Ontario Grain Farmer April/May 2022

28 THE 2021 FOODSustainability Index, developed by Economist Impact with the support of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation (BCFN), ranked Canada third globally in terms of sustainable food production. While the score itself is honourable, Canada did rank rather poorly under one of the three evaluated pillars: sustainable agriculture. As a net exporter of agricultural goods, maintaining Canada’s international reputation as a supplier of sustainable goods is critical, especially at a time when importers are banning products from countries linked with mass deforestation and other unsustainable practices. However, sustainability should be calculated using metrics that make sense on a national and provincial level in order to avoid the potential pitfalls that come with using a one-size-fits-all formula. More importantly, Canada’s agricultural sector should be the author of its own sustainability story. THE FOOD SUSTAINABILITY INDEX AND ITS METRICS The Food Sustainability Index examines how food systems are performing across three pillars — food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges — using 95 individual metrics. The index covers more than 92 per cent of global GDP and 92 per cent of the global population. Globally, Canada ranked number one for food loss and waste, and received a top mark for the ways in which it addresses nutritional challenges. Where it fell short was under the sustainable agriculture pillar, ranking 36 out of 78 countries. For comparison’s sake, the United States ranked 75th overall. To understand how Canada received such a low mark for sustainable agriculture it’s important to know the metrics under which it was evaluated. In its recently published methodology paper, the developers of the index listed the following metrics under the sustainable agriculture pillar: • Percentage of cultivated land equipped for irrigation; • Pesticide use; • Synthetic fertilizer use; • Livestock density; • Food system reliance on imports; • Environmental biodiversity and protection of natural habitats; and • Distribution of agricultural holders by sex (per cent female) Despite attempts to reach the communications team at BCFN, country-specific report cards could not be obtained. One can only assume that Canada lost points for its use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and possibly for the density of its livestock systems, but it’s impossible to know for certain. SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES IN ONTARIO Mike Buttenham, environment and sustainability lead at Grain Farmers of Ontario, says he’s pleased with the overall ranking. “To be in the top three worldwide, I think it's a pretty positive story,” he says. He was, however, surprised by the score Canada received for sustainable agriculture. “I guess a lot depends on how they examined the data,” he says. “I think there's always areas that we can improve.” Buttenham says Grain Farmers of Ontario is actively involved in initiatives that aim to improve overall sustainability by evaluating land stewardship practices. Marty Vermey, Grain Farmers of Ontario senior agronomist, says Ontario grain farmers are working towards more sustainable production through the adoption of no-till practices and cover crops. He did admit, however, that there’s no standardised way to calculate results. “But as far as sustainability, I think one of the hardest things is that everybody wants it measured,” he says. “Everybody wants a number.” Writing Canada’s sustainability story CANADA’S SUSTAINABILITY SCORECARD Melanie Epp Across the country, working groups have established a number of initiatives with the aim to improve long-term sustainability of agricultural production. As an example, Vermey pointed to the 4R principles, a concept that incorporates the right fertilizer source at the right rate at the right time in the right place. Developed by Fertilizer Canada in an effort to establish sustainability indicators and environmental impact data, the initiative provides support to growers and focuses on measuring and documenting the economic, social and environmental impacts of 4R nutrient stewardship. Growers can take a free course online to freshen up on fertilizer practices as well. At home in Ontario, Vermey says more growers are using nitrogen stabilisers to reduce losses through leaching, denitrification and volatilization. Researchers continue to dig deeper into pressing issues such as phosphorus and nitrous oxide management. University of Guelph researcher Paul Voroney, for example, is looking at phosphorus-use efficiency in crop production. One of the end goals of his project is to determine the appropriate soil P test for local calcareous soils treated with various organic amendments compared to that with inorganic P fertilizers. The aim is not only to maintain grain yield, but also to minimize the risk of runoff. Lake Erie watershed research by University of Waterloo scientist Merrin Macrae is working to determine the best options for optimum phosphorus management. Her results have shown that best management practices are heavily dependent on geography. Grain Farmers of Ontario is involved in another initiative, the Great Lakes Yield Enhancement Network (YEN), which helps winter wheat growers improve returns by unlocking the potential of their fields in Industry News