The push for green certification isn’t going away, but there can be an upside for farmers, say two experts with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
There’s no doubt the proliferation of sustainability standards are confusing and time consuming for farmers, especially as they employ different auditing systems, said Greg Meredith, assistant deputy minister in the Strategic Policy branch.
But standards designed to assure consumers that farmers are caring for their soil and water can also be used to lower production costs, he said.
“You get both lower costs and better environmental performance through lower pesticide residues and run-off,” he said.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental sustainability of farms, agreed Gilles Saindon, associate assistant deputy minister in the Science and Technology branch.
He pointed to the development of livestock codes of practice, noting livestock groups have been in the forefront of their development and tried to develop best practices in ways that help the bottom line.
The same approach can be used for making sustainability standards work for farmers, said Saindon, praising the Canadian Horticultural Council for taking a leadership role in dealing with sustainability issues
The Growing Forward 2 program that starts up in April contains provisions to help develop farm sustainability programs, he added. Governments and producer groups should conduct ongoing consultations on the sustainability standards “because their complexity puts them beyond the capacity of individual farmers to deal with,” he said.
While meeting the differing domestic and international standards is difficult, “it’s important for farmers to demonstrate that they can do it,” he said.
His department is ready to help, he said.
“We can help deliver the solid, scientific-, evidence-based information on good practices farmers should be employing.”
As well, Growing Forward 2 will have funds for developing sustainable practices, to assist development of new products or technologies, and to access international markets, he added.