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Farmers are naturally motivated to ensure the sustainability of the soil and the environment while increasing efficiencies to remain financially viable, and partnerships with industry, for example, with Syngenta Canada, can help to advance outcomes.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

More and more, consumers want to know that their food is ethically produced with minimal impact on the environment while still being affordable. Recent research confirms a growing interest of Canadians in improving the food system as a whole – with emphasis on sustainability and transparency.

“For the first time, global warming and environmental issues have made the top five list of concerns for Canadians,” says Chris Legge, chief financial officer for Syngenta Canada, a leading provider of seeds and crop protection products. “Data from the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity illustrates how environmental concerns influence consumers’ everyday lives and food choices.”

In response, the Canadian agri-food industry is looking to step up efforts not only to track and trace its sustainability performance but also to communicate achievements and challenges to partners, policy-makers and consumers.

“We’re at a time when the junction of sustainability and agriculture is really coming together,” says Tara McCaughey, head of technical services for Syngenta Canada. “There is increasing attention being placed on how we produce our food and on our food system. This creates an opportunity for the agri-food industry to continue to demonstrate leadership in food production as it relates to sustainability.”

To be clear, those working in agri-food have already been tackling sustainability long before it became of interest to the consumer. Canadian farmers possess a solid track record of sustainable management practices and adopting innovative practices and technologies. In fact, over the past 20 years, farmers have doubled the value of production while stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, according to Statistics Canada.

Above all, paying heed to growers is critical, says Daniel Metheringham, vice president of agriculture for North America at McCain Foods USA, Inc. “The single most important thing: listen to the farmers. They are the stewards of the land; they know what they need to do.”

For example, in order to support growers with the tools to advance regenerative agricultural practices, which McCain aims to implement on 100 per cent of its potato acres by 2030, the organization developed a model using data from 15 farmers in New Brunswick. Scientific advisers subsequently evaluated the model’s impact on soil health, biodiversity and regenerative practices, including carbon sequestration, to identify best practices and develop technical pathways towards a more regenerative model.

Like McCain, Syngenta starts with the grower’s perspective for efforts related to the environment to ensure tools and technology meet the needs of farmers. “We must continue to bring new technology to the agri-food industry – innovations that can help enhance life on the farm,” says Ms. McCaughey.

“Farmers and producers are naturally motivated to ensure the sustainability of the soil and the environment while simultaneously increasing efficiencies to remain financially viable and carbon neutral to satisfy government policy and the end consumer,” says Mr. Legge, who adds that governments have to work closely with growers to ensure policies and protocols are “grower friendly.”

Ms. McCaughey adds that Syngenta, for its part, considers externally verified sustainability principles in new product development – and continues to work with partners to further key areas, including reduced residues in crops and improved soil health without impacting farmer productivity.

“Sustainability needs to be sustainable,” notes Mr. Metheringham. “It’s just good business sense when you actually look at what we’re trying to achieve throughout the whole supply chain. So, whether it’s within manufacturing facilities or freight to customers or the farmer, it’s about how we optimize what we have.”

Sustainability also requires collaboration and taking a pragmatic long-term approach because quick fixes will not ultimately move the needle. “Public and private partnerships are needed at the very local community level through to the provincial, federal and international level,” says Ms. McCaughey. “It’s about coming together to ensure we are looking at solutions that are realistic and can be implemented. No two farms are the same. It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all.”

Canada’s farmers and processors are looking to continue to improve sustainability while meeting the needs and preferences of consumers – and the support of industry partners and government can help to boost outcomes for all involved.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.