Super-Sizing Stewardship Pays Dividends For Potato Industry

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A couple of years back when McDonald s Corporation shareholders raised the issue of environmental stewardship standards for suppliers, Potato Growers of Alberta (PGA) were among the groups that recognized this major paradigm shift as an opportunity to strengthen their connection with customers.

McCain drove the industry response and asked us and their other suppliers to get on board, says Edzo Kok, PGA executive director. The response of our growers was very proactive. The attitude was, It s good business. Let s be part of the solution.

What followed was a joint effort by growers, McCain Foods, Lamb Weston and McDonald s to provide a response that included thorough benchmark information on current industry practices, along with clear targets for progress. Information was gathered through an in-depth grower survey. This not only met shareholder expectations but helped McDonald s boost its public image as an environmentally responsible company.

The shareholders were very happy and the company was very happy, says Kok. The growers showed leadership and they solidified the relationship with their top customer.

Part of what helped PGA adopt its progressive stance was the fact all PGA producers had developed Environmental Farm Plans (EFPs) for their operations. As a result, they had a head start on documenting environmental stewardship practices and identifying opportunities for improvement.

EFP helps fill the G. A.P.

Fast forward to the present and potato growers are at it again. This time using the Environmental Farm Plan tool as part of an approach to meet new environmental stewardship expectations under Global G.A.P. an emerging international certification system for good agricultural practices.

Most of the potatoes grown in southern Alberta are grown for the processing industry, specifically the french fry industry, says Kok. Because we export a lot of the production, we re dealing with international customers, a lot of them multinational companies such as the large chain restaurants. Those companies are pretty explicit in what they want their suppliers to comply with, and today we re finding they commonly refer to Global G.A.P.

In fact, Global G.A.P. is fast-becoming the primary international standard dealing with agricultural practices. It includes two components a food safety component and an environmental component.

We ve had on-farm food safety plans in place for a long time, says Kok. However, to become Global G.A.P.-compliant, we realized we needed to supplement what we were doing to more completely comply with the environmental component.

To address this need, PGA worked with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development and the Alberta EFP initiative to develop an adapted version of the EFP. It was designed to complement the on-farm food safety program by filling the gaps in the environmental components required by Global G.A.P. Those changes are now part of the general EFP tool.

Social responsibility agenda

The on-farm food safety program used by potato growers and others involved in the Canadian Horticultural Council was updated and re-branded as Canada G.A.P. The PGA is having success using this program combined with its enhanced EFP approach to assure international customers of its Global G.A. P compliance.

Kok, like the leaders of other agricultural sectors in Alberta, is involved in discussions on the current role and opportunities for EFP in the province. He says the main difference between the standard EFP tool and process and the way PGA has used the tool, is that while the original EFP version is primarily a self-assessment tool, today s version has a greater emphasis on initiating change. He says the way PGA has used the tool in its branding process could be a model for a revised or next-generation EFP approach in Alberta.

There are different ways the program can go, he says. From our perspective, it has provided a lot of value to what we are doing. Clearly it has helped to fill an emerging need that is continuing to grow as farm assurance schemes such as Global G.A.P. become more entrenched. It is helping to address the social responsibility needs we see becoming more commonplace in the language of the global food business.






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