A sustainable crop code of conduct will help farmers tell the good story of agriculture in Canada, say members of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC).
“We need to do a better job of telling (these stories),” said Cam Dahl, who is president of Cereals Canada and chair of the steering committee for the roundtable.
Questions over the sustainability of crop production are increasing. The CRSC says a code of best practices for crop production will help increase public trust in farmers.
“It’s no joke that Saskatchewan used to blow into Ontario — It doesn’t anymore,” he said. He added that since 1981, the energy consumption per ton of spring wheat produced has gone down 39 per cent.
“That’s a really significant number,” Dahl said.
Work will begin on the code in November and will bring farmers, commodity groups and scientists to the table. The aim is to put together a code that’s practical and scientific.
This code will demonstrate to producers what good practices look like and build trust with the public, Dahl said. The group will follow the model the NFACC used when developing codes of practice for livestock care.
The code will be a tool to answer “ever-increasing questions about how our food is produced,” domestically and around the world, said Pam de Rocquigny, general manager of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association. A director from MCGA will sit on the roundtable steering committee.
De Rocquigny said the code will likely encapsulate many practices already in use. She said multi-generational farms across Canada haven’t stood the test of time by being unsustainable.
They just don’t “shout it from the rooftops,” she said.
She said she’s heard concerns from producers over what will be in the code and if it will be prescriptive. De Rocquigny said she has faith the committee will be practical and is pleased that it’s taking a scientific approach.
“This is a really good opportunity,” said Jim Tokarchuk, executive director of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada. SCCC sits on the roundtable’s scientific committee.
Tokarchuk said SCCC wants to ensure tested, proven soil best management practices make it into the code. He added that this is an opportunity to go further with existing practices, and that he hopes farmers will see the benefit of these actions.
“Good soil health in the long term should be good for the bottom line of farmers,” Tokarchuk said.
Paul Thoroughgood, regional agrologist for Ducks Unlimited, said it’s time agriculture got the recognition it’s due for its work in sustainability. There’s also room for improvement.
Thoroughgood pointed to ongoing conversion of wetlands and native, untouched lands to cropland. He said this is a sensitive issue he expects will be rigorously discussed.
What’s in a code?
This July, Dairy Farmers of Canada was recognized for its commitment to sustainable milk production by consumer food giant Unilever.
The recognition meant Unilever concluded all milk produced in Canada is sustainably sourced in line with its Sustainable Agriculture Code, according to a news release from DFC.
Unilever’s code extends to all farms where the company’s raw materials are produced. It includes soil management practices, crop husbandry, animal husbandry, aspects of biodiversity and water management, employees, working conditions, health and safety, and training.
The code contains mandatory requirements and good practices labelled as “should.”
For instance, under nutrient management, it’s a mandatory requirement that supplier farms demonstrate compliance with national legal obligations with regards to crop nutrients.
It’s a “must” that measures be taken to avoid losing nitrogen and phosphorus to the environment through correct timing of application, choice of fertilizer and application technique.
It is a “should” requirement that producers have a plan for monitoring concentrations of available soil nutrients.
Under the soil management portion of the code, it is a “must” to take corrective action where soils have been damaged by erosion, compaction, contamination or loss of organic matter.
It’s a “should” that soils should be managed in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.