Expect more discussion on Responsible Grain early in 2022

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Last winter, a draft of a code of practice for Canadian grain farmers created significant push-back from growers. Following a consultation period, the majority of feedback was “unsupportive” of the code, as written.

The feedback provided pushed the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) to take a step back, and further dig in to the “why” of a code or practice for grain producers.

Jason Lenz, farmer from Alberta, director with the Alberta Wheat Commission, and chair of the CRSC, says that it became clear from the feedback that there was a need to develop a white paper to explain the why of Responsible Grain, and the “why” needing a code of practice here in Canada, and for the grains industry.

The white paper itself has been a huge undertaking, Lenz says. Executive director of CRSC, Susie Miller, has spent hours interviewing grain companies and food processing companies, such as Loblaws, PepsiCo, and major grain exporters, for example, to compile how these points of the value chain view a code of practice.

Lenz says that in the new year, farmers and industry will be able to access the white paper in both a summary and full-length format.

To be clear, it’s not another draft of the code of practice. Lenz says that, in hindsight, this white paper should likely have been published first; however, it was important to begin the process and start somewhere.

“We started with a very broad document that was a lot of pages. And the code development committee that Ted Menzies chaired for us, their last task was to incorporate all the feedback that we received on the consultation and incorporate it into a kind of a revised version of that first draft. So your first question is, where’s the code of practice right now and that document? Well, it is sitting on the corner of a desk, but the steering committee is saying that we need to explain the why, and is the code of practice the right tool for proof of sustainability?” (Story continues below audio)

In exploring why the code of practice seemed to draw so much ire of farmers, Lenz says that there are a few key factors at play. One is simply the nature of trying to create a single code for several commodities and geographies, versus the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which was focused only on one commodity. Another factor is the lack of a corporate entity that was really championing the process from the beginning, such as the beef industry has had with McDonald’s Canada.

“Everyone views the work that the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef did was a success, and they did have a major partner working with them in McDonald’s; the marketing power of McDonald’s and the help McDonald’s needed to help answer some of the questions that their consumers and customers were getting,” Lenz says. “Have we found that that partner yet? No, but if you look at the membership of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops, we have the big players there. We have the Cargills, the Viterras, Loblaws, Aramark Foods, so they’re very engaged in this as I’ve mentioned, but the difference I should say between the CRSB and us with crops is they had one commodity to market. They’re marketing hamburgers and steaks. We were trying to do everything from malt barley to lentils for example, right? And so it’s been a bit of a process of getting everyone on the same page and understanding how it’s going to work for their specific commodity, for example.”

The white paper will come out some time in the new year, and Lenz says that the communications committee is working on a very broad engagement strategy to get out to talk to all the provincial commissions and national commodity groups. There may also be webinars open to any interested parties.

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