for further dialogue.

It was planning to make presentations at various fall and winter meetings across the country but many of those have been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Farmers and other industry players have been invited to attend information sessions and provide feedback on the group’s website (responsiblegrain.ca).

The one remaining scheduled information session is on Jan. 21, but others could be added if there is enough demand.

“Nobody will be left out,” said Miller. “Everybody that wants a say will have an opportunity to comment on the code in general and each of the specific practices.”

Corey Loessin, chair of Pulse Canada, said there has been a fair amount of media coverage of the code but farmers have a lot of things on their minds these days.

They are studying grain markets, scouring their financial records, fixing equipment in the shop and navigating through a global pandemic.

“There’s just a lot of things on farmers’ plates these days and it’s just another thing that comes up,” he said.

Pulse Canada participated in the development process and believes the code could help maintain or expand markets. But it still has some lingering concerns about the draft document.

For instance, it believes there needs to be a clear distinction between required and recommended practices.

Loessin said farmer acceptance and approval of the code is absolutely critical.

“Without that, it’s going to go nowhere,” he said.

He would like to see more farmers learn about the code and provide feedback rather than criticizing it from the sidelines.

“Running and hiding from policy development is not an answer because if farmers don’t get engaged others do,” said Loessin.

He doesn’t believe the code is being developed with any malicious intent.

Wayne Truman, chair of the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, agrees with that sentiment.

“It’s being developed to build trust and increase transparency with the Canadian public,” he said.

He isn’t sure why some farmers appear to be in the dark about the proposed code because it has been talked about extensively in farmer circles.

Truman thinks some growers fear that participating in the code of practice will require having their actions tracked at the individual farm level.

“That would be what farmers are concerned about, that they don’t need another pile of paperwork,” he said.

Miller hopes to have all the feedback compiled by the end of February, so it can be presented to the steering committee for its consideration.

She hopes to publish the revised code on the responsiblegrain.ca website in April.

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