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In the fall of last year, BASF VP of public affairs Julia Hamal told a crowded room of ag industry professionals something they already knew, namely that Canada’s sector is envied around the world. As Hamal spoke to the room at the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s Public Trust Summit, she was quick to add that Canada is not speaking as loudly as it could about its greatest qualities, such as its progressive regulatory environment.

Cereals Canada agrees the country’s ag sector has much to celebrate, and the organization actively seeks opportunities to amplify this message. The National Index on Agri-Food Performance is a pilot project aimed to help Canada raise its voice, become more competitive and position itself as a leader in a global marketplace that demands quantified sustainability from farmers.

“Producers are playing a major role in developing Canada’s first agri-food sustainability index,” said David McInnes, principal at DMci Strategies and founding co-ordinator of the Index. “An unprecedented coalition of partners is driving this work forward. By presenting Canada’s sustainability credentials in the global and domestic marketplace, the Index could become a key tool to support claims, back up the trusted Canada food brand and inform policy, as well as mark progress on social and environmental outcomes.”

As one of 155 groups currently signed up to participate in the initiative, Cereals Canada participates in working groups related to the project and will be involved at various levels in steering the collaborative development of the Index. The growing list of partners includes agriculture and food associations, private companies, social, environmental and Indigenous NGOs, academic and financial institutions, as well as federal and provincial governments.

A work in progress, the Index will establish a baseline set of measures for indicators of Canada’s performance related to four sustainability priorities: the environment, economics, food integrity and societal well-being. These priorities generally align with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and investor-driven environmental, social and governance factors.

As of now, the proposed index includes 20 sustainability indicators and many more sub-indicators. For example, under the environment priority, soil health is a proposed indicator and soil erosion a sub-indicator.

The purpose of the National Index is to be a science-based and measurable vehicle through which Canada can confidently participate and take a leading role in the increasing number of international agriculture-related talks that require a real commitment to sustainability.

“Our global customers expect quality from Canadian grains, which also includes sustainable production,” said Krista Zuzak, Cereals Canada director of crop protection and production and staff lead on the Index. “Cereals Canada recognizes the importance of the Index in promoting cereal grains and the sustainability efforts made by the value chain in our domestic and global marketplaces. We believe this is a real opportunity for the Canadian ag sector.”

The intention of the Index is not to score the performance of farmers, nor is it meant to be punitive. Rather, it paves the way for the industry to convert anecdote to fact and put numbers behind the claim that Canada’s food and agricultural systems are among the most sustainable in the world.

The Index pilot, titled Index 1.0, is scheduled to be published this spring to test, improve and observe how farmers and industry interact with it. Ultimately, Cereals Canada will employ this valuable tool in its efforts to promote Canadian wheat, barley and oats around the world.

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