Jeanine Moyer, Owner, Barn Door Communications
STEWARDSHIP AND SUSTAINABILITY have long been fundamentals of Canadian farms, especially when it comes to soybean production. But as market continues to evolve, the industry is taking the next step to keep the pace with the competition and maintain market access through a new Sustainable Canadian Soy program.
Launching in March 2023, the Sustainable Canadian Soy program is the result of extensive industry consultations and collaboration that will meet customer needs for verified sustainable soybeans.
“This program is important for all Canadian soybean growers,” says Brian Innes, executive director with Soy Canada. “It’s an important step forward in delivering what governments and customers are asking for.”
The Sustainable Canadian Soy program is a voluntary market-driven whole-farm program that will enable the Canadian soybean industry to compete with international competitors, like the United States and South America.
WHY CANADA NEEDS A SOY SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAM
“A verifiable sustainability program is the cost of admission for some international soybean markets,” explains Innes. “Our competitors are already sharing their ability to produce soybeans sustainably, and in the absence of our own verifiable program, our customers are left to make assumptions. We need to show we’re following sustainable production practices.”
Customers for food grade and Identity Preserved (IP) soybeans in the European Union and Japan are currently driving the need for a verified supply of sustainably produced soybeans. The first segments of the value chain to implement the program will be growers, grain handlers, and exporters of food grade and IP soybeans.
And while the program may not be needed for every Canadian soybean grower today, new regulations in the EU requiring proof that soybeans shipped to the EU are not grown on deforested land, starting with the 2024 crop, could increase the need for verified sustainable soy.
“It’s not clear yet what we’ll need to do to continue shipping to the EU, but it’s a sign of the growing need to document our sustainable production practices here in Canada to meet the requirements of our customers and their governments,” says Ernie Sirski, Soy Canada board member. “As farmers we’re using sustainable production practices and will continue to do so in the future – but our future also depends on continued market access.”
The need to verify production practices isn’t a new concept. Conversations about the need to develop a Canadian soy sustainability program started a few years ago. Led by Soy Canada, extensive industry consultations to develop such a program began in earnest in 2021 with board discussions, member meetings, and one-on-one conversations. Throughout the process, the entire Canadian soybean value chain was consulted, including grower associations and other industry organizations like Pulse Canada. In addition, focused consultations were conducted with 25 different organizations that included members and non-member grain handlers and processors.
Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers (MPSG) was instrumental in the development of the Sustainable Canadian Soy program, bringing growers’ voices to the table to shape the program.
“We’re seeing sustainability demands coming at growers from multiple directions,” says Daryl Domitruk, MPSG executive director. “We see the Soy Canada program as an opportunity to meet market needs and to define sustainability on our own terms, starting at the farm and throughout every link of the soy value chain.”
FARM SUSTAINABILITY ASSESSMENT
Various program options were evaluated before Soy Canada made the decision to implement a verified sustainable Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) system in mid-2022. Innes explains the group reviewed existing options including the Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Crops Code of Practice and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification program used for EU biofuels. They even considered creating their own Canadian soy program. The final decision to offer the globally recognized FSA aligns with Sustainable Canadian Soy priorities and recognizes Canadian federal and provincial legislation.
Innes explains that, while there’s a need to develop a sustainability program to meet soy market needs today, every step of the program development process considered that Canadian farmers and exporters handle multiple crops. “We’ve been guided by implementing a program that meets our customer needs, but also reflects that our farmers grow soybeans as part of a sustainable rotation. It’s important that we work together as an industry to implement a system that is streamlined and involves collaboration wherever it can bring value,” says Innes.
HOW IT WORKS
The Sustainable Canadian Soy program is a voluntary program for any grower, grain handler, and exporter interested in meeting this market need. The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform developed the FSA as a harmonized and flexible sustainable sourcing model for buyers to understand the sustainability performance of their supply chains based on farm-level data.
FSA powers the new Canadian program, providing a whole farm sustainability assessment that incorporates economic and financial viability, social responsibility, and environmental protection. For Canadian soy customers, the FSA will provide access to a third-party verified sustainable supply backed by a globally recognized system.
“It’s a system that will demonstrate how Sustainable Canadian Soy is comparable or better than other origins,” explains Domitruk. “This assurance process also enables users of Canadian soybeans to make sustainability claims with confidence, including food packaging.”
FSA also has benchmarks equivalent to many international programs, including the Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) in the United States. SSAP is equivalent to FSA silver, a benchmarking level Soy Canada anticipates Canadian growers will achieve through the new program.
Starting with the 2023 soybean crop, exporters or grain handlers will begin contacting growers who may be interested in participating in the program. Participation requires completing a questionnaire that looks at all aspects of the sustainability of a farm operation. A small number of growers will also be required to participate in an assessment by a third party each year, a process that is managed by their exporter or grain handler.
“The Sustainable Canadian Soy program will drive value for the soybean industry,” says Innes. “This program is designed to minimize the additional documentation workload while maintaining access to markets that recognize the quality of Canadian soybeans, open new opportunities, and ultimately, get the most that we can for our soybeans.”