Winter wheat’s value in providing critical habitat for ducks and other wildlife will be highlighted on store shelves with a new food and drink label designed to help consumers identify environmentally friendly products.

The “Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel Program” was launched last week as a partnership between Cereals Canada, Alberta Wheat Commission, Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission, Manitoba Crop Alliance, and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

To start, a flour mill based outside Montreal, Quebec — Les Moulins de Soulanges — is selling flour to bakeries made with winter wheat using the new habitat-friendly label. The label will also appear on Northern Keep Vodka, a premium vodka that is made by Beam Suntory, one of the world’s largest distillers.

Discussions are underway with other end-users who are interested in using the label, says Cereals Canada’s Daniel Ramage, in the interview below.

The new “habitat-friendly” label

“It’s all about helping consumers identify and understand the sustainability aspects behind products made using Western Canadian winter wheat,” he explains. “This is something that we as an industry have known for a long time. There’s a really good sustainability story behind winter wheat grown on the Canadian Prairies…and through this Ecolabel we’re now able to share that story with consumers, and that in turn, helps to create new opportunities for farmers and businesses.”

(l-r) Manitoba farmer Doug Martin, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Karli Reimer, and Cereals Canada’s Daniel Ramage at the launch of the new label.

To use the label, end-users must go through a certification process which includes third-party verification that at least 30 per cent of the wheat in the product comes from the Canada Western Red Winter class.

“That 30 per cent threshold is driven by both the desire to increase consumption and demand for winter wheat, while also recognizing the relatively limited volumes of supply available on the Prairies at this time,” notes Ramage.

From an end-user’s perspective, hard red winter wheat from Western Canada is known for its good milling quality, and according to the Canadian Grain Commission, is well-suited for French breads, flat breads, steamed breads, and noodles. The website for the new habitat-friendly label program notes it produces flour with a whiter and brighter appearance, has good texture retention, and has good processing properties suitable for hamburger and hotdog buns, pancake mixes, and pizza crusts.

In addition to helping companies differentiate their products with a sustainability label, the program should also yield benefits for winter wheat growers, says Ramage.

“We want to maintain winter wheat and create opportunities for winter wheat to help support variety in crop rotation, to create demand at the farm level, and help capture some additional value,” he explains. “This is something that’s already happening, and now we’re helping to put a spotlight on great things that are already happening in agriculture.”

The area seeded to winter wheat in Western Canada has ranged from 1.3 to 1.8 million acres going back to 2015, according to Statistics Canada. Winter wheat acreage peaked in 2008 at 2.8 million acres.

Check out the conversation with Daniel Ramage below, discussing the goals for the new “Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel” program, Ducks Unlimited’s involvement, and what end-users are looking for when it comes to sustainability claims:

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