What does sustainability mean to your farming operation?
Is it a core value that influences your production and management decisions? Or do you see it as a concept dreamed up in a far-off corporate board room — an idea that will ultimately place more restrictions and conditions on how you produce food?
To Saskatchewan grain farmer Jake Leguee, sustainability is a constant goal — a consideration that influences almost every farm decision he makes.
“What is sustainability? It’s kind of a tough question because to me… sustainable sounds like we’re trying to keep things the same,” says Leguee, a partner and manager at Leguee Farms Ltd., near Fillmore, Sask.
“In reality, I don’t really want to keep things the same on our farm. I want to make them better.”
“So I think sustainability is more about leaving things in better condition than when you found them.”
Leguee Farms is a family owned operation that grows about 15,000 acres of cereal grains, oilseeds and pulse crops annually.
Leguee’s family has been farming in the Fillmore area southeast of Regina for more than 60 years.
And Leguee — a third generation producer — is hoping that the family farm is around for many decades to come, when his kids and grandkids are considering their career options.
That’s why sustainability is so important to Leguee Farms.
Sustainable farm production is critically important, not only in terms of producing the type of food that today’s consumers are demanding, Leguee says. It’s also necessary to preserve the farm’s existing resources and to ensure that the farm’s productive potential is maintained and enhanced for future generations.
That’s why Leguee farms has adopted a list of sustainable production practices, including continuous no-till cropping, diverse crop rotations and integrated weed management strategies.
In a recent interview, Leguee spoke about the need to communicate more effectively with today’s consumers, who are demanding sustainably grown food and insisting that farmers use environmentally responsible farming practices.
“We feel very strongly that what we’re doing is sustainable,” he said.
“In fact, our goal is always to make things better, so when we’re talking about soil health, for example, we’re always trying to make sure that we’re not stripping things out of the soil, and negatively affecting its long-term productive potential by causing soil erosion and things like that.”
Leguee said there is mounting pressure on today’s farmers to prove that the food they’re producing is being grown responsibly and sustainably.
That’s not a bad thing, he said, but it highlights the need for improved communication between food producers and food consumers.
That’s part of the reason why Leguee Farms adopted the motto “Growing for a Sustainable Future.”
It’s also the reason why Leguee publishes an on-line blog that examines the relationship between farmers and consumers.
The blog can be viewed on the Leguee Farms website at https://legueefarms.com.
“I think as a group — as farmers — we’ve kind of ignored the opinions of people outside the industry to some degree… and I think we’ve done that at our own peril…,” Leguee said.
“So, I think the time has come where we need to step up and start doing something about (our relationship with consumers).”
Leguee is not alone.
Across the Canadian agriculture industry, a bevy of new initiatives are aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture production and addressing concerns of environmentally conscious consumers.
Earlier this year, for example, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) began work on a new code of practice document that will advise farmers on how to produce crops in a sustainable and market-friendly manner.
The code is intended to address sustainability concerns that are being raised more frequently by Canada’s trading partners, as well as by consumers at home and abroad, said Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada.
Dahl said adherence to the code will be voluntary.
Over time, it is hoped that adoption of the code’s recommendations will become widespread.
The Canadian livestock industry has already developed similar documents that will serve as a template for the crops industry.
“We’re going to take about 2 1/2 years to finalize the code of practice and the bulk of that time is really going to be required for consultation with the industry and with (Canadian) farmers,” said Dahl, who also chairs the CRSC steering committee.
“What happens on the farm really does matter in the marketplace, whether that’s here in Canada or internationally, and that connection is getting shorter and shorter all the time.”
Having a document in place that specifies recommended practices for grain farmers will help to satisfy consumers’ concerns, Dahl said.
It could also be used to help defuse future trade issues, he added.
When completed, the code will probably contain a list of mandatory practices, as well as a list of recommended practices, steps that are not required but are deemed beneficial from a sustainability perspective.
Elements of the code will be discussed and adopted by a CRSC code development committee chaired by Alberta farmer and former federal cabinet member Ted Menzies, who also served as president of CropLife Canada.
The development committee will also include five farmers who have a vested interest in producing and selling cereal grains, oilseeds and pulses.
A scientific advisory group will also provide input and direction.
Menzies said the code will be easy to implement because most farmers already operate in a safe and sustainable manner.
Both Dahl and Leguee acknowledged that there is still some resistance to the notion that farmers should be forced change their practices or demonstrate to consumers that their farming practices are environmentally friendly or sustainable.
“But I strongly disagree with the assessment that we should just sit back, continue doing things as we’ve been doing them, and hope for the best…,” said Leguee.
“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,” Dahl wrote in an article published recently by Glacier FarmMedia.
“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.”
The Canadian Grains Sustainability Metrics Platform measures Canadian grain production sustainability.
Did you know?
The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops defines sustainability as social responsibility, environmental sustainability and economic viability. Sustainability is assessed according to:
- greenhouse gas emissions and air quality
- agrochemical management
- nutrient management
- water quality and quantity
- waste and pollution
- soil health and productivity
- land use and biodiversity
- financial viability
- work safety and security
- working conditions
- labour relations
- community relations