It isn’t just about antibiotics or hormones for livestock — crop producers are also starting to receive buyers’ questions about how they run their business.
In an interview, Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier said disclosure of farm inputs has been popping up in crop contracts for years, but the trend is on the rise.
On his own farm, he has seen contracts for peas come with pesticide stipulations, though generally no more restrictive than regulatory agency recommendations.
In recent years, however, requirements from specific retailers such as McCain or McDonald’s have seemed to tighten.
“It is different now,” he said. “It’s kind of kicking it up a notch as far as what they’re requiring. It’s not so much, ‘Here’s the best management practices,’ but under their requirements, if you’re going to sell to them, ‘this’ is what they’re demanding.”
Mazier said the result is a patchwork of company-specific requirements, which creates confusion among both consumers and the agricultural industry when compared to government standards.
“As soon as we start veering away from them and being more specific, it does pose some problems for producers… because you don’t know what requirements are going to be required at the end of the day. They might put on a new restriction just to simply ration products.”
Mazier said the issue needs more discussion among industry and producers. He said KAP has represented farmers during sustainability roundtable discussions with industry, but added that commodity-specific issues are generally left to commodity groups.
Single safety program
At its last annual general meeting, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture passed a resolution to advocate CanadaGAP as the sole required food safety program in Canada and “advocate for legislation to implement a broad-based retailer code of practice to avoid further abuse of the dominant position of highly concentrated retailers.”
CanadaGAP is a national food safety program for companies that produce, handle and broker fruits and vegetables.
The resolution introduced by the B.C. Agriculture Council pointed to what it described as “a new trend to add retailer-specific food safety rules that are not based on science or reviewed by CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency).”
David Jones, manager of potato industry co-ordination with the Canadian Horticulture Council, says some processor requirements may be due to export markets and compliance with multiple regulatory frameworks.
“A product may be registered in Canada for use, so a grower can legally use the product in Canada, but it may not have a maximum residue limit established in, say, a major export market,” he said in an interview. “The processors have to ensure that growers are only using products that are registered in Canada, but also are acceptable in all the world markets that they’re going to. That’s where a lot of the concern comes from the processing side.”
For the potato industry, it’s nothing new.
Dan Sawatzky, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association, says surveys on farm inputs and sustainability have been a reality for years, with more rigorous audits introduced recently.
“There is some discussion with the processors,” he said. “I think the growers want to have some input in these things as well when they are developed, but in the end, processors want to look at assuring the public or their customers. Some of it is actually being driven from their customers.”
Sawatzky said it’s another sign of increasing demands for information.
“But that’s where society is today. Those are the demands that are put upon us and in the end it becomes our responsibility to show that we are meeting the changing societal concerns and demands.”
While retailer requirements remain largely company specific, Sawatzky says there is some measure of standardization in auditing mechanisms.
CanadaGAP, in particular, he said, has become a standard measuring stick for food safety certification and record-keeping, while the Potato Sustainability Initiative has expanded in recent years.
Developed in 2010 between grower groups and buyers as an integrated pest management survey targeted to suppliers for McDonald’s, the initiative was broadened in 2013 to include greenhouse gas reduction, waste management, air quality, water and energy conservation. In 2015 it was broadened again to include workplace safety, efficient use of fertilizer and water and pesticide risk reduction. Members include McCain, ConAgra Foods, Lamb Weston, Simplot, Basic America Foods, Cavendish, Heinz and Sysco.
“The ultimate goal is to engage all potato production to avoid duplication of effort and reduce the burden on producers and processors,” a profile on the program published in a 2015 issue of Crops and Soils magazine said. It reported, 516 growers in Canada and the United States completed the survey in 2014.