The voluntary Responsible Grain national code of practice can be used by grain growers in Ontario, but it hasn’t resulted in the debate it has in Western Canada.
Responsible Grain, a national code of practice for grain production, is currently being developed by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC). The initiative is intended to proactively address concerns about the impacts of on-farm production practices, though its relevance to Ontario growers remains to be seen.
Why it matters: Questions about the sustainability of Canada’s grain sector are more frequent from the public and grain buyers. Some hope new accreditation programs will proactively address concerns while accounting for regional variations.
The Responsible Grain project is being driven by two pressure points – a general interest in how grain is produced from both the Canadian public and international buyers.
“Many Canadians want to know more about how food is produced, and in the absence of science-based, factual information, [they] develop misconceptions that are challenging to correct,” says Susie Miller, executive director for CRSC.
She adds international customers are also asking more questions about how Canadian grain is produced. A Responsible Grain Code of Practice could play a significant role as an assurance of sustainability.
“There are many definitions of sustainability, both here and abroad, and the Code could permit the conversation to be based on the realities of farming in Canada,” she says.
The Responsible Grain initiative will not require enrolment, accreditation or verification. Instead, Miller says grain producers can use a self-assessment tool to help determine whether they wish to voluntarily commit to following the core practices identified in the code.
“The draft code is written as a list of core practices that farmers who wish to do so would commit to undertaking. These are listed as Requirements,” says Miller. “The draft also has a number of recommended practices which would suit some farmers in some areas.”
GFO involved in consultation, not committee
The code itself is currently in draft form. All provincial grain organizations have been invited to participate in consultation sessions “organized specifically for them,” says Miller. Virtual sessions and other forums for direct farmer participation have also been – and remain – a part of the consultation process.
“We have also had scheduled sessions with grain marketers and other interested associations and companies.”
Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) is not directly involved in the committee developing the initiative, which it sees as being largely driven by western Canadian interests. However, the commodity organization is a CRSC member, and is active in the consultation process.
“It’s not that we haven’t been able to provide input, we just aren’t on the committee. The organizers have been very open on the consultation side,” says Crosby Devitt, chief executive officer for GFO.
As things stand, the ability to voluntarily adopt the initiative, if viewed as valuable by individual producers and buyers, is a characteristic GFO supports. Devitt says GFO will be providing more feedback once a draft is produced by the development committee.
The organization decided not to participate in the committee because of resource allocation. With time and money being invested in other consumer-facing initiatives – such as Field to Market Canada – as well as grower-oriented environmental education programs, the organization did not feel a compelling need to reserve a committee seat.
Duality hard to achieve in sustainability policy
The Responsible Grain code of practice is intended to address sustainability concerns, but also be practical for farmers. For Devitt, however, successfully achieving both in one sustainability policy can be difficult.
“It’s almost like there’s farm level, then consumer-facing sustainability programs. A lot of times they don’t speak the same language,” he says, listing Environmental Farm Plan as an example where true meaning is lost on the consumer side of the equation.
“I think the responsible grain side, to be successful, needs to create value on both…It’s a really challenging thing to be proactive. You’re building something that doesn’t exist.”