Keep an Eye on the Customer While on the Combine

A guest editorial by Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada.

Warren Buffet, once quipped “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” This is something worth thinking about as we start to prepare for harvest. 

Canada has a strong reputation for consistently delivering safe, high quality grain to our customers both here at home as well as off shore. The Canadian grain industry, including farmers, depends on this reputation to gain access to international markets. Every part of the value chain must do all that it can to preserve this hard won reputation. Individual farmers play a critical role in preserving the “Canada brand,” especially at harvest. 

Some things that impact quality, like the weather, are outside of a farmer’s control. But many key grain safety factors are 100 per cent within a producer’s control. We can’t forget this as we rush to get the crop into the bin before rain and frost. We need to keep an eye on our customers while we are on the combine.

There are two critical grain safety areas that farmers need to pay attention to this time of year, both related to the pre-harvest application of pesticides.

The top ten rules for pesticide application are all the same: “follow the label!” It is critically important for farmers and their staff to know and understand what is on the label for every product they apply. There are no conditions where it is acceptable to not follow the label.

Shipments will be rejected if samples of vessel shipments contain residues that are above maximum limits. Fortunately this is a rare occurrence, but it’s an entirely preventable problem and it should simply never happen.

There are two important elements of the label that require special attention this time of year — applying too early and applying too late.

Some products, like glyphosate, should not be applied while the crop is too green. The label for glyphosate indicates that application should not occur if the seeds are 30 per cent moisture or higher. And yes, this does include the low spots that are greener than the rest of the field. Application when seed moisture is above 30 per cent will result in absorption by the seed and consequently residues.  

Glyphosate is of particular interest because it has come under fire from those who do not support the use of pesticides for any reason. This despite the fact glyphosate has been repeatedly shown to be one of the safest agricultural chemicals in use. Farmers’ rigorous adherence to the science-based label will help blunt the criticism of the activists and keep this important product in our toolbox for years to come. 

Each product label also has a pre-harvest interval. This is the amount of time required in between pesticide application and harvest to ensure that the potential for residues is minimized. Some farmers might think to themselves, “combining a few days before the pre-harvest interval is up won’t really make a difference, right?” Or perhaps, “this is just one field, it won’t make a difference in the big picture.” This sentiment couldn’t be more wrong.

Shipments of Canadian grain are tested for pesticide residues in parts per billion or even parts per trillion. Albert Einstein might have grasped the meaning of a part per trillion, but most of us can’t wrap our minds around this number. It might help to think of a part per trillion as 1 second in 32,000 years.

Testing sensitivities at these minute levels means that even one producer not following the label can, in fact, result in customer concerns or even the rejection of shipments.

This brings up a final important point on pesticide application. There are times when a new product is approved in Canada but not approved in our export markets. If our customers have not approved a chemical they may adopt a zero tolerance for any residues. One part per trillion is a mind numbingly small number, but it is bigger than zero. So before you use a product for the first time, talk to your grain buyer to make certain that there are no market concerns with its use. This conversation may prevent difficulties when it comes time to deliver.

Individual producers can’t control everything that goes into our international reputation and brand. But they do control some of the most important factors. Think about this reputation as you meet the demands of getting a crop through to harvest and into the bin. Adhering to these guidelines will not just protect your reputation, it will ultimately protect the entire Canadian grain industry.

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