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SUSTAINABLE FOOD: Canadian Agriculture is Ready

Pepsico, General Mills, Nestlé, Unilever, Mars, Kraft, Coca Cola, Kelloggs. Some of the biggest food companies in the world are setting their sights on sustainable agriculture. Consider this:

  • Unilever has committed to sustainably source 100% of its agricultural raw materials by 2020, including canola and soybean oils.
  • Wal-Mart also plans to buy 70% of product sold in North America from organizations that utilize their “Sustainability Index”.

Canadian agriculture is ready to meet the growing need for information about sustainable food production. Canadian farmers have adopted practices that improve the sustainability of their farms and have the data to quantify the impact of these changes to production practices. Crop rotations with pulses, conservation tillage and fertilizer management technologies are some of practices in place on Canadian farms that improve key sustainability measurements. Pulse Canada is working to make sure the Canadian agricultural industry has the tools and that food companies have the information that is required.

Since late 2010, Pulse Canada has been working with other Canadian agricultural associations, non-government associations and food companies to develop sustainability indicators and on-farm calculators for Canadian crop production. In December of 2011, Pulse Canada led the development of a report, Application of Sustainable Agriculture Metrics to Selected Western Canadian Field Crops ( Modeled on work that had previously been conducted in the US by Field to Market, this report demonstrated that over 20 years, the production of eight Western Canadian crops has improved in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, soil erosion and land use efficiency.

During the summer of 2012, Pulse Canada initiated a project with General Mills, the Canadian Canola Growers Association, CropLife Canada, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Prairie Oat Growers Association to develop a Canadian On-Farm Sustainability Calculator for crop production. This calculator was launched in January of 2013, kicked-off with a pilot project working with pea, oat, wheat and canola growers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The Canadian On-Farm Sustainability Calculator demonstrates how farmers’ production practices are improving sustainability as measured by greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, soil loss and soil organic carbon. The On-Farm calculator will also demonstrate to farmers how changes in production practices can be both more economical, and improve the sustainability measures that are of interest to consumers and the food sector.

The future for the Canadian On-Farm Sustainability Calculator project is to expand the use of the calculator to other Canadian crops like soybeans, corn and barley, as well as other regions including Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and the Maritimes. The project will also continue to fine-tune its measurements using the latest in agricultural research, and will incorporate the newest technologies and practices employed on Canadian farms.

Canadian agriculture is committed to being responsive to market demands. The good news is that Canadian agriculture is also producing more, with less inputs. And that is a good thing!

* Funding for this project has been provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Agricultural Flexibility Fund, as part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan.