Sustainability a Growing Priority at the Farm Level, Canadian Report Says

February 18, 2011

Current focuses are on greenhouse gases and energy use, soil quality as an indicator of stored carbon and water quality, water use, and biodiversity.

Environmental sustainability at the farm level is a growing priority for food companies and is becoming an important measure of food quality, according to new reports from Pulse Canada, a national association representing growers, traders, and processers of pulse crops (peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas). Canada is the world’s largest supplier of these ingredients.

The association conducted more than 30 interviews with leaders in the food industry. It says that these companies view their farm-level agricultural supply chains as the biggest opportunity to improve their products’ sustainability.

Current focuses are on greenhouse gases and energy use, soil quality as an indicator of stored carbon and water quality, water use, and biodiversity.

“Eighty to ninety-five percent of energy consumed in food production occurs at the farm level,” says Pulse Canada’s CEO, Gordon Bacon. “Preliminary results from an LCA [life cycle analysis] show that when pulse crops are added to annual cropping rotations, nonrenewable energy use is reduced by 22 to 24%.”

He says that the industry is currently using the reports’ findings to identify data gaps and to develop sustainability pilot projects with food industry partners, including life cycle analysis, carbon foot-printing, water foot-printing, and on-farm calculators.

“The food industry’s focus is shifting from practice-based to outcome-based sustainability measurements,” Bacon adds. “Companies are looking at measuring key environmental performance indicators like the amount of energy used, and focusing less on the process used to produce the food.”