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New eco-label promotes sustainability, restoring wildlife habitat

Farmers in Manitoba are contributing to producing more sustainable products that a new eco-label will identify.

Farmers and industry partners including Ducks Unlimited Canada, Cereals Canada, Alberta Wheat Commission, Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission, and Manitoba Crop Alliance collaborated to create the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecol-abel launched on Nov. 2 at Fort Whyte Centre.

An eco-label is a seal of approval given to products that have been determined to be less harmful to the environment than their functionally or competitively similar counterparts. Eco-labeling initiatives promote sustainable practices, highlight products to consumers, and tap into the growing demand for more environmentally friendly products. In general, eco-labels are based on life-cycle assessments to determine a product’s environmental impact.

Through the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Eco-label, consumers can identify food and drink items made from western Canadian winter wheat.

“To meet growing consumer demand for sustainable products, food processors can become certified to showcase their use of western Canadian winter wheat and resulting contributions to prairie wildlife habitat. By working together to highlight this sustainability story, we’re unlocking new marketing opportunities for businesses and farmers while ultimately supporting a positive impact on our environment,” said Daniel Ramage, director of market access and trade policy at Cereals Canada.
Doug Martin is a Manitoba farmer who grows winter wheat and served as the province’s representative in this project. He said winter wheat is a sustainable product because it helps with crop rotation and keeps the soil productive during the winter.

“This (eco-label) helps the consumer and the industry recognize us as stewards of the land. Consumers are a lot more careful of their food choices, and they want sustainably raised foods. And I think it’s a good thing,” he said.

The initiative will help food brands compete more effectively, satisfy consumers’ desire for more sustainable products, support Canadian farmers, and protect ducks, birds, and other wildlife habitats.
The winter wheat crop is planted during the fall season. Before winter hits, the seeds germinate and develop into plants that remain vegetative during the freezing temperatures. Plant growth resumes in early spring as temperatures rise.

“That’s something that’s really important for food manufacturers who are looking to differentiate themselves and be more competitive in the marketplace; this is a way to stand out in that crowded marketplace,” Ramage added.

Planting winter wheat has many benefits. Including winter wheat in your rotation can save farmers’ time and money by using seeding, spraying, and harvesting equipment more efficiently and spreading the field workload. While many fields lie fallow in winter, winter wheat protects the soil and preserves the topsoil. As well as providing a good yield, it also helps build soil by producing organic matter and cycling nutrients. In addition, winter wheat uses soil moisture more efficiently since it starts growing earlier in the spring. Winter wheat is also a habitat-friendly crop.

According to Ducks Unlimited, northern pintail duck populations are declining due to habitat loss, studying winter wheat’s benefits in restoring habitat for local wildlife. Each spring, millions of ducks and geese travel through the Prairie Pothole Region, looking for nesting habitats. Researchers found that ducks nesting in winter wheat grown in the prairie region are 24 times more successful than those nesting in spring-sown cereals. In addition to that, winter wheat is an excellent way to keep a farmer’s cash flow positive because it can be used for milling for human consumption, livestock feed or ethanol production.

The program already has two partners, and Ramage said they are in conversation with other companies and have an invitation open to all interested in joining this program. Les Moulins de Soulanges, a specialty flour mill established in Quebec’s Montérégie region in 2007, and now selling to specialty bakers across North America. The company was founded to provide innovative products while protecting the environment, supporting local and encouraging sound agronomic practices. The other partner is Beam Suntory, whose Northern Keep Vodka, a craft vodka that puts sustainability and land protection at the forefront, is Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat certified.

“The message we want to get across is that this program really is a win-win. For food manufacturers who are using this eco-label, there’s an opportunity to stand out and differentiate their products; there’s an opportunity to meet growing consumer demand for sustainability, and there’s an opportunity to demonstrate their sustainability credentials by using habitat-friendly winter wheat,” Ramage added.

For those interested in joining the program, contact Cereals Canada or go to habitatwheat.ca.

– Ligia Braidotti, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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