NOTE: This story comes with an accompanying podcast — scroll to the bottom of the page to listen!
CropLife Canada is known for helping to ensure Canadians have access to a safe, abundant food supply through advancement of crop protection products.
The years following the Second World War saw major innovation in the plant science industry. New chemistries were developed that changed the face of the industry — yields skyrocketed, and farming as we know it changed forever.
In 1952, pesticides began to be regulated in Canada, and the Canadian Agricultural Chemicals Association was formed as an industry association to represent the pesticide industry in Canada. The seed business was in its infancy, and biotechnology unheard of.
“Up until the 1970s, production agriculture was quite traditional. We grew wheat and some barley and oats for a few cattle and pigs and chickens. From a seed perspective, you basically went to the bin every year, cleaned up some crop from the previous year, and planted it. People didn’t buy a heck of a lot of seed in those days,” says Kim McConnell, founder and former CEO of AdFarm, an agriculture-focused marketing and communications firm that has worked extensively with CropLife Canada over the years.
Upon the arrival of the 1970s, science and new technology started to emerge. The Canadian Agricultural Chemicals Association began to branch out.
“The first developments occurred on the herbicide end of things. The Canadian Agricultural Chemicals Association and its member companies were very progressive and began bringing new chemistry, new science and new ideas to Canadian agriculture. They were good leaders and these companies played a key role in advancing Canadian agriculture,” McConnell says.
“Over the years as technology progressed, particularly when hybrid canola became available, and when new traits were introduced that combined the benefits of seed and crop protection products, sales of both seed and crop chemistry really advanced.”
In 1986 the Canadian Agricultural Chemicals Association became the Crop Protection Institute of Canada. In 2001 it joined CropLife International and became CropLife Canada, which represents the Canadian manufacturers, developers and distributors of pesticides and products of modern plant breeding. It has 37 active members today, from small companies to the biggest names in the seed business like DuPont, Syngenta, BASF, Monsanto and Bayer.
CropLife Canada’s president is Pierre Petelle, who joined CropLife Canada in June 2008 as the director of regulatory affairs and non-ag uses. Prior to joining CropLife Canada, Petelle worked with Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency and in the structural pest control industry. He holds a biology degree from Carleton University and an agriculture degree from the University of Guelph.
“Although many aspects of the plant science industry have evolved since our organization was first established in 1952, our main purpose remains the same — to advance the collective interests of the plant science industry in Canada,” he says.
“We’ve built a reputation with the federal government as a trusted and authoritative voice when it comes to policy-related discussions pertaining to the plant science industry, including seed.”
CropLife’s mandate has expanded over the years to include products of plant biotechnology as part of a natural evolution, he notes.
“Canada’s federal regulators for both pesticides and products of modern plant breeding have, for the most part, a long history of science-based decision making when it comes to these innovations. CropLife Canada has played a role in helping to build this regulatory environment.
“As an association, we have a long history of helping to shape science-based regulatory approaches around pesticides, which we continue to do while also applying those efforts to the seed sector,” Petelle adds.
CropLife Canada is also heightening its participation in discussions on international trade-related policies like low-level presence. For example, CropLife Canada played a key role in facilitating the federal government’s development of a model low-level presence policy for agricultural trade exports.
“Plant biotech policies in the EU and China are increasingly having a direct impact on Canadian farmers by dictating which technologies they will have access to when it comes to seed.”
Keeping its members up-to-date on the latest developments in global regulatory policy is a major part of CropLife’s job.
“Farmers are constantly faced with changing pest pressures, changing climate conditions and evolving consumer demands. As a result, they need access to innovative new technologies developed by CropLife Canada’s members, including seed, to grow their crops efficiently and sustainably and to provide Canadians with the safe, affordable and abundant food supply they have become accustomed to,” Petelle says.
A big part of CropLife Canada’s role is advocating for a policy environment that encourages industry innovation, sound science and product safety.
“They have a crucial role to play to make sure this technology is advanced and becomes accessible to the marketplace,” says McConnell.
CropLife Canada has also continued to grow and diversify its membership, demonstrating that the industry finds value in the work the association is doing, says Petelle.
To ensure it meets the needs of its members, CropLife Canada regularly conducts member surveys to gauge the level of satisfaction with the organization’s work and receive input on how it can better serve members’ interests.
Among Canada’s six seed industry representative organizations, McConnell says CropLife is unique in that its leadership has benefited from being comprised of some of the most high-level people in the seed sector.
“Many of these member companies that are leaders in the chemical business are also leaders in the seed business,” McConnell notes. “When members of CropLife speak, they’re very respected and well received by producers and all of Canadian agriculture.”
Engaging with consumers poses another challenge, and as an industry leader is one that CropLife is taking seriously. One of its newer communications outreach efforts is the Helping Canada Grow project. CropLife has a dedicated website (www.helpingCanadagrow.ca) that showcases the benefits the plant science industry delivers to the economy, the environment and communities across Canada.
“The perception consumers have of those member companies is, at times, not as good. On the other hand, consumers like farmers. When they see producer groups working with CropLife, that builds a stronger initiative that’s more reputable right from manufacturer to producer to consumer.”
Petelle notes that consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it was grown, which offers an opportunity for CropLife to explain the role plant science technologies play in food production.
“They have questions about things like GMOs, and CropLife Canada is working hard to fill the information gap with credible information. We are part of a broader agriculture industry movement to establish public trust in the food system, which ultimately impacts policy decision-making.”
—The Past, Present, Future series examines each of our sector’s six representative groups over the next several months to offer insight into why they were founded, what they do, and the role they expect to play in the future.