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“Implementing an Environmental Farm Plan is one of the easiest programs that a farmer can use to ensure sustainability and communicate good farming practices to the public,” says Bruce Christie.

A new report, Growing from strength; Farmers enhancing productivity with sustainable innovation, released by the Farm & Food Care Foundation and the RBC Royal Bank in March 2012 highlights the need for the agricultural industry to continue to develop and implement programs and policies that address consumer concerns.
“We’ve seen a growing trend over the pasts 10 years in some regions among Canadian farmers making investments in environmental sustainability,” says Bruce Christie, chair, Farm & Food Care Foundation. “For example, in 2010, farmers in Ontario invested five times the amount in environmental improvements to their farms than in 1999.”
The Farm & Food Care Foundation, a Guelph, Ontario-based national charity founded in 2010, develops and supports outreach programs to communicate with Canadians helping to build confidence and trust in Canadian Food and Farming.
RBC partnered with the Farm & Food Care Foundation to help farmers better understand the environmental sustainability challenge and the many benefits of greening their business, including enhanced productivity, reduced operating costs, opportunities for growth and continued access to markets at home and abroad.
The purpose of the report is to assist farmers in understanding what is causing the global shift to sustainable business, and how these issues and trends might have an impact at the farm level. Farmers’ ability to run a sustainable business is linked to consumer perception of, and demand for, a green, productive agricultural system.
“There is a huge information gap between farmers and consumers.  Consumers have a great interest in how their food is produced, while at the same time wanting high quality and affordability,” says Christie.
Driving the need for sustainability is the ever-increasing attention consumers focus on the environment and food production practices.  The report outlines these drivers of change:
• More than one-half of the global population live in cities – increased productivity and continued environmental stewardship will be needed to feed the global population.
• Developing countries are hungry for protein – fast-developing middle-class populations are looking for protein-rich diets including animal food products.
• Competing land uses – only 7% of Canada’s land base is used for farming while land continues to be lost to urban sprawl.
• Peak phosphorous – finite supplies of agricultural inputs such as phosphorous will challenge farmers to become more efficient and sustainable.
• Climate warnings – continued focus on greenhouse gas mitigations will provide challenges and opportunities to farmers.
• Consumer power – Consumers increasingly want a say in how their food is produced, as evident in the growth of organic food sales in Canada, growing from $2 billion in 2008 to $2.6 billion in 2010.
• Investor scrutiny – publicly traded companies are being asked by large investors to voluntarily disclose their organizations’ strategies related to climate change.
• Supply chain pressure – in a response to consumer demand, grocery and food-processing supply chains are increasingly asking for production information and to be part of Environmental Farm Plans.
• Bio-based innovation – tightening standards around the world are putting pressure on traditional chemical usage and favor the development of bio-based production inputs.
In response to these drivers of change, the report focuses on five top environmental issues relevant to farmers, and provides an assessment of business risk and opportunities in each area.  The report also includes additional resources, such as websites, tools and guides, which provide further information and opportunities to improve their knowledge of sustainability issues and mitigations.
The five issues identified as critical for farmer action include:
• Land productivity – doing more with less
• Water – protecting an essential resource
• Ecosystem services – stewards of habitat and biodiversity
• Climate change – adapting to uncertainty
• Bioenergy and biomaterials – discovering market opportunities.
The report provides an overview of the latest trends and technologies in the agricultural industry and how farmers can incorporate environmental considerations into strategic decision-making so they can continue to provide healthy, safe and affordable food.  It includes case studies that show how farmers are making real progress towards a more sustainable production system.