Roundtable revises grain code of practice

Some western Canadian farmers said during the consultation process that they think a voluntary code of practice will lead to unnecessary and potentially restrictive regulations. | Mike Sturk photo

An amended second version should be complete later this year and will be the subject of another round of consultations

Work aimed at developing a Responsible Grain Code of Practice for grain farmers will continue throughout the summer but it could be months before a second draft is available for review.

Late last year, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) developed a first draft of the code.

It contains voluntary guidelines aimed at encouraging producers of cereal grains, oilseeds and special crops to use recommended, environmentally sustainable production practices.

Among other things, the voluntary code is intended to improve market access for Canadian commodities and build trust with consumers who are increasingly concerned with environmental stewardship and sustainability.

Approved practices in the code fall under seven headings, including pest control and pesticide use, seed selection and use, nutrient management, soil management, water management, health and wellness, and land use and wildlife.

The first draft of the code, released late last year, was the subject of a review and consultation process that ended in March.

Jason Lenz, an Alberta grain farmer who chairs the CRSC, said the consultations resulted in a lot of useful feedback, including concerns from some western Canadian farmers who think a voluntary code of practice will lead to unnecessary and potentially restrictive regulations on farmers.

“We had excellent participation (in the consultation)… and we got lots of feedback… both positive and negative,” Lenz said.

Lenz, who farms near Bentley, Alta., said an amended second version of the code should be complete later this year. It will be the subject of a second consultation expected to begin after harvest, likely in October.

Before that, a white paper will also be prepared, reminding growers why a voluntary code of practice is being developed and how it will benefit farmers and other stakeholders.

“The CRSC steering committee will be taking the opportunity to focus (on farmers’) questions by undertaking analysis, leading to a white paper to further inform discussion on the Responsible Grain Code of Practice,” the CRSC said on its website.

“We are taking seriously the issues that you raised in the consultations, including the content of the code, how we communicated about the code, and how the draft code was developed. We will examine these thoroughly after we have completed the white paper.”

Lenz said he understands that some farmers have reservations about the code, but he said if farmers develop their own code of practice, the chance of government imposing regulations or best management practices is reduced.

“I would prefer that the industry as a whole, including farmers and our farm groups, be proactive on getting something like this done.”

“I think there’s a real risk of doing nothing and letting someone else determine what sustainable and beneficial practices are on our farms today.”

“I would rather have farmers develop it, and farm organizations, than have someone like government tell us: ‘here’s how you’re going to farm in the future, whether you like it or not’.”

Response to the first version of the code of practice prompted harsh criticism from some farmers and farm groups.

An executive summary said more than 850 individuals participated in the consultation, including nearly 800 farmers from across the country.

Among other things:

  • Many growers perceived the tone of the document as accusatory and would prefer that the code highlight the good things that farmers are doing.
  • Some felt that the document created a negative impression that would not help to build public trust.
  • A significant portion of farmers felt that formalizing a code would not provide any tangible benefits for growers.
  • Some growers felt that adopting a voluntary code would open the door to mandatory regulations in the future.

Growers also disagreed with most of the requirements and recommended practices under the document’s “Land Use and Wildlife” module.

A complete summary of the feedback can be viewed online at responsiblegrain.ca/.

Gunter Jochum, a Manitoba grain farmer who also serves as president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, said he has serious reservations about the need for a voluntary code.

He said there is no guarantee that a voluntary code will provide any benefits to Canadian growers, particularly in terms of trade and market access.

Jochum also expressed concerns about the cost of developing the code, its effectiveness and its potential to place further restrictions on farmers when it comes to tillage, fuel consumption, fertilizer use and land management.

“It really boils down to why is this code needed?” said Jochum.

“Whose idea was it that we actually need this code… and please show me one jurisdiction in the world that has a code which gives them a benefit as far as international trade is concerned.”

Jochum said Canadian farmers are already doing many things to achieve sustainability.

Improved tillage practices on most western Canadian farms have reduced fuel consumption and soil erosion.

Canadian growers also adhere to government and industry guidelines when it comes to fertilizer use and pesticide use.

Jochum said the government and industry should be promoting Canada’s existing farming practices as progressive and sustainable, rather than encouraging conformance to additional rules.

“Are all farmers doing the right thing all of the time? Of course not. But for the most part… our current farming practices across the Prairies are very, very sustainable,” Jochum said.

“We stick to label directions, We don’t over-apply fertilizers … and we involve the latest technology virtually as soon as its available.

“We already grow some of the safest food in the world — the safest commodities and the highest quality commodities. I don’t see where we need more regulations — voluntary or otherwise — that are quite often being pushed by special interest groups.”

Lenz said he thinks a voluntary code of practice will give farmers and the industry greater control over their own future.

“A lot of individual farmers really questioned why we need to do this and they’re worried that it’s going to lead to further regulation,” he said.

“These are all legitimate questions but at some stage, I believe we have to put a little bit of faith and confidence into our commodity organizations” that see the code as important and beneficial.”

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