Farmers pan proposed code of practice for grain sector

Group behind voluntary code gets a lot of feedback — much of it negative — on its initial draft

A proposed code for the grain sector is getting a rough ride from farmers even though it would be voluntary and recommends practices already used by the vast majority of producers.
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Hundreds of Prairie farmers have weighed in on a new proposed grain code of practice — and most found a lot not to like.

Among the criticisms of the draft Responsible Grain code of practice: it’s not needed; it won’t provide any benefits to producers; it could pave the way for regulations that would hinder farmers; it’s confusing and overly wordy; and the record-keeping requirements aren’t practical or needed.

But the top complaint about the draft version prepared by the little-known Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops was the way it read.

“Many perceived the tone of the document as accusatory and would prefer that the code highlight good things farmers are doing,” states a recently released summary of the consultation.

Over four months this winter, the committee working on the code — which would be voluntary — heard from more than 850 people (92 per cent of them farmers, mostly from Western Canada) in two dozen consultation sessions and through an online survey.

The criticisms came even though the sustainable crops roundtable (made up of reps from farm groups, agribusinesses, and industry organizations) envisions the code as a way to show consumers and grain buyers that farmers are good stewards using environmentally sound practices.

But many respondents didn’t see it that way.

“I feel terribly offended by the fact that this set of rules is being proposed,” said one.

“For me, the tone of the draft document is extremely negative,” said another.

“The code would be much better to reword and say, ‘This is all of the things that our awesome agricultural producers already do for the landscape,’” added a third.

But some disagreed.

“I think it needs to be accurate and reflect the current situation. Otherwise, we lose credibility,” countered one respondent.

“If farmers don’t establish a code for themselves, a code will be established for them. Google ‘sustainable ag sourcing platforms’ and see if you like the alternatives more,” added another.

But there were other concerns, including whether it’s aimed at certain consumers or markets (“Who is it written for?”); that critics, such as environmental groups, will interpret the code for their own purposes; that the wording is vague or unclear; and much of it is covered by provincial guidelines and regulations or initiatives such as the 4Rs for fertilizer use.

But proponents of the code seem undaunted.

“The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops is very appreciative of the time that grain farmers spent to provide feedback,” Alberta producer Jason Lenz, who chairs the code committee, wrote in a summary report on the responses.

He pledged his committee would examine three big questions: whether a code can or cannot “build public trust,” whether it can “maintain and enhance markets,” and whether it’s feasible to have a code that covers the entire supply chain. He said the committee will create a “white paper” to deal with those questions as well as the concerns of producers.

“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,” Lenz wrote. “We will examine these thoroughly after we have completed the white paper. We hope to have finished the above work by the fall of 2021.”

Lenz’s summary report can be found on the home page of responsiblegrain.ca. The full report is in the ‘Consultation reports’ section of the website.

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