National sustainability

CROP ROUNDTABLE LEADS THE DISCUSSION

VERIFICATION SYSTEMS FOR sustainable production practices are in place in the global biofuel market and there are sure signs that the food sector will be next to follow suit. Now, in preparation for market changes, a national group has formed and is working to analyze current initiatives to ensure growers are ready to meet this demand.

Armed with a growing number of members from across the country, the group — the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) — is a true example of collaborating across commodities and regions towards a common goal.

“As we hear the trains of sustainability standards coming into the food industry, we are coming together to get growers ready to engage with buyers and be able to provide them with what they need,” says Dennis Rogoza, Canola Council of Canada’s advisor of sustainability and CRSC committee co-chair. 

PROACTIVE RESEARCH
Rogoza says standards set in the biofuel industry in Europe and the United States serve as the first examples of what sustainability verifications can look like. “They represent two biofuel markets requiring sustainability but have implemented it very differently,” he explains.

“Europe has been very proactive on the issue and requires raw material certification verification as a condition of acceptance into the supply chain. The United States takes more of a macro-level approach where both raw materials and finished products from Canada, for example, are pre-approved to come into their system.”

But Rogoza says now that companies such as Walmart and Unilever are beginning to discuss their own commitments to sustainable supply chains, each buyer could adopt an individual set of key performance indicators and reporting could get complicated.

“The challenge for Canadian agriculture is figuring out how we get ready for all of this,” he says. “There is not a single solution but we are working together to find a common approach.”

Mark Brock, Grain Farmers of Ontario District 9 (Perth) director, is co-chairing the steering committee of the CRSC and says that since many groups were starting to think about the same types of projects, it made sense to start a national dialogue and not isolate work by province.

He says the group recently met for two days of meetings where they formally accepted terms of reference and divided into two main working committees.

MONITORING PROGRESS
While soybean growers in Ontario are experimenting with a Roundtable for Responsible Soy (RTRS) certification pilot program, growers in western Canada are conducting similar projects through Pulse Canada and Canola Council of Canada systems.

Brock explains that the CRSC will be the warehouse for these three programs where advantages, as well as missing gaps, can be discussed. He says he hopes the group can identify market needs as they develop over time and determine ways to address them.

From Rogoza’s experience working to certify Canadian canola growers within Europe’s biofuel market, he believes Canada is in a strong position to meet such standards. “We had 100 canola growers independently audited against the European sustainability criteria and all received certifications,” he explains.
 
Rogoza also notes that Alberta Barley is currently leading a project where 50 barley, wheat, pulse, and canola growers will be formally audited against multiple sustainability systems to see how they measure up.

“The CRSC is the forum where the results from all of these projects will be analyzed and next steps will be determined,” he says.

LONG TERM VISION
Brock says the immediate goal is to have sustainability systems in place that can be proactively shown to partners throughout the supply chain.

“In most cases we are seeing that buyers know that they want sustainably produced products but at this point do not necessarily have a definition of what that means,” he says. “If we as growers have something already set up, we can ask them if it meets their needs and can likely
work together.”

Ultimately Rogoza’s vision is for the CRSC to establish one sustainability metrics platform that would encompass all metrics and be able to report on them. “The challenged outcome would be if there were multiple systems that Canadian growers had to work with such as reporting for Walmart on Monday, Loblaw Companies Limited on Tuesday and so on,” he says.

“If we could develop one platform to collect and store all demanded information, metrics required by each buyer could be easily pulled for each grower, crop, and region.”

Brock adds that looking ahead, an overarching national brand for sustainably produced crops from Canada could also be a strategy to consider. •