Ecolabel program highlights benefits of winter wheat across Canada

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Ecolabel program highlights benefits of winter wheat across Canada
WATCH ABOVE: What farmers plant in the fall could benefit not only them but also wildlife and consumers in the spring. Jessica Robb has more on a new eco-label program and what to look for the next time you're out shopping – Nov 7, 2021

A new ecolabel program launched earlier this week is looking to bring winter wheat to the forefront of conversations about sustainability.

Ducks Unlimited Canada, Cereals Canada and Prairie Wheat Winter Growers have partnered together for the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel Program.

“This is the first ecolabel of its kind that demonstrates that winter wheat is actually duck friendly, or habitat friendly, crop on the Canadian prairies,” said communications and marketing lead for agricultural sustainability with Ducks Unlimited Canada, Karli Reimer.

Unlike other crops, winter wheat is planted in September. It grows throughout the fall and uses the moisture from the snow. When spring comes the ground doesn’t need to be disturbed for seeding, creating a spot for birds migrating back north to nest.

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Reimer said Ducks Unlimited Canada has done extensive research on winter wheat. In the 1970s, they discovered that northern pintail duck populations were on the decline due to habitat loss. They are one of many birds who pass through the prairies each spring looking for a place to nest.

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“Our research actually shows that ducks that nest in winter wheat are 24 times more productive than those that nest in a spring zone cereal crop,” she said.

The new program also benefits farmers. Gary Stanford farms near Magrath, Alta. and is also a delegate with the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Winter wheat runs deep in his blood, having grown it for more than 40 years. He’s been an advocate for its sustainability for years, adding that it improves his land quality by preventing soil erosion from high winds and increasing organic matter for future rotations.

“I’ve tried to work on this, on winter wheat, for 20 years and to see a program finally come through — it’s very exciting,” Stanford said.

“That’s a lot of nesting grounds for waterfowl and upland game birds.

“It’s a place for them to nest in the spring without disturbing the soil.”

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Director of market access and trade policy with Cereals Canada, Daniel Ramage, said consumers have become more aware of what they’re buying when out grocery shopping.

Having an ecolabel on a product allows people to shop with ease when looking to make more sustainable choices.

“That’s what we’re really proud of,” he said. “Through this program, we’ve created an opportunity that really is a win-win.”

Les Moulins de Soulanges, a specialty flour mill in Quebec, and Beam Suntory from Alberta are the first two processors to become a certified ecolabel partner. Ramage added that more will be announced soon, as the program only recently launched.

“So when a consumer would go to a grocery store to purchase something that is made of winter wheat, they would see that ecolabel on there and they can feel confident that it was grown in a responsible way and it’s a habitat friendly option,” Reimer added.

More information on the Habitat-Friendly Winter Wheat Ecolabel Program can be found through their website by clicking here.

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