Consultations are starting this week on the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops’ draft code of practice for Canadian grain farmers.

The voluntary code, which has been named “Responsible Grain,” was developed to define and promote the sustainability and social responsibility practices followed by grain farmers across Canada, with the goal of building trust among consumers and grain customers.

“Sustainability means something different to everyone, but responsibility is a word that people can understand,” says Ted Menzies, chair of the Responsible Grain code development committee, explaining how they decided on the name “Responsible Grain.”

In many ways, the proposed plan looks to emulate how the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) brought together stakeholders from throughout the beef value chain — from ranchers to McDonald’s — to set standards and build public trust. The grain code development committee includes farmers, as well as representatives from crop input suppliers, grain companies, a food service company, academia, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and a non-government organization. The companies and organizations represented on the code committee include Cargill, Viterra, CropLife Canada, Aramark, and Ducks Unlimited.

The objective of the code committee is to determine tangible actions for farmers that end consumers and supply chain partners will recognize as responsible, explains Menzies, in the interview below.

Ted Menzies

“It’s critically important that everyone along the value chain understands why we’re doing this, because consumers already understand why we need it,” he says.

Menzies, who previously served as Member of Parliament for nine years, describes a meeting with officials in China last year regarding restrictions on Canadian canola as an example of the code’s potential value.

“What I came out of that meeting realizing is if I’d had a code of practice paper, something as simple as a paper I could have held up to our counterparts on the opposite side of the table, and said ‘this is how the majority of farmers in Canada are caring for the food they’re producing, and we’re concerned that you think you’ve found a health issue with this. Can I show you the protocols that farmers follow in Canada?’ That would have been so valuable,” he says.

As for the standards in that document, the draft code includes a mix of required protocols that are already mandated through federal, provincial, or municipal legislation or regulation, such as rules regarding manure application and following pesticide labels, as well as recommended practices that go beyond the minimum requirements, says Menzies. The practices fall into seven categories: nutrient management, pest and pesticide management, soil management, water management, seed selection and use, land use and wildlife, and human health and wellness.

“One of the underpinnings that we see repeated in this code is continual improvement,” he says.

Formal consultations on the draft code will be held virtually, beginning with an initial meeting with the Atlantic Grains Council on November 24, says Menzies. The committee plans to present the draft to crop commissions, associations, and individual producers across the country in the coming weeks. There will also be an online questionnaire for producers to provide feedback on what will — or will not — work on their farm.

“We’re going to listen and we’re going to learn from what farmers say, because if farmers don’t like this, and this isn’t going to work on your farm, and we’ve said this is voluntary, you’re not going to sign up. So we have to make it so this is functional,” says Menzies.

The plan is to complete consultations by the end of March 2021, and then publish the first version of the code in April, with implementation taking place in May through December of next year.

Related:

Listen to Ted Menzies discuss the launch of consultations on the “Responsible Grain” code of practice, and what it means for grain farmers across Canada:

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