Sustainability
The Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) celebrates Canada’s first national Agriculture Day (February 16th, 2017) with the launch of its Better Seed, Better Life program.

Seed is the start of it all, the entire agriculture and agri-food value chain. Through Better Seed, Better Life, CSTA plans to engage with Canadians on the role of seed as the foundation for the foods and drinks we enjoy, the clothes we wear and the fuel in our cars. This program is based on materials created by the American Seed Trade Association and is a collaborative effort between the two associations. 

CSTA’s Better Seed, Better Life program starts with the launch of the fact sheet, “The A to Z of Garden Seeds.” This is the first of a series of fact sheets to be released over the next months, connecting the seeds produced by CSTA members and the crops grown from those seeds to the products used in everyday life. The fact sheets are available at cdnseed.org. Profiles of CSTA members and a video will be added over the year to complement the fact sheets.
Published in Seeding/Planting

While drones have a foothold in the game of precision agriculture, some researchers are toying with the idea of using them as pollinators as well. 

Researchers ordered a small drone online and souped it up with a strip of fuzz made from a horsehair paintbrush covered in a sticky gel. The device is about the size of a hummingbird, and has four spinning blades to keep it soaring. With enough practice, the scientists were able to maneuver the remote-controlled bot so that only the bristles, and not the bulky body or blades, brushed gently against a flower’s stamen to collect pollen – in this case, a wild lily (Lilium japonicum). To ensure the hairs collect pollen efficiently, the researchers covered them with ionic liquid gel (ILG), a sticky substance with a long-lasting “lift-and-stick-again” adhesive quality – perfect for taking pollen from one flower to the next. What’s more, the ILG mixture has another quality: When light hits it, it blends in with the color of its surroundings, potentially camouflaging the bot from would-be predators. | READ MORE

When farmers spray their fields with pesticides or other treatments, only two per cent of the spray sticks to the plants. A significant portion of it typically bounces right off the plants, lands on the ground, and becomes part of the runoff that flows to streams and rivers, often causing serious pollution. But a team of MIT researchers aims to fix that.

By using a clever combination of two inexpensive additives to the spray, the researchers found they can drastically cut down on the amount of liquid that bounces off. The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications, in a paper by associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi, graduate student Maher Damak, research scientist Seyed Reza Mahmoudi, and former postdoc Md Nasim Hyder.

Previous attempts to reduce this droplet bounce rate have relied on additives such as surfactants, soaplike chemicals that reduce the surface tension of the droplets and cause them to spread more. But tests have shown that this provides only a small improvement; the speedy droplets bounce off while the surface tension is still changing, and the surfactants cause the spray to form smaller droplets that are more easily blown away. | READ MORE
Published in Corporate News
Soil microbes provide billions and billions of teeny helping hands to your crops. Those helping hands are key to sustainable, profitable crop production. Crop growers can choose practices that promote healthy soil microbial communities, and researchers like Bobbi Helgason are developing ways to further enhance agriculture’s ability to tap into the remarkable capacity contained in soil microbial life.
Published in Soil
Agriculture and conservation groups from across Canada have unveiled a plan to create a sustainable future for the country’s agri-environmental landscape.
Published in Corporate News
Members of the Canadian 4R Research Network gathered in Ottawa on Dec. 1 to share important agronomic data that may assist the federal government in meeting sustainable development goals and greenhouse gas mitigation targets.
Published in Soil
Canada's carbon price may weaken the farm sector in one of the world's biggest grain-shipping countries, raising farmers' costs and discouraging investment in fertilizer production, industry groups say. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Published in Business Management
Improving fertilizer use efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon footprints, thereby improving sustainability is becoming increasingly important to the agriculture industry and its markets. For agriculture, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a very powerful GHG, so reducing losses and intensity not only improves the GHG footprint of cropping systems, but also benefits growers directly by improving economics and efficiency.
Sept. 15, 2016 - This summer’s drought crisis and how it’s having a serious affect on crop yields was the focus of a round-table discussion between local farmers and Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs last week.

Agriculture minister, Jeff Leal, met with about 30 farmers at Reynolds Bros. Farms in Prince Edward County for a discussion arranged by Mayor Robert Quaiff, to hear firsthand how 60 days without solid rainfall is producing burnt and premature crops forcing them to again seek claims from the province’s insurance program as many did during severe drought conditions in 2012. | READ MORE.
Published in Soil
August 12, 2016 - New-Life Mills, the animal feed division of Parrish & Heimbecker, Limited and P&H Eastern Grain Division have pooled resources to launch the new "Science of Sustainable Agriculture Expo" at this year’s Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ont., which is being held from Sept. 13th-15th, 2016.

 “It’s amazing how nearly every aspect of what we do in agriculture is connected on some level. We are among the most responsible of industries when it comes to ensuring nothing goes to waste,” says Sherry Slejska, marketing communications specialist, with New-Life Mills.

The exhibit will explore the elaborate connectedness of today’s agricultural world with sustainability in the forefront. The display at the Farm Show will be both educational for the inexperienced and eye-opening for the savvy farmer. 

“To my knowledge, this will be the largest initiative P&H has ever started to show the community how deeply involved we are in helping them produce crops, market crops, transport crops and feed livestock through a spider web of interactions between Ontario’s livestock and cash crop growers as well as many other commercial players," says Jeff Jaques, of Parrish & Heimbecker. "We are involved in almost every step from fertilizing the crop to grinding it into flour and opening up their marketing opportunities to the world. Most farmers don’t realize that."
Published in Corporate News
July 7, 2016 - Ontario represents over 12 million acres of Canada's most viable and productive farmland and Ontario's agriculture industry has been a leader in nutrient management planning for crop production using 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Source at the Right Rate, Right Time, and Right Place) as a method to improve the health of Ontario's watersheds.

To date, more than 113,000 acres of farmland in Ontario can be attributed to 4R Nutrient Stewardship, with roughly 67 per cent of farms applied some form of this nutrient planning and management method. 

"Introducing subtle changes to the way a crop is fertilized using 4R Nutrient Stewardship can not only produce higher yields, but also takes measurable steps to benefit Ontario watersheds, including the great lakes," says Henry Denotter, an Ontario 4R demonstration farm participant.

As the leading international standard for on-farm nutrient application, farmers and agri-retailers alike are embracing 4R Nutrient Stewardship.

"Ontario's agri-retailers are committed to sustainable agriculture.  4R Nutrient Stewardship allows agri-retailers to adopt a science-based framework that can benefit both the environment and crop production systems," says Dave Buttenham, CEO of the Ontario Agri Business Association (OABA). "This practical tool considers not only the agronomic aspects of soil and crop nutrition but also helps to accomplish enhanced farm profitability and accountability." 

As a result of the Ontario Memorandum of Cooperation, formalized in 2015 the province has:

  • Successfully implemented 20 4R demonstration farms, with four currently in practice
  • Reached more than 115 Ontario growers through 4R Nutrient Stewardship workshops
  • Enrolled 21 agri-retailers in OABA's voluntary 4R "Designated Acres" pilot program; and
  • Launched the Ontario Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) 4R Nutrient Management Specialty Certification (65 of Ontario's CCAs are registered to write the certification exam in August 2016)
"The strength of this relationship lies in the shared-value partnership approach. Collectively, each organization brings expertise which helps the province of Ontario meet its environmental goals while enhancing the economic benefits for farmers in these highly productive farming zones. Together, we are a part of the solution," says Garth Whyte, president & CEO of Fertilizer Canada.

Ontario has embraced 4R Nutrient Stewardship as a valuable tool for meeting agricultural and environmental goals and is recognized as a part of the Ontario Government's strategy to restore, protect and conserve water quality and ecosystem health. 

"Sustainable water quality and land use are a priority for Ontarians," says Jeff Leal, Ontario's agriculture minister. "The agriculture industry understands how important a healthy Great Lakes system is to maintain agriculture now and in the future. The Government of Ontario has embraced 4R Nutrient Stewardship as a tool to support the province's agricultural and environmental goals. This support is amplified by partners in the agriculture industry, who have undertaken efforts to adopt and promote 4R Nutrient Stewardship in Ontario."

Progress on 4R Nutrient Stewardship in Ontario will be shared at the upcoming 4R Demonstration Tour Field Days departing from Chatham, Ont. on July 27th and July 28th 2016. For more information about the tour days in Ontario and about implementing 4R Nutrient Stewardship in Ontario, visit fertilizercanada.ca.
Published in Corporate News
June 24, 2016 - In the UK, the British people voted to exit the European Union in a historic vote which was announced in the early Friday hours. Following the vote, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he would resign, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “highly likely” that the SNP would seek a referendum on leaving the United Kingdom after Scotland voted strongly to “Remain”.

UK markets were roiling this morning, with the pound off more than 10% initially to its lowest point against the US dollar since 1985, while the FTSE 100 index took a huge hit in early trading before trimming losses to the 8 per cent mark. German Chancellor Angela Merkel termed the result a “terrible disappointment” and called for a meeting with the heads of the French and Italian governments on Monday to discuss next steps. | Read more.
Published in Corporate News

Harvest weed seed control is a management practice that has seen great success in Australia. In this week’s exclusive video from the 2016 Herbicide Resistance Summit, Breanne Tidemann and Michael Walsh discuss the potential for adapting this strategy to Canada, and the benefits and challenges of harvest weed seed control.

April 5, 2016, Ontario – The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario is urging farmers to plant more variety of crops, including wheat, for the health of their soil. | READ MORE

Published in Cereals

March 11, 2016, Cambridge, Ont. – Lystek International, a Canadian biofertilizer producer, has released a first round of in-depth third-party field data derived from crop trials completed during the 2015 growing year in Ontario.

In 2015, Lystek participated with the Georgian Central Soil and Crop Improvement Association in a trial comparing the use of typical application rates of commercial fertilizer with the LysteGro biofertilizer at five field locations. The trials were conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and each treatment was replicated three times at each location. On average, the LysteGro treatments increased yield by 16.5 bushels per acre in comparison to the commercial fertilizer treatments, according to a press release from Lystek. Other tests conducted during the trial, such as grain protein content and stalk nitrate tests, showed that the LysteGro treatments produced superior results for lower costs, compared to commercial fertilizer.

The company says the LysteGro product offers a unique combination of balanced nutrients, ideal for crop production as well as organic matter, which help to improve soil health over the long term. In addition to providing nutrient concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium at levels which meet crop demands, LysteGro also provides a suite of micronutrients, including sulphur, magnesium, calcium and zinc.

Full results from the 2015 trials can be found here.

Lystek will continue trials with OMAFRA in 2016, investigating applying the material side dressed into established corn as well as with cover crop following wheat harvest.

August 20, 2015 - A Northumberland County farmer is converting a former cash crop farm back to pasture and
grassland. Not only is this helping him grow his grass-fed beef herd, but it’s also creating habitat for at risk
wildlife species in the area.

Jon Curran has been on his 100 acre farm near Roseneath for about three years and this past year was able to access cost-share funding through the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) to install cross fencing and a remote watering system to begin rotationally grazing his cattle.

“I have Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark birds on my farm, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has identified other species at risk too, including Snapping and Northern Map Turtles and Eastern Hognose [Snakes] and Milksnakes,” says Curran.

The moveable fencing means he can keep his cattle away from grassland bird nesting areas. His longer-term goal is to graze cattle as long as possible instead of cutting forage, which will benefit the at-risk birds as well.

“I will leave nest areas until I think the birds are no longer vulnerable and I can then graze those areas instead of using mechanized harvest. Grazing is far less invasive than machinery if done properly,” he explains. Rotational grazing is also helping him better manage manure and his pastures’ productivity. The temporary fences divide up the pastures to extend the grazing season, letting the cattle evenly distribute their manure on the fields and resulting in less manure to deal with in the barn yard.

Curran’s watering system has allowed him to keep his livestock out of the spring-fed creek and pond at the back of his property, protecting the wetland in the area and ensuring his cattle have access to water regardless of where they are on the farm.

Even before he became aware of the SARFIP cost-share opportunity, Curran had developed a plan for implementing rotational grazing for his herd of Red Devon cattle, a heritage breed that he’s raising to meet growing consumer demand for grass-fed beef.

“Sustainability, healthy land, and wildlife are things I’ve always been passionate about. I was quite pleased to get the SARFIP funding and because I’ve been able to get some assistance, I can now move forward much quicker,” he says. “I can still do a lot more on my farm and this will let me move onto my next project.”

SARFIP is available for the 2015 season (April 1, 2015 – December 15, 2015) to farmers wishing to implement best management practices that help protect essential habitats of species at risk located on-farm. The range of possible activities under the program applies to croplands, grasslands, stream banks, shorelines, wetlands, and woodlands.

In order to qualify for cost-share funding of approved project costs, eligible Ontario farm businesses have to have completed a third or fourth edition Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) workshop and an Action Plan verified by OSCIA. They must also have a plan to implement at least one of the eligible best management practices from the SARFIP 2015 Brochure that relates directly to an action identified in their EFP action plan. The SARFIP 2015 Brochure and forms are available on the SARFIP page of the OSCIA website, alongside resources to help farmers and agricultural landowners apply for funding.

SARFIP is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry through the Species At Risk Stewardship Fund, and the Government of Canada through the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species At Risk.More information about SARFIP is available at www.ontariosoilcrop.org.

SARFIP is linked to the Canada-Ontario EFP that is supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. OSCIA delivers the programs to agricultural producers.

Published in Corporate News

Long-term tillage and rotation plots at Ridgetown, Ont.     Photo by Adam Hayes, OMAFRA.

It’s no secret agricultural practices have changed over the years. Producers have moved away from livestock-based operations with perennial crops. They’ve put fewer crops into rotation and have adopted intensive tillage practices. And all this has taken its toll on soil health.

Adam Hayes, a soil management specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in Ridgetown, Ont. says the change in cropping has greatly reduced organic matter levels in soil, impacting the physical and biological aspects of soil health, and even the chemical aspect, to some extent.

“The intensive tillage and lack of organic materials returned to the soil limits the amount of food available for soil life,” he says. “An active biological component of the soil breaks down residues and other organic materials contributing to the nutrient and carbon cycles.

“Healthy soil life can help to better utilize nutrients in the soil, potentially reducing fertilizer requirements.”

When Hayes and his colleague Anne Verhallen, soil management specialist with OMAFRA, gave a presentation on soil health at this year’s Southwest Agricultural Conference, they demonstrated the impact of modern agricultural practices with a show, rather than tell, demonstration.

Using soil samples from two fields – one long-term, no-till, well-managed field, and one conventionally tilled with a poor crop rotation – they placed the soil on mesh, then poured water on the samples to emulate rain.

“The conventional soil blew apart, while the other held together better,” Hayes says, explaining that loss of organic matter and tillage have a big impact on the physical characteristics of soil.

“The result is soil which has poor aggregate stability and poor soil structure.”

Soil with poor aggregate stability breaks down into individual soil particles that are more prone to wind and water erosion. They are also prone to forming a crust on the soil, which impedes water movement into the soil and can cause crop emergence problems.

“Poor soil structure impedes water and air movement into the soil, and makes it difficult for roots to move down through the soil,” Hayes adds.

Producers can keep their soil full of life and well-structured with some key management practices, namely crop rotation, utilizing cover crops, reducing tillage and adding organic materials to the soil. The use of soil testing and good nutrient management complete the package.

Crop rotation
Long-term tillage and rotation research conducted over 20 years at the University of Guelph using data from 2009 to 2013 concluded adding winter wheat to the rotation increases corn and soybean yields by at least 10 per cent, going from 15 to 20 bushels per acre for corn and four to eight bushels per acre for soybeans. Putting red clover in the winter wheat resulted in another eight bushels per acre to corn yields.
“A corn-soybean crop rotation has the same or poorer soil health, and sometimes yields, as does a continuous corn or soybean cropping system,” Hayes says. “Adding a perennial to the rotation further improves crop yields.”

A crop rotation of three or more crops will increase soil organic matter. The greatest increase happens when perennials are included.

Cover crops
Cover crops, either seeded or volunteer, offer a number of benefits including providing nitrogen (N) for the following crop, efficient capture and recycling of nutrients, and better soil structure for a larger root system.

Cover crops also provide protection from erosion losses. For example, in the case of wind erosion, it is estimated soil blown from a field may contain 10 to 12 times more organic matter and phosphates than the heavier particles left behind.

Tillage
Reducing tillage to no-till is the best practice for soil health because it can increase soil organic matter in some cases. “No-till provides a favourable environment for mycorrhizal fungi which aid the root in the uptake of phosphorus,” Hayes explains. “The maximum economic rate of N for no-till in long-term rotation plots at Ridgetown are much less than for conventional-tilled soil.”
Hayes adds that minimum tillage is a big improvement over conventional tillage as long as the number of passes and depth of tillage is kept to a minimum. “Tillage oxidizes organic matter so less disturbance reduces the loss,” he explains. “Reduced tillage will not break down aggregates and soil structure as much.”

Organic material
Adding organic material to the soil is the fastest way to increase soil organic matter. It can be in the form of manure, compost, biosolids, digestate and other sources.

Research shows that adding 75 tonnes per hectare of compost to a Brookston clay soil increased soil organic carbon from two to three per cent. “Soil organic matter is made up of about 40 per cent organic carbon,” Hayes explains. “That level of carbon was still there after five years.”

In other research and working with an Ontario farmer, Hayes added 25 tonnes per hectare of cattle manure to a field site every other year over an eight-year period in a corn-soybean rotation. Results show corn yields from four harvests increased, on average, by 10 bushels per acre.

Implementing just one of these management practices will make a difference to the soil. Using two of them will provide a greater benefit. But putting them all into play will make soil the most productive and resilient.

Published in Soil

Alberta producer groups are trying out several sustainability standards. Photo courtesy of Canola Council of Canada.

As the demand for sustainably produced foods increases, crop growers will be asked more often to participate in programs that measure the sustainability of their production systems. Canadian initiatives are underway to help ensure these programs work for the marketplace and for growers.

For growers, potential benefits from participating in sustainability measurement programs include maintaining market access, maintaining public trust in agriculture and further enhancing the sustainability of their operations. One concern is the need to do extra paperwork for no extra dollars, when participating in these programs becomes simply a matter of doing business. A related concern is, given the many different programs nationally and internationally, growers might have to meet different requirements for different crops and different markets. Another worry is some programs might have unrealistic requirements for production practices.

According to Karla Bergstrom, policy analyst with the Alberta Canola Producers Commission (ACPC), market access is a key issue. “Two-thirds of the world’s food production is being purchased by multinational companies such as Nestle, PepsiCo, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Unilever and others. They are all working on sustainability platforms and they are looking at having their entire supply chains having sustainability standards in place. Some are working towards verifying their sustainable sourcing by 2016 or 2020,” she says. “Agricultural producers are one of largest suppliers within their supply chains, so these companies need to have their producers on board if they are going with sustainable sourcing.”

Mark Brock, co-chair of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops and chairman of Grain Farmers of Ontario, adds: “Initially there might be potential for a low-level premium, but in the long term, participating in some form of sustainability program is going to be a matter of maintaining existing markets, especially with the European Union.”

Bergstrom points to the value of participating in such programs as a way for growers to improve transparency and maintain the public’s trust. “Farmers are very highly trusted individuals within our society, but some of their farming practices are becoming more scrutinized by consumers,” she says.

“We want our farmers to be able to continue operating with minimal restrictions and regulations. So the concept of sustainability needs to be a priority for farmers to make sure they are maintaining public trust. Because they are good stewards of the land, they are doing a number of things right, and because the farming population is so much smaller than the consumer population, we need to make sure that message is conveyed so farmers can continue to produce the high quality, safe food they have been producing for a long time.”

Brock notes the Canadian crop industry already has many of the pieces in place to meet the standards in various programs for social, environmental and economic sustainability. “For us, social sustainability isn’t too hard to accomplish because we have things like minimum wage standards, health and safety standards, and so on. With environmental sustainability, we’re pretty close to checking all the boxes too. We have to make sure [the program requirements] don’t put us economically at risk as producers, so that is something we keep in mind during discussions around these programs.”

Developing commonality
One concern for crop growers is who decides what these programs require, the validity of them and what is really involved from a producer’s standpoint. “That is why organizations like Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops are taking a proactive approach,” Brock says. “We want to be engaged with these companies and importers so we can have some influence on what they deem as a worthy sustainability program that they feel comfortable taking back to their consumers, so the program won’t be horribly onerous for our producers.”

Sustainability measurement is a key focus of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC). Formed in 2014, this multi-stakeholder initiative includes commodity groups, agricultural input associations, and companies like Cargill and McDonald’s.

According to Brock, the CRSC has a two-pronged approach to sustainability metrics. “One approach is to do some research and fact finding to identify the gaps right now in some of these programs that we’ve been looking at from a Canadian standpoint, gathering ideas around regional differences, and seeing what more work needs to be done. The other approach is to communicate [about sustainable crop production] (a) to farmers, (b) to the value chain, and (c) to retailers, exporters and importers who are looking to source sustainably grown products.”

Part of the challenge for the CRSC, and for individual crop commodity groups, is evaluating the many different sustainability programs, which range from certification of individual growers to determining sustainability indicators on a regional basis.

“It seems lie every quarter there’s a new sustainability program popping up that someone is working on,” Brock says. “Long term, it would be nice if we can get to a Canadian branding of sustainability, and maybe a single program – for instance, if 85 per cent of the needs for a sustainability program could be met with a base program, and perhaps a few additional paperwork items for different crops to address some specific needs. I’m not sure if we can achieve that [given the many different crops and the regional differences across Canada], but it would be good to work towards something like that.”

The CRSC provides a forum for sharing results of activities across the country to assess, develop and implement sustainability platforms. Various efforts are underway already. For instance, a multiagency initiative is developing the Canadian Field Print Calculator; Alberta grower groups are assessing five platforms in the Alberta Crop Sustainability Pilot Project; the Canadian canola industry uses the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification system for canola going into the European biodiesel market; and Grain Farmers of Ontario is leading the Canadian version of the Round Table on Responsible Soy’s certification system because of a European market for sustainably grown soybeans. In addition, the CRSC, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and other stakeholders have a joint pilot project to develop an approach for identifying sustainably grown feed barley for use in sustainably grown beef production.

Comparing programs
“The purpose of the Alberta Crop Sustainability Pilot Project is to get a really good understanding of the readiness of our producers to incorporate some of these sustainability standards,” Bergstrom says. “Are we ready now? Are there areas that we need to improve on? And how do our farmers rank internationally?”

The Alberta Wheat Commission and Alberta Barley initiated the project, and they brought the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission and ACPC on board. The four commissions are working on the project with Control Union, an international certifying auditor.

They are comparing four international platforms as well as the Canadian Field Print Calculator. “Each platform has slightly different questions and asks for different things. That helps us get a good scope of all of the different types of questions producers could be asked to provide information for,” she notes. “The questions relate to environmental, social, food safety, farm safety and ethical choices on their farms.”

About 50 members from the four commissions, including many directors, are taking part. “For example, all 12 of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission’s directors are taking part,” Bergstrom says. “We wanted to have our directors involved so they can discuss how the whole process went and whether there is an ability to influence some of the policy around these sustainability measures.”

Currently, the participants are completing the necessary paperwork and Control Union’s auditors will be visiting their farms for the certification needed in the international programs. Then the commissions will discuss the results, report their findings to their members and the CRSC, and consider their next steps.

 

Improving on-farm efficiency

by Carolyn King

The initiative to develop the Canadian Field Print Calculator is another effort that shares its findings through the CRSC. The calculator is an Excel-based tool to measure the environmental footprint of crop operations. Rather than providing a certification system for individual growers, it calculates regional indicators.

Pulse Canada is managing the development of the calculator and other projects of the Canadian Field Print Initiative, which has a membership that includes producer groups, crop input associations, crop consultant agencies, retail associations, conservation agencies and companies like General Mills Inc. The members are working with Serecon, a consulting firm.

According to Denis Tremorin, director of sustainability at Pulse Canada, the calculator emulates work in the U.S. called Field to Market. “ Our contact with General Mills is the chair of that organization, which includes crop input providers, fertilizer associations, food companies, retailers, restaurant chains. They have a Fieldprint Calculator and they’ve created an indicators report, like we have. They started in 2009, and we started in 2011.”  Tremorin has made presentations to Field to Market about the Canadian initiative, and some of the other agencies involved in the U.S. group have expressed an interest in also being a part of the Canadian initiative.

The initial version of the Canadian Field Print Calculator, created in 2012, is for pea, oat, spring wheat and canola crops grown in Western Canada; pilot testing over the last two years has helped refine the tool and build data for regional comparisons.

“We are currently creating our 2.0 version of the calculator. We’re including lentils, durum wheat, winter wheat, flax and soybeans in the west, and we’re expanding into Ontario for corn, soy and wheat,”  Tremorin notes. Eventually the initiative aims to have a national calculator.

According to Tremorin, the calculator has two key purposes. One is to provide data on sustainability indicators requested by the marketplace including: greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, energy use, land use efficiency (related to crop yield) and soil organic carbon levels. The initiative is now developing a water quality metric for Ontario.

The other purpose is to provide data to help growers improve their on-farm efficiency. “As a group of people working on this calculator, we can’t ensure a premium [for growers who use the calculator]; that is up to the market to decide,” he says. “But we can develop a tool that shows value for the grower.” So the calculator compares the grower’s data with aggregated data from other farms (see diagram), and it expresses the grower’s own data in useful ways, like breaking down the energy use data by operation to show which operations use the most fuel.

The calculator asks growers to provide each field’s legal land location (which the calculator uses to determine soil and climate information), crop yield, fertilizer rates and fuel use in all equipment operations, such as seeding, tilling, spraying and harvesting.

“We’re trying to get the information in a way that is as easy as possible for the grower,” Tremorin says. “And we’re giving alternatives so if the grower doesn’t have the information there’s a good backup source of information. For instance, if you don’t know your fuel use, you can provide the horsepower of your unit and the amount of hours you spent in the field, and then the tool calculates the fuel use.”

As well, the initiative is working with companies like Farmers Edge and Agri-Trend to integrate the calculator into their software. Tremorin explains, “For example, over half of the data that our tool asks for is already being supplied within the system that Farmers Edge uses with farms. If we integrate the calculator into their system, a grower working with that company wouldn’t have to input the information twice.”

For growers with concerns that data from the calculator might be used to force them to follow particular farming practices, Tremorin explains the calculator preserves the privacy of participating growers through two approaches.

First of all, the calculator provides the marketplace with the aggregated data of many growers, not the data of individual growers. He explains that companies like General Mills want two types of data. “They want the averaged data – so, wheat from this region has an average of this number. And they want the distribution of the data – so how are the best performing producers different from the average or below-average producers, and why? That information allows the companies to make decisions on how they want to act within the supply chain.”

In addition, the calculator is outcome-focused, not practice-based. Tremorin says, “I think everybody in the supply chain can agree we want to continually move towards a system that is more efficient and more productive. That aligns with the goals of this calculator.”

Growers who want to use the calculator can access it at www.fieldprint.ca.

 

Published in Seeding/Planting

Ontario farmers worry they will be at a competitive disadvantage once the province adopts strict new limits on a controversial pesticide.

Representatives of the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) recently walked out of negotiations with the province after Environment Minister Glen Murray signalled his intention to drastically reduce the use of neonicotinoids, or neonics.

READ MORE.

 

Published in Corporate News

May 6, 2015 - In a release issued today, Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) claims that recent comments made by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, prove further that the rush to impose a near-ban on neonicotinoid treated seed is part of a broader strategy to restrict modern farming practices in Ontario.

As part of the proposed regulation, treated seed will be defined as a new class of pesticide, Class 12.

In an interview with the Ontario Beekeepers Association, Minister Glen Murray was quoted as saying, "This new Class 12 category is intended to deal with the family of neonicotinoids, and as it grows we can actually quickly move others in there."

The release also says that at a recent Organic Council of Ontario meeting, Murray made comments that suggest he intends to go after other pesticide use and promoted organic farming as one way to reduce climate change.

GFO claims that the Minister is using the veil of bee health to push his agenda.

The 2014 Annual Report from the Province's Apiarist notes that, following the action taken by the federal government through the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), Ontario's grain farmers were able to contribute to a 70 per cent decrease in in-season bee mortality incidents during the planting season in May 2014.

The same study lists nine factors involved in bee health issues across the province, with weather and starvation named the top two.

Ontario's Apiarist is calling for extensive research in Ontario to better understand what is happening to honey bees in the province, advice GFO says Murray seems to reject.  

"It is stunning that the government has provincial, evidence-based information readily available to them that demonstrates that the proposed neonicotinoid ban will do little to help pollinators, yet Glen Murray continues to push these regulations as a solution to bee health," says Barry Senft, CEO of GFO. "There's no reason to believe the Minister can be this misinformed by accident – he isn't interested in the reality and impacts of these regulations, but rather a broader agenda on modern agriculture."

Grain Farmers of Ontario says it is looking to Premier Kathleen Wynne to rein-in the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, recognizing the pace and force with which these regulations are being imposed is irresponsible and the Minister has openly expressed that he has another agenda at play.

Published in Corporate News
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