Submitted by: Cathy Dibble, Thames Valley Regional Communication Coordinator

Sustainability has been a buzz word heard more and more frequently within agriculture over the last few years. What does it mean, and what does it mean for Canadian producers? At the OSCIA Annual Conference in February 2020, a panel of speakers addressed how demands for sustainability are changing business practices.

Nick Betts is the Director of the Americas for the SAI Platform (Sustainable Agriculture Initiative), which is a global initiative including 115 food and beverage companies, manufacturers and distributors. The SAI Platform encompasses benchmarking standards, company references and on-farm assessments in one common language, standardized across the globe. The SAI Platform provides accountability and transparency in the food system and consumer confidence, and quite often economic benefits increase as well. McDonald’s is paying premiums for beef in Western Canada, and retailers and processors such as McCain Foods and General Mills are paying premiums for certain products too.

Nick noted that Ontario agriculture currently has very good standards in place, our regulations, protocols and record keeping standards in the majority of commodities already bring us to a higher level. Benchmarking projects such as the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) give small to medium sized producers a good basis to start with. Sustainability standards reinforce the good things we are already doing, and society and value chains want to know more about what we do and how we do it.

Jaclyn Horenberg, of Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) talked about the Verified Beef Program which gives producers the opportunity to showcase their commitment to food safety, animal care, disease prevention and environmental stewardship practices, “Building Trust Through Sustainable Beef Production”.

Paul Hoekstra of Syngenta spoke of his company’s efforts to increase sustainability within Canadian Agriculture, by committing to $2 billion over five years towards agriculture innovations and technological breakthroughs. Syngenta is investing in research and innovation where it matters most – with producers, with a heavy focus on reducing residues in soil and crops.

Emily McDonald from Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) highlighted the Canadian dairy industry’s ProAction program, focusing on six pillars including milk quality, food safety, animal care, livestock traceability, biosecurity, and environmental best practices. This initiative helps dairy farmers demonstrate to consumers how they ensure milk quality and safety, and producer’s conscientious stewardship of their animals and the environment. Ontario’s EFP Program is a key component for this.

Rob Wallbridge, a director with the Organic Council of Ontario, talked about the desire to move beyond the niche to develop more sustainably inclusive food systems globally, encompassing biodiversity, land use, energy use and efficiency, as well as economics. The Canadian Organic Growers association has always advocated sustainability and are now encouraging regenerative and resilient food and farming systems across Canada through their newly revised mission statement.

The Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative has been established here at home, with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture taking a lead role in industry engagement, governance and management, platform development and training, and communications. This project is funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership), a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative in efforts to streamline requirements and reduce duplication of sustainability efforts.  Find out more at: www.agrifoodsustainability.ca

Nick Betts summed it up as this: Agriculture provides 25 percent of the world’s population with earning income, uses 50 percent of the world’s habitable land and 66 percent of the planet’s fresh water. Agriculture needs to be sustainable for today and future generations. Using sustainable agricultural practices reinforces the things we are doing and helps to tell our story better.

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