It’s early days, but work has begun on developing a code of practice for field crops — a move aimed at reassuring consumers that producers are using sustainable methods to grow food.
“It’s basically on the idea level — we’ve done a little bit of work on what it could potentially look like, but it’s far from being developed yet,” said Jason Lenz, a former Alberta Barley chair and one of two Alberta farmers on an exploratory committee set up by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops.
The ‘public trust’ committee is examining what a code of practice might look like when it comes to both general principles (such as protecting soil, air, and water quality) and specifics (such as guidelines for pesticide application and seed treatment).
Codes of practice have been developed for virtually every livestock sector, with a major emphasis on proper treatment of animals. But the Canadian cattle sector went well beyond that with the creation of certified sustainable beef, which covers environmental and social aspects of beef production.
The field crop code of practice will likely follow the model used by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, said Lenz.
“The grain sector has learned from the livestock sector,” said the Bentley-area producer, who still sits on Alberta Barley’s board and is also a regional rep with Alberta Wheat.
“They’ve done a good job; the beef and pork guys in particular. We look at what the beef guys have done with the help of McDonald’s to get it done. We’re all happy McDonald’s stepped up like that. That’s the kind of level we’d like to get to on the grain side.”
The public trust committee has about 15 members from across the country, including farmers and industry reps from organizations such as CropLife Canada.
The group wants a code that will give consumers tangible evidence that producers are practising good stewardship and being socially responsible without creating an onerous process for farmers.
Again, the sustainable beef initiative is a model, said Lenz.
“They built that code of practice for their industry and it’s pretty robust and very comprehensive,” he said. “(But) it hasn’t been burdensome for producers in terms of paperwork or time commitment.”
Because the code will be voluntary, Lenz said the most progressive producers will likely be the first to sign up. In some countries in Europe, specialty canola producers have been verified on their production practices.
“I don’t know if we will ever get to the point of verification for some of that stuff,” said Lenz. “I guess never say never.”
The committee will be meeting this summer, either via conference calls or in face-to-face gatherings.
“It takes a lot of meeting and gathering to get it done and get it done right,” said Lenz. “We want to make sure a lot of people have input into this.
“Once it starts, I don’t think it will be long to actually have something in place. Whether that’s a year down the road or two years down the road, we feel that’s the right way to go.”
Committee members realize that creating a code of practice for sustainable crops carries different implications than creating one for a type of livestock. The goal is to create a code of practice that will work for any kind of field crop, including canola, wheat, barley, flax, pulses, and potatoes.
“I don’t think that will be hard to do because there are so many similarities in production practices,” said Lenz.
There are a lot of questions about the process and details to flesh out, but the goal is clear, he said.
“The code of practice is a way for us to have a tool in our back pocket to prove that what we’re doing is a safe way of growing food,” he said.
The effort was recently endorsed by the Grains Round Table, one of a number of ‘value chain’ roundtables that work with, and advise, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. That roundtable has nearly 60 members representing farm groups, industry, and government. Lenz is also a member of the Grains Round Table along with fellow Alberta producers Lynn Jacobson, Hannah Konschuh, and Jeff Nielsen.