This article is part of a regular series highlighting the innovative ways Scotiabank clients are doing their part to cut carbon emissions.
Buying organic and locally grown produce when it’s available can significantly impact not only your family’s health, but also the health of the planet, says Rita Felder, who heads up a global organic grain and food products supply business. By choosing organic you keep pesticides out of the water and air and help cut the carbon footprint generated by travelling thousands of kilometres.
Eating organic is a deep-rooted way of life for Rita and her husband and co-founder, Tony Felder. Both grew up on family dairy farms in Switzerland, which gave them an understanding of the science of integrated farming — how everything goes from growth to death and regenerates new life, she said.
“Switzerland, and Europe in general, have been on the leading edge of sustainable and organic food production,” said Felder, Chief Executive Officer of Field Farms Marketing Ltd. (FFM).
The company provides certified non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and organic grains and other food ingredients at the best possible price to feed mills and large organic livestock operations, such as poultry, egg, or dairy that purchase organic feed for their livestock. It also serves a growing market of organic food processors of everything from granola bars to cereal, healthy snacks, coffee, and protein powders.
Photo: Rita Felder
In 1998, failing to find suitable farmland in Switzerland, the Felders bought a hog farm in Southwestern Ontario’s Lambton County and converted it to mixed use for livestock and sustainably grown cash crops — rotations of corn, soybean, wheat and other cereals. Situated at the south end of Lake Huron, the county has ideal climate and soil conditions for farming.
Aside from the fertile land, Canada was an easy choice, Felder said, noting the access to good school systems, universal healthcare, immigration-friendly policies and a solid banking system that supports Canadian businesses.
Felder’s keen interest in sustainable farming and the fair-trade movement, which is helping producers in developing countries achieve sustainable and equitable trade relationships, along with a business management degree in hotel and tourism, eventually led her to start exporting organic grains to Europe. She did this at first for a Canadian farmer group and then for their own farm and a few local farmers, incorporating as Field Farms Marketing in 2005, as the demand for organic food in North America grew.
Felder believes having a financial partner like Scotiabank, that thoroughly understands and supports sustainable, regenerative, renewable practices, is key to continued success for organic farms. It will be especially important as food production moves to autonomous farming, which will require the purchase of everything from robots to pick the crops, artificial intelligence to monitor the fields, electric tractors and solar energy.
“In the next 10 years, the changes to efficiencies, farming practices, technology, and environmental adaption will be greater than any we have experienced in the past 100 years. Our weather is changing, and it is affecting the farmers, and supply chains dramatically,” she said.
“At Scotiabank, we don’t support businesses with their banking, we support people. We build strong, long-term relationships with the farmers we work with. The ability of customers, such as the Felders, to respond to a rapidly changing agriculture landscape is something we value highly,” Steven Cosby, Director, National Accounts, Canadian Agriculture said.
A growing market
Canadians are becoming more health-conscious and environmentally aware of their food selections, Felder said. Organics now comprise as much as 46% of younger consumers’ weekly grocery purchases, Felder said, noting that the shelves of Canadian grocery stores are now stocked with organic, non-GMO products. Canada’s organic market in 2021 brought in more than $8 billion, while 2.3% of the country’s acreage is organic, according to Canada Organic Trade Association’s annual report.
“We see significant growth in the food sector worldwide as more companies look to develop healthy foods and snacks that are sustainable and limit their carbon footprint on our planet,” Felder said. “No company can even think of incorporating today without a triple bottom line approach: profit, people, and planet.”
Much of the growth in organics is in regions with a growing middle class that can afford to pay a premium on healthy, sustainable food, including Canada, the United Sates, Europe, Southeast Asia, China and Japan, Felder said. However, those consumers trending toward organics tend to prepare more meals at home and throw away less food, offsetting that premium.
No company can even think of incorporating today without a triple bottom line approach: profit, people, and planet."
“The younger generations are more environmentally aware of the impact they have when they waste food. Couple that with the higher quality of organic food, and the consumer is less likely to waste food,” she said.
“Building reliable and sustainable global supply chains is our competitive advantage,” Felder said.
It’s also something Field Farms Marketing is serious about. To ensure its food and feed products meet the standards for organic, non-GMO, sustainable and fair trade in every country it does business in, including Canada, the U.S., Japan and the EU, FFM operates its own grain elevator, warehouses, and food-grade grain cleaning facility. Products are tested at each step of the process from the field to grocery store shelves for the absence of GMOs and chemical residues before being certified as organic by an accredited third-party body. Suppliers also receive a fair premium for their organic, non-GMO crops.
“We started using the term ‘true organic’ to separate our product from people who make claims, but don’t have a certification process behind them,” Felder said.
“In Ontario, a person with a market garden that doesn’t use chemicals can set up at the local farmers market and call their product organic. That’s not us. We ensure everything we grow, purchase, process and move is certified as organic and 100% traceable back to the farm.”
Reducing carbon emissions
Ultimately, FFM would like to see traditional knowledge combined with modern science such as seed selection, soil testing, plant testing, automation, analytic, field and weather monitoring and precision technology to move food producers toward more sustainable and regenerative farming.
Organic farming is a far more sustainable way to produce food, Felder said. She cited data from the Columbia Climate School that shows organic farms use 45% less energy, release 40% less carbon emissions, and foster 30% more biodiversity compared to conventional farming.
Photo: Ready for the organic harvest in Canada.
Converting a farm to organic creates more organic matter and microorganisms in the soil, which makes plants much more resilient to droughts, Felder said. In addition, they have a higher sugar content, which prevents pests from attacking them, doing away with the need for pesticides.
Sustainable farming also tends to be profitable over the longer term, with farmers having lower costs compared to conventional farmers and a higher return for their crops. Organic farmers get a premium of upward of 30% over the price conventional farmers receive for their crops, a Washington State University report shows. The researchers found that even with organic crop yields being as much as 18% lower than conventional, the break-even point for organic agriculture is a price premium of 5% to 7%.
Another way FFM is helping significantly reduce the overall carbon footprint of its Canadian customers is by narrowing the supply chain to within the country and, where possible, the customers’ province of operation.
To cut its own carbon footprint, FFM invests regularly in alternative energy at its operations, whether that’s having a passive solar office building, or producing green electricity from solar panels on the roof of its warehouse, or preparing for the future of autonomous, and electric agriculture equipment.
“We have a responsibility to be stewards of this land and we have a responsibility to leave it in the best shape we can for the next generation. This is the philosophy that we brought to the specialty food sourcing field and continues to be our guiding principles,” Felder said.
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