Pulse crops, like peas, play a part in farm sustainability in addition to being healthy foods.
Two bold reports released in Toronto show that environmental sustainability at the farm level is a growing priority for food companies and is becoming an important measure of food quality around the world.
“The food industry’s focus is shifting from practice-based to outcome-based sustainability measurements. 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” says Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada, an industry association, which compiled one of the reports, that represents growers, processors and traders of pulse crops in Canada. Pulse crops include peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.
More than 30 interviews were conducted with leaders in the food industry to discover what they think about sustainability and what they’re planning to do about it. Leading food companies have made sustainability a top priority and view their farm-level agricultural supply chains as the biggest opportunity to improve the sustainability of their products.
From hundreds of sustainability metrics, the food industry’s priorities can be narrowed to four measurements: greenhouse gases and energy use, soil quality as an indicator of stored carbon and water quality, water use, and biodiversity.
The pulse industry is using the reports’ findings to identify data gaps and develop sustainability pilot projects with food industry partners, including life cycle analysis (LCA), carbon footprinting, water footprinting and on-farm calculators.
“Eighty to 95 percent of energy consumed in food production occurs at the farm level,” says Bacon. “Preliminary results from an LCA show that when pulse crops are added to annual cropping rotations, non-renewable energy use is reduced by 22 percent to 24 percent. Combined with the significant contribution pulses make to human nutrition and health, pulses have a big role to play in foods that deliver healthy people and a healthy planet.”
The first report, “Measure What Matters,” written by independent consultant Chris Anstey, looks at the ways social, economic and environmental sustainability are being measured by leading food companies around the globe. It tells the story of who’s out there, what they are planning to measure and the major challenges that are being encountered.
“Measuring Sustainable Agriculture,” prepared by Pulse Canada, looks at the findings of “Measure What Matters” and pinpoints what these conclusions mean for the Canadian agriculture industry. It provides a snapshot of the food industry’s rapidly evolving focus on environmental issues and compares the food industry’s sustainability priorities with agricultural stewardship practices that have been adopted (and continue to grow) in Canada.
Both documents are available for download and comment.