Representatives of the provincial producers’ association are conducting research projects centred on improving sustainability
Representatives of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers (ASBG) strive to improve the sustainability of their sector.
Four years ago, the ASBG board prioritized the push for a sustainable and responsible industry, said Melody Garner-Skiba. She is the ASBG’s executive director.
“With that as a priority, the board and the industry really wanted to look at how we can work on continuous improvement,” she told Farms.com.
Two projects emerged out of this focus.
One project, called “Reducing the impact of sugar beet production on climate change,” started in 2018.
“We did an assessment on sugar beet harvest and greenhouse gas emissions and what that really looked like from an environmental perspective – from delivering sugar beets from the field to the piling grounds where beets are stored prior to processing,” said Garner-Skiba.
The team concluded the first phase of this study in July 2019.
“We found there were definitely some things we could do to reduce the impact. We need to modernize some of the iron on the piling grounds. The challenge there is that growers don't own the piling grounds; our processor does. So, it's kind of out of our control but we are working with our processor,” said Garner-Skiba.
Some simpler changes, like staggering shifts during delivery or working in teams for the delivery of sugar beets, could also help with emissions, said Garner-Skiba.
The second phase, called “Reducing energy and greenhouse gas emissions on irrigated farms,” started in March 2019.
“There's been work done for farms in general, but not on irrigated farms. Because beets are one of the crops that thrive with irrigation, we thought we needed to put that irrigated-farm focus on it,” said Garner-Skiba.
The team wrapped up data collection for the second phase of the study in late August 2020. The scientists still need to evaluate the research and develop the best management practices.
“Phase three is the implementation of all of the best management practices,” said Garner-Skiba.
The ASBG team started its second project, called “Making sweet certifiably sustainable for future generations,” in October 2018. Through this project, the team is committed and involved in using Sustainability Assessment Initiative (SAI) Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) standard, said Garner-Skiba. SAI Platform is a non-profit organization that works towards the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.
“We have a group of farmers who will be audited. At the end of the audit this winter, we will have a verifiable third-party sustainability certification for our industry,” she said.
While the certification project isn’t finished yet, it looks like the ASBG will achieve a silver certification, said Garner-Skiba.
“But with the work that's being done on the other project … (we hope) we can identify and adopt best management practices that can perhaps propel us from a silver to a gold level,” she said.
While sugar beets account for only 30,000 acres of Alberta crops, industry leaders want to continue to work towards sustainability and sharing these efforts with the public.
“Being a sustainable and responsible industry is a high priority for us and our industry. … The second thing is communicating that information to consumers so they understand how and where their food is produced. Getting them to understand that farmers are not the villains – we’re doing what we can to make sure that we take care of the land because the land takes care of us,” said Garner-Skiba.
Both projects received funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership under the environmental stewardship and climate change – group program.
Photo credit: Alberta Sugar Beet Growers photo
Updated Oct. 1