The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops Meeting Proceedings

October 19, 2016

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CRSC Update

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Fran Burr, Executive Director for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops, kicked off the meeting by sharing with members a progress report on the organization’s activities.  She started by reinforcing the importance of the CRSC’s Vision including how it is instrumental in growing membership, in encouraging financial support, and necessary to direct the CRSC’s projects and initiatives. After describing the outcomes from the Spring 2016 Roundtable meeting, Fran went on to share what she called the "highlights and lowlights" of the six months following that meeting.

There were several highlights to report on including: the expanding membership in categories where we feel more representation is needed; the progress of the Sustainability Metrics Platform (see section on the Sustainability Metrics Platform Project – Progress Report below, for more information); and the Seeking Synergies workshop and outcomes.

A few 'lowlights' were mentioned as well, including the organization’s financial situation which is leaving some uncertainty about what initiatives would be feasible in the 2017 annual plan and any further work on the CRSC’s proposed Assurance Protocol. Project leaders for the Assurance Protocol had made some good progress in recent months, bringing more definition to the concept through the summer months.  However, the Protocol did not receive Steering Committee consensus or approval in September – therefore its development will be paused until there is clearer direction on some of its components.

Finally, Fran spoke of the organization being "sustainability-ready". The Roundtable Meeting agenda was designed to show members that many stakeholders in the agriculture industry have 'figured it out' and they are demonstrating that they are 'ready' for sustainability – and for the many benefits that come from embracing it.


Common Ground: The Value of Synergistic Relationships in Crop Sustainability 

Perhaps one of the most successful efforts coming out of the CRSC this year has been establishing the Seeking Synergies network.

Erin Gowriluk of Alberta Wheat (view presentation) was the Moderator of a panel, devoted to sharing the role of three key participants in a ground-breaking Seeking Synergies Workshop.  The Workshop, held on September 21st, was a first of its kind, bringing together leaders of agriculture organizations with well-established sustainability initiatives to discuss potential synergies and seek opportunities for future collaboration. Erin described the expectations for the full-day session, which included participating with a willingness to be completely forthright; identifying any barriers to collaboration, real or perceived; and working together in a positive and solutions-oriented manner. 

Panelists included Clyde Graham, Senior Vice President, Fertilizer Canada, representing 4Rs Nutrient Stewardship (view presentation); Denis Tremorin, Director, Sustainability, Pulse Canada, representing the Canadian Field Print Calculator Initiative (view presentation); and Paul Watson, EFP Director for ARECA and representative for National Environmental Farm Plan (view presentation); as well as Fran Burr, Executive Director for the CRSC (view presentation).

Erin's introductory remarks highlighted how each of the four initiatives represented by the panel are at a cross-roads and how that made the timing right for the Seeking Synergies effort.  Erin shared the first deliverable of the network, which was a Statement of Alignment.

The panelists then gave some background on their initiatives and subsequently shared their commitment to supporting the CRSC in reaching its objectives through collaboration. Finally, Fran and Erin summarized the panel discussion with a presentation and discussion of the short term goals for the network.

The Seeking Synergies network is a testament to the ability of the grains industry to overcome differences and work together for the long term benefit of crops sustainability in Canada.  


Paving the Way: Learnings from our Sustainability Forerunners

The CRSC would not be where it is today without the support of Canadian and global sustainability veterans. Representatives from three established sustainability programs reflected on their respective experiences and offered advice to CRSC members:

SAI Platform

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Jenny Edwards, Project Manager of the global Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, provided an overview of the multi-purpose tool, which includes both self-assessment and verification elements. Farmers and suppliers alike see the program as beneficial, with typical uses including on-farm assessment, benchmarking against other schemes, and identification of supply chain risk. Having flexibility in implementation has been an important feature for platform users (a wide range of products, farmers, companies and regions are involved), as has the program's drive to reduce complexity by creating a harmonized, cross-supply chain definition of what SAI means by 'sustainable agriculture'. Finally, and not surprisingly, delivering a credible and effective 'common' sustainability solution requires extensive stakeholder input and consensus building.  

Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef

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Fawn Jackson, Executive Director, Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) emphasized the importance of 'getting our message out' and listening to others' views from the outset. Acknowledging the benefits of having access to start-up advice from the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and other sector partners, Fawn reflected on the role of the CRSB's core building blocks (e.g., mission, vision, business plan, membership) in enabling the organization's successful establishment and subsequent growth. Of particular note, the CRSB commissioned and recently announced the results of a strategic assessment of the social, environmental and economic impacts of the Canadian beef industry. Alongside this study, the CRSB has forged a synergistic relationship with McDonald's through the now completed Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot Project.

Groupe AGÉCO

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Jean-Michel Couture, Associate Project Director, Groupe AGÉCO, provided an introduction to Dairy Farms+, an interactive online tool developed as part of the Dairy Research Cluster Initiative to support farmers in meeting their sustainability goals. An element of the Canadian dairy farmers' certification program, Dairy Farms+ encompasses self-assessment questionnaires, an on-farm environmental 'foot printer', a best management practices library, and a customizable action plan. Developed with international standards in mind, this innovative tool will enable dairy farmers to evaluate their adoption of good management practices (GMPs) or benchmark their operation against provincial or national averages. Dairy Farms+ will be more extensively piloted by a representative sample of producers from multiple provinces beginning in 2017.


Navigating the Verification Waters: Three Producer Perspectives 

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Participants in three different producer sustainability programs shared their experiences with and offered insights on the value of on-farm verification:

Cecilie Fleming, of Granum Alberta, expanded on why her family farm is enrolled in the province's Verified Beef Production Plus program, an expansion of Verified Beef Production, the Canadian beef industry's on-farm food safety program. In addition to enabling beef producers to showcase their sound production and risk management practices, the program incorporates an audit component which Cecilie describes as an educational opportunity. "If there are gaps in our current production practices or what we are auditing, we don't fail; we simply receive a corrective action request which we are given time to address. Our auditors are producers themselves and trained to understand all production practices. They're there to help prove what we are doing right – which will help us when end users begin demanding sustainably sourced meat."

Stuart Holmen, of Paradise Valley Alberta, described his family's desire to leave their farm business and land and resources in better shape for future generations. With a primary focus on grains, Stuart has been working with Archer Daniels Midland to become certified through the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC). Consistent with Cecilie's experience, Stuart found that he was already doing many of the things he was now being asked to do under ISCC. For example, putting records he had already been keeping into the ISCC format was 'painless'. Similarly, the farm recently took part in a verification process which involved submitting information that had already been collected for the family's own purposes. Stuart concluded by acknowledging the value of ISCC participation in planning for the future of his farming operation.

William Van Tassel, of Lac-Saint-Jean Quebec, reflected on his participation in the province's Agri-Environmental Support Plan (EFP) and Agri-Environmental Fertilization Plan (PAEF). Under the EFP, agrologists assess a farm's agricultural and environmental practices and recommend changes to improve performance. The PAEF is a nutrient farm plan compulsory for cash crop farms of more than 15 acres. It contains fertilizer usage information for inclusion in the EFP (e.g., phosphorous and fertilizer usage, manure management). Data in the PAEF may also inform EFP action related to soil health and water conservation. Like the other panelists, William credited the EFP and PAEF with helping to improve his farm's recordkeeping and performance. He added that information generated by his farm is aggregated (protecting his privacy) and that any farm program must be user friendly.


Producer Readiness Survey Report

Colin Siren, Ipsos Reid's Vice President of Agriculture and Animal Health, presented the preliminary results of a producer survey administered under the Alberta Farm Sustainability Extension Working Group (AFSE) to gauge awareness of and the extent to which existing practices meet global sustainability indicators. Fielded via telephone during the summer of 2016, the survey reached 401 Alberta farmers representing various regions, ages and gross farm sales. Key topics include social license, soil management, fertilizer and nutrient management, chemical handling and storage, water management, biodiversity, health and safety, labour conditions and financial sustainability.

Overall survey findings revealed that:

  • Farmers are generally aware of, but feel they know little about, sustainability standards.
  • Farmers are balanced in their perceptions of standards, accounting for anticipated benefits and drawbacks (one drawback is not having enough information to comply with the standards).
  • The majority of farmers have adopted the best practices discussed in the survey report, with variations based on farm demographics and farmer values.

The full results of the Ipsos study will be released soon by AFSE.  Participants in the CRSC Roundtable meeting are encouraged to review the complete results, once published.


Sustainability Metrics Platform Project: Progress Report 

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Karen Churchill, Cereals Canada, updated members on key Sustainability Metrics Platform developments since the Spring Roundtable meeting.

Highlights included:
i) a preview of GHG emission and carbon sequestering data from the recently completed Regional Carbon Analysis Study (enhanced to incorporate fertilizer data supplied by Fertilizer Canada and other industry partners), which will be followed over the next three months by a Carbon Life-Cycle Assessment;
ii) an overview of key findings and information gaps identified as part of the recently completed Social Metrics Study;
iii) a status report on the Grower Survey, which, set to be administered in spring 2017, will verify practices and communicate sustainability across a statistically significant and geographically representative cross section of Canadian grain farmers; and
iv) a preview of a possible configuration of the future Sustainability Metrics Platform.

After addressing participant questions on the above activities, Karen noted that, in accordance with the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Agri-Marketing Program funding agreement, all Metrics Platform activities will be completed before the end of 2017.  


AgroEcosystem Project: Conservation Practitioners Workshop

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Paul Thoroughgood, Ducks Unlimited, updated members on activities undertaken as part of the AgroEcosystem Project. Key among these was a Conservation Practitioners Workshop led by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada. Attended by agriculture industry and conservation representatives, this unique forum led to: 
i) the development of a shared vision for the environmental pillar of the CRSC (see below);
ii) the creation of an effective platform for industry engagement and cooperation with environmental NGOs; and
iii) the identification of twelve 2026 outcomes, one of which called for the agricultural industry and environmental conservation groups to work together to develop solutions to existing and emerging issues that challenge the sustainability (economic, social, and environmental) of the landscape.

Paul and AgroEcosystems project co-chair Maria Trainer, CropLife Canada, plan to announce these developments at the 2016 GrowCanada Conference.

Vision for the Environmental Pillar of the CRSC

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Under the vision of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC), Canadian farmers meet the growing demand for increased production while conserving and restoring ecosystem health (soil, water, and wildlife) and managing climate risk for future generations.


Your CRSC: Where do we go from here?

The final section of the Fall Roundtable Meeting agenda was devoted to members and observers. During this session, moderated by Fran Burr, Executive Director for the CRSC, the attendees were asked to divide themselves into small groups, discuss three questions, and then report back to the full assembly. The questions, "What should the CRSC keep doing… stop doing…and start doing?" resulted in a rich list of recommendations.

In the "Keep Doing" category, the membership highly supported the work of the Sustainability Metrics Platform project and the Seeking Synergies network activities. Other mentions included focusing on communications as a means of engaging stakeholders and leveraging resources to name a few.

Regarding what the CRSC should "Stop Doing", although this question received the fewest responses, there were good suggestions made, such as 'stop trying to do it all' and avoiding the belief that 'one size fits all' in this space.

Perhaps most useful were the ideas for what to "Start Doing". There were suggestions around business planning and creating a business case for the CRSC going forward and declaring the 'problem statement'. Expanding membership with end users, ENGOs, and producer associations was recommended, along with clearer articulation of the value proposition for these categories of members. Actually, more effort on all aspects of communication was encouraged by participants, including increasing awareness, communicating how the organization is funded, and providing greater transparency on market influences – all coupled with a stronger sense of urgency.

Fortunately, some of the above items are captured in the CRSC's 2016 annual plan and future direction for 2017. But many of them are not and will need to be well-vetted with the CRSC Steering Committee to determine their applicability in the coming months.

Thank you to all those who openly and honestly shared their ideas about the future of the CRSC. We hope that over the coming fiscal year, you will see evidence that your voices were heard and will be acted upon.


Photos supplied courtesy of the Canola Council of Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, and Syngenta Canada.