Farmers

Responsible Grain is an initiative that will enhance Canada’s reputation as a provider of high-quality food that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

It is a science-based Code of Practice developed to address grain buyer and customer priorities, but to also provide practical solutions that support farms in continual improvement.

Adopting Responsible Grain practices helps farmers respond to consumers and grain buyers who value sustainability.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Who developed the draft Code of Practice?

The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) is leading the development of Responsible Grain. This draft Code has been developed by a committee with representation from farmers across the country, as well as members of grains industry organizations.

Who is on this Committee that is developing the draft Code and why?

The Code Committee is chaired by the Honourable Ted Menzies. Members include: four producers; one exporter; one miller/crusher; one input supplier; one food service company; one non-governmental organization, one researcher/academic and one federal government employee. The addition of grain customers and others provided expertise that complemented that of the farmer members.

The Code Committee operated through consensus and the resulting draft Code has agreement of all 11 members of the Committee and the Chair.

The Code Committee relied on members of the Scientific Advisory Committee to provide them advice on the best available science.

Why is a conservation group involved in Responsible Grain?

Environmental Non-Government Organizations (ENGOs) provide important outside credibility for sustainability claims made by Canadian agriculture. Previously, the Canadian animal care codes, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (https://crsb.ca/membership/current-members/) and the Field to Market initiative in the U.S. (https://fieldtomarket.org/our-members/) have all had membership areas dedicated to ENGO engagement. 

Participating ENGOs are not funding Responsible Grain: they are offering their time, scientific expertise, brand recognition and credibility to the Code of Practice.

Who is funding the work on Responsible Grain?

The following industry groups are providing cash contributions: Grain Growers of Canada, Canola Council of Canada, Cereals Canada, CropLife Canada and Fertilizer Canada.

The members of the following committees, who are with many industry groups, are providing their expertise and time:

  • The Code Development Committee
  • The Scientific Advisory Committee
  • The Communications and Engagement Committee
  • The Steering Committee of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops

The Canada Grains Council was able to leverage this industry commitment to obtain matching funds from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through the Canadian Agriculture Policy (CAP) programming.

Why is the Responsible Grain Code of Practice being developed?

Responsible Grain is being developed to proactively address sustainability issues that are of interest to the Canadian public, as well as respond to questions of consumers, both in Canada and in export markets. It is intended to highlight that Canadian grain farmers are responsible stewards of Canada’s air, land and water. The intent is to also further build on Canada’s reputation of providing high-quality food that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

Demonstration of environmental sustainability is becoming a question more frequently asked by customers, especially in high valued markets.  A farmer led, voluntary Code will help address these questions without imposing significant costs and paperwork on farmers or exporters. Active involvement of farmers in the creation of a voluntary Code of Practice ensures that farm financial sustainability and operational practicality are key parts of the development process.  This will not be the case in schemes developed without farmer engagement and imposed through government regulations or contractual conditions from buyers.

Through a national approach, we would have a consistent definition and measurement of sustainability. This helps the Canadian grain supply chain (including farm groups) influence how governments and companies develop policy and programs.

Why is it being developed now?

Customers of Canadian grains are asking more and more questions about how Canadian cereals, oilseeds and special crops are produced. A made-in-Canada Code of Practice enables grain farmers to take a proactive approach at defining sustainability that is national in scope, covers all types of field crops and is reflective of Canadian geography and farming practices.

A farmer led, voluntary Code will help address these questions without imposing significant costs and paperwork on farmers or exporters. The Code Committee believes that it is best for agriculture industry to self-identify and champion its own approach to sustainability now, rather than let outside interested define it for us in the future.

Will practices listed in Responsible Grain be turned into regulation?

The intent is exactly the opposite. If farmers can demonstrate that they are using sustainable practices, there is less pressure on governments from the public and activist groups to strengthen or introduce new regulations. The Code Committee believes that the draft Code practices will disincentivize the need for government to intervene when additional regulation is not required.

What are the risks of not developing Responsible Grain?

By not taking a proactive approach, grain farming in Canada runs an increasing risk of sustainability being defined by outside interests, including other countries and/or interest groups that are unfamiliar with Canadian farming realities.

Food companies may impose their own standards, which will not consider farmers’ needs.  The development of a farmer led Code of Practice could lessen the possibility of multiple schemes being imposed on farmers by buyers.

Also, lack of an industry-led sustainability approach may increase public pressure for additional regulations of farming practices. The development of a farmer-led Code of Practice could help lessen the pressures for additional mandatory regulation.

Activists are targeting agriculture. The absence of a farmer-led initiative could create an information vacuum where only the activists’ voices are heard.  Examples include stakeholder activism on glyphosate, anti-GM and anti-glyphosate labels.

Does it cover all grain farmers, all crops and all parts of the country?

Responsible Grain is intended to be suitable for all Canadian grain farmers, no matter where they farm. It covers all grain crops (cereals, oilseeds and special crops), but there may be some crop-specific Requirements or Recommended Practices. The standard also considers regional differences; in soils, in climate and in crops grown.

How was content of Responsible Grain selected?

Responsible Grain is intended to be science-based, outcome-driven and actionable Code of Practice. The draft content of Responsible Grain was established accordingly:

Science-based: each draft practice listed in Responsible Grain is result of a robust selection process using the best available science and a transparent, consensus-based approach via consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, including farmers, scientists, customers, and non-government organizations with an interest in agricultural sustainability.

Outcome-driven: the selected draft practices are those that speak to one or more of the intended results of the Code of Practice, namely, to build and maintain public trust, meet market demand for sustainability and protect people and the environment.

Actionable: the draft practices were defined in such a way that they are manageable by farmers, irrespective of crops, production systems or regions.

What kinds of practices are included?

Each module of the Responsible Grain contains several draft Requirements and Recommended Practices. In the context of Responsible Grain, a “Requirement” refers to either a regulatory requirement, or an industry expectation of acceptable practices. The Requirements listed in Responsible Grain include those practices that are regulated in all or some jurisdictions as well as those that are reasonably expected to take place on farm, to build and maintain public trust as well as to meet market demand for sustainability.

Recommended Practices are those which are generally expected to enhance people and environmental outcomes. They are included to encourage adoption of practices for continuous improvement.

Here are examples from the draft Nutrient Management module:

Requirement: Where required by law, perform representative soil sampling as per provincial requirements; otherwise, complete a representative soil test (per field) at least every 5 years.

Recommended Practice: Test soil for each field using a representative sample at least every 3 years.

Why are some Requirements regulated while others are not?

The draft Requirements are comprised of those practices that are considered by the Code Committee as reasonably expected to take place on farms to build and maintain public trust as well as to meet market demand for sustainability. Some of these Requirements happen to be currently regulated federally or in some provinces.

Why are some practices more specific than others?

Responsible Grain is a national Code of Practice for sustainable cereals, oilseed and special crops production. Its content needs to account for regional and crop specificities. For this reason, the practices were defined to be as practical as possible while also being applicable to most contexts. This is to provide flexibility to farmers to implement the practices in keeping with applicable provincial regulations and/or by using the most appropriate methods, techniques and resources for their situation.

What are the topics covered by Responsible Grain?

Responsible Grain is focused on addressing both public trust and market issues. Therefore, the topics covered by Responsible Grain are those that are most relevant to the needs of both audiences. Specifically, the 7 modules and the range of best practices relate to the main social and environmental themes identified as concerns to public trust and/or addressed in existing stewardship and sustainability programs, such as the Environmental Farm Plan, the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program and SAI Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment.

Is Responsible Grain aligned with agricultural policies of governments in Canada?

Governments expect and encourage the development of industry led standards, such as Responsible Grain, through funding programs, research and expert advice.

Responsible Grain Requirements and Recommended Practices are consistent with Environmental Farm Plans, which is a significant tool used by Federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) governments for the last twenty years to encourage and facilitate sound farm practices.

We are also hopeful that the practices in the draft Code will positively influence government decisions.

How will my input be considered?

Although every effort has been made in the drafting of the Code to reflect farming conditions across the country, your input is very important to confirm that we have got it right. A formal consultation took place from November 2020 – February 2021. Farmers and other stakeholders were asked to review the Code and provide comments.

This feedback will be used to review the Code to ensure it meets the expected outcomes, is practical and widely adoptable by farmers. After the consultation and review processes are complete, the Code Development Committee will review each of the Requirements and Recommended Practices in light of the feedback gathered through the consultation process. The Code Committee will take all of the time that they need to consider your input.

More information on next steps will be widely distributed to commodity organizations and stakeholder groups. Follow @ResponsibleGrain to stay up to date.

How can Responsible Grain be “voluntary” if it includes “requirements”?

Responsible Grain is a voluntary standard, meaning that farmers are free to choose whether or not they align their practices with the ones listed in the Code of Practice. Only farmers choosing to follow Responsible Grain are expected to comply with its requirements and consider the adoption of recommended practices.

Will following Responsible Grain mean that I have to change the way that I do things on my farm?

Active involvement of farmers in the creation of a voluntary Code of Practice ensures that farm financial sustainability and operational practicality are key parts of the development process.  Adopting Responsible Grain practices may not mean a lot of change for some farmers as many of the requirements are either regulations that farmers must follow, or practices that most farmers currently follow. However, it will really depend on each farmer’s situation. The level of change needed to meet the requirements in Responsible Grain is part of what farmers were being asked during the consultation process from November 2020 until February 2021.

How will progress or compliance with Responsible Grain be tracked?

Responsible Grain will not be tracked at the individual farm level. Combined data will be gathered and analyzed to measure adoption of the practices at the national, provincial or regional level using public databases and on-farm surveys, such as the Census of Agriculture, Statistics Canada’s Farm Management Survey and industry surveys.

Over time, this aggregate information will show trends on how widely the practices are being used by farmers. The progress and trends will be shared in an annual report by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC) as part of its Metrics Platform.

How will compliance with the requirements be verified?

Responsible Grain is not a certification program and does not include a verification system or protocol. However, individual farmers will be able to assess their practices through an on-line tool designed for this purpose.

How will Responsible Grain be used – and by whom?

Responsible Grain is a proactive approach developed by and for the stakeholders of Canadian grain industry. The existence of a Code of Practice will increase transparency about how grain crops are produced which is a key to building public trust. Responsible Grain will pull together a wide range of practices into a cohesive message for customers and consumers to help build public trust and to support market access. Each group can benefit of Responsible Grain in various ways. For example:

  • Individual grain farmers can use Responsible Grain to demonstrate their commitment to the environmental stewardship and their communities.
  • Commodity and industry groups can use Responsible Grain to build trust with citizens and consumers through transparency and demonstrating that best modern agronomic practices are in place to protect people and the environment.
  • Grain companies can use Responsible Grain as part of their responsible sourcing strategy to meet their sustainability objectives and provide assurance that Canadian grain is produced using best modern agronomic practices. They can also refer to Responsible Grain whenever they want to share information about how Canadian crops are grown.
  • Governments can build on Responsible Grain to align their programs and policies with the industry’s sustainability agenda and achieve more consistency at the farm level.
How Does It Work with Other Sustainability Standards/Programs?

Responsible Grain refers to and builds upon existing stewardship programs. Programs like the Environmental Farm Plan and 4R Nutrient Stewardship were used as references during the development process. Its content is also consistent with global sustainability programs such as SAI Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment. It does not replace existing programs that may be required in certain markets. From a communications standpoint, Responsible Grain can serve as a way to pull these types of programs and initiatives together into a cohesive message for customers and consumers.