Risky business?

WHAT THE PROVINCIAL PREMISES REGISTRY MEANS TO FARMERS

“Why is premises identification necessary for Grain farmers?”

“You can’t trace a single grain of wheat or corn so why is premises identification necessary?”

“I don’t see its value for grains and oil seeds…”

“Will it lead to more regulation down the road? What’s the government’s goal…” in collecting premises identification from grain farmers?

these are just a few of the comments heard throughout the grain farming industry in Ontario when the topic of premises identification arises. It appears that most farmers recognize the value of traceability as it applies to livestock, but not grain. In addition, the concerns of many grain farmers also include worries about invasion of privacy and further controls on their ability to farm. It seems to be a “risky business” for grain farmers and the  reluctance to sign up voluntarily is clear.

The farmers who have commented are not wrong about the focus being risk – but the Provincial Premises Registry (PPR) has been set up to mitigate risk for both the grain farmers and for the government. With new technologies available including Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS), the results, or potential results of emergencies can be quickly recognized, such as the one that occurred in Hagersville in the ‘80s, when a tire collection yard caught fire and burned for days. At that time the toxic plume rising from that devastating fire affected many agricultural products. With premises identification, quickly knowing how to reach those farms that might be within the plume would have allowed for a more effective response to protect them against potential product losses – including grains, fruits, vegetables and livestock, which would have meant protecting against financial loss as well.

Tony Morris, Traceability Coordinator for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), notes that the flooding Red River in 2011 threatened hundreds of farmers in Manitoba. Because of premises registration – mandatory in that province as well as Alberta and Quebec – the government was able to identify those properties within the potential flood zone and assist farmers in moving stored grain crops and livestock to higher ground, saving money for both farmers and government insurance pay-outs.

So from OMAFRA’s point of view, it is about risk. And risk management.

The biggest risk perhaps for grain farmers is not so evident. It has to do with business. The grain industry is like much of Canada’s economy: export-driven. In Ontario, farmers are competing against other countries such as China, Australia and Brazil that have implemented, or are aggressively working towards, mandatory full traceability including premises identification and registration. ”These countries are using their traceability systems to gain an advantage in the market place. Meeting a customer’s requirements with knowledge of product origin is a powerful marketing tool” said Morris.

Ontario’s farmers also deserve to have access to premium markets and their additional potential for profit, such as the ones available for Identity Preserved (IP) soybeans. Premises identification, a cornerstone for effective traceability, enables increased and value-added market opportunities for Ontario grain farmers.
What the PPR is not about is invasion of privacy. Privacy laws in Ontario are strict. Access to the contact information attached to an individual premises identification number is available only to the individual who supplied it, as well as any others to whom the supplier has given informed consent for  access or use. The PPR collects business information only which is collected and managed by an arms-length company: Angus GeoSolutions Inc (AGSI). This Ontario-based company has provided strategic technology and information systems to a wide variety of clients since 1993. It specializes in managing land information and land-based solutions. AGSI has extensive experience in using its technologies, expertise and services to create secure, web-based solutions for managing land based location information required to support critical business functions.

Some farmers speak of confusion around premises identification (ID) numbers.

“Do I get multiple premises ID numbers every time I rotate my crops or do I use the same one,” was one question asked in recent discussions about the PPR. Tony Morris affirms that the farmer receives only one validated number that is tied to the land parcel. If he, she or an agricultural business already has a premises identification number for the land being used, that is the number that will be used regardless of the activities that occur on the land – livestock, fruits, vegetables or grains.

Ultimately the goal of the Provincial Premises Registry for grain farmers isn’t about tracing product, but about minimizing risks for the farmer in case of a natural or man-made emergency. Yes, OMAFRA recognizes that the Risk Management Program and a number of other OMAFRA programs require registration if a farmer wishes to participate in them. That will enable the ministry to quickly and efficiently respond to any natural or man-made emergency. Those who work closely with the industry understand the concerns of grain farmers and the perception that premises identification has more value to livestock and poultry.

However, “Grain farming is just as important as any other section of agri-business,” says Morris. “It’s about everybody working together in the whole food chain. It means lower risks for the farmer and a more reliable response to environmental, economic and  public health and safety issues that could concern Ontario residents and consumers. And it means that all farmers can share in the benefits of the program when their products can stand up equally in world markets.” •