Canadian Field Print Calculator Provides Sustainability Assessment for Farmers (PCN Winter 2017) JAN 4 2017 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News
This article appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Pulse Crop News.
Almost every week, a food company or retailer makes an announcement about the food they are selling to consumers. Many of these announcements focus on the sustainability of their product supply. Unilever has announced that 100 per cent of their agricultural raw materials – which include soybean and canola oils, durum wheat, mustard and pulses from Canada – will be sustainably sourced by 2020. General Mills will source 100 per cent of 10 key ingredients – crops like oats, wheat and corn – by 2020.
“These goals are difficult enough to achieve on their own, but what makes the challenge even more daunting is that companies each have their own strategies to sustainability,” said Denis Tremorin, Director of Sustainability with Pulse Canada.
“The Canadian agricultural industry needs to help ensure that the food industry approaches sustainability with a harmonized approach,” said Tremorin, who has taken a lead role in the Canadian Field Print Initiative. “And that’s where the Canadian Field Print Initiative comes in.”
Since 2009, Pulse Canada has been working with a number of Canadian agricultural associations, agricultural companies and food companies on the Canadian Field Print Initiative (CFPI) to measure the environmental impacts of crop production at national, regional and farm levels.
In 2014, Pulse Canada began leading this charge to develop sustainability metrics for the Canadian cereal, oilseed and pulse sectors. Funding partners include Pulse Canada, Canadian Canola Growers Association, CropLife Canada, Fertilizer Canada, Grain Farmers of Ontario, and the work is focused on three areas:
- The development of a survey on fertilizer management in Canada;
- The development of methodologies to measure environmental impacts of crop production; and
- The development of a farm-focused Canadian Field Print Calculator.
The Canadian Field Print Calculator is an easy-to-use, farm-level measurement tool that allows growers to confidentially assess and document their environmental performance against national and regional benchmarks using their own field data. Farmers put basic information about their farming practices, soils and climate into an Excel tool. This then provides them with their crop’s estimated sustainability based on four indicators:
- Land Use Efficiency
- Energy Use
- Climate Impact
- Soil Erosion Risk
“While many food companies’ sustainability programs have a broad sustainability focus – on economic, social and environmental factors – the calculator is designed to focus on environmental outcomes at the farm and field level,” Tremorin said. “The companies and associations of this work believe that there is a need to focus sustainable agriculture activities on ‘measuring what matters’.”
In a country like Canada, this means a focus on environmental outcomes as opposed to regions of South America, Africa or Asia, where there may be more need to focus on social (do children go to school?) and economic outcomes (are farmers paid a fair price?).
Since 2012, the calculator has been piloted on 120,000 acres from 500 Western Canadian fields, and is now being used in regional pilot projects from Alberta to Ontario. Pilot projects are coordinated by grower organizations, individual companies and other Canadian Field Print Initiative participants. They allow growers to compare their results anonymously with other farms in their region. Information is shared with participating farmers through workshops highlighting how best management practices lead to better profitability and better environmental outcomes.
One of the goals is to demonstrate how tools like the Canadian Field Print Calculator can be used in ways that provide value to all participants – growers, food companies and everyone in between.
Markus Weber works for Edmonton-based Serecon, the company compiling and analyzing the data collected for the sustainability pilot projects run through the Canadian Field Print Calculator. Serecon also acts as secretariat for the initiative.
He explains how pilot projects have been conducted — where farmers willingly share soil data, fuel use, and other factors that is compared against output (in kilograms of crop) to measure climate impact, for example. That information is pooled and presented back to the group as an anonymous ranking of how farmers performed against others in the group. But it’s not about competing to be the best or vilifying the worst: the benchmarking is done, first and foremost, to learn from each other.
“We identify the outliers, those who are emitting far less GHG per kg of production for example, and then try and figure out how those farmers are achieving that,” Weber explained.
By digging deeper on practices that result in lower emissions/kg of peas produced, for example, farmers in the pilot project can work towards continuous improvement of their own practices.
Participating in the benchmarking is not a requisite to doing business with General Mills at this time. “There’s no carrot and no stick at this point,” Weber said. “Instead, this is about collecting data and learning from your peer group.”
There are plans to expand the tool for use by more companies, but also through adding more sustainability metrics, such as water quality and biodiversity indicators.
Meanwhile, two pilot projects in Eastern Manitoba and Melfort, SK are being driven by General Mills and their sustainable sourcing program for Canadian oats. The winter of 2015-16, saw 25 farmers participate in these pilot projects, working directly with Paterson Grain, North American Food ingredients and AgriTrend.
The pilot project involved several points of contact with farmers, including field visits from General Mills, kick-off meetings to inform farmers of the project, wrap-up meetings to present results back to farmers and to create a discussion, and finally an invitation by General Mills to tour the Cheerios plant near Minneapolis. These pilot projects will expand in terms of the number of growers, industry participants and geographic scope next year.
General Mills is also integrating additional sourcing strategies into this pilot project, in particular their gluten-free strategy for oat sourcing. Please read this blog for more information on General Mills work in this area.
The initial pilot projects of the Canadian Field Print Calculator demonstrate that it is a tool that is easy for a farmer to use, and does not create a heavy burden of work. In addition, the pilot projects demonstrate that the Canadian agricultural industry can provide sustainability information to the marketplace in a way that provides value to all participants in the supply chain. For more information on the Canadian Field Print Calculator, please visit www.fieldprint.ca.