A frank conversation about food safety and traceability

When Torontonian Ron Schlumpf was invited to visit a Canadian grower to learn where his food is coming from, he jumped at the chance. He brought along a list of questions for Dan Ronceray, who operates a large commercial farm in Somerset, Manitoba. 

What is your grain? Where does it end up and what is it used for?

Depending on the year, some seasons won’t give us quality wheat. We’ll do our best to grow a crop [but if] the weather doesn’t cooperate and the conditions won’t fall into place, you get feed wheat. Otherwise our good quality wheat, which is what we strive to grow, typically goes to flour mills. That gets turned into flour for breads and cakes.

Whom do you view as your customer?

Our grain is a worldwide commodity. What we’re producing and what we’re selling goes everywhere. We may not be an international company, but we produce international food.

How do I as a consumer know that the products that I’m consuming are safe since I don’t know what kind of pesticides [or herbicides] you’ve used?

All processing companies have strict guidelines they follow and criteria that need to be met. When they take in this grain, they’ll test it, they’ll make sure that it’s pesticide-free to an extent. They want to make sure that there’s no residue on it. If there is, they reject it and it’s not used for human consumption, it’s not used for livestock consumption. If there’s any question with quality, it doesn’t enter the food chain at all. Food safety is a number-one priority for everyone, from the producer all the way down to the consumer. 

One of the things we’re seeing a little bit of in Ontario is the concept of “terroir”, where as a consumer, if you’re buying flour, you will know which farm it came from and which field, and what the growing conditions were. Is there any concept of that here?

As far as wheat and canola production goes, this is not coming into play. With a farm that will produce thousands of tons of wheat a year, it’d be very difficult to label all that. But typically producers meet the consumers’ needs in order to produce a quality product for them, so if that’s where things are headed, we’re not afraid of it. We have nothing to hide. We produce a good crop and quality products, and if [consumers] need to know every step of the way, I’m happy to open my farm to show them how we do it.

Since his visit, Schlumpf reports that the conversation with Ronceray has opened his eyes to the fact that farmers play the role of entrepreneurs and business managers in a “sophisticated and competitive” industry.

“What I learned has reaffirmed for me the importance of understanding as much as possible the context in which food is grown and finds its way to my table,” says Schlumpf.

Although he went away reassured that stringent regulations ensure a high level of food quality and safety, Schlumpf believes tracing our food as much as possible is a good idea so consumers can understand how farming practices impact “the local ecology, the economic viability of the farm and the quality of life of farmers, their families and communities.” 

View this entire conversation and others online at agsolutions.ca/sustainability.