Integrated management systems for broadacre agriculture: industry working together to meet market requirements
1 Department of Agriculture and Food, Narrogin, WA 6312 www.agric.wa.gov.au Email Danielle.England@agric.wa.gov.au
2 School of Agriculture and Environment, Curtin University, Perth WA 6485 www.muresk.curtin.edu.au Email email@example.com
In 2006 the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) initiated the Farming for the Future project to facilitate the uptake of on-farm assurance programs with a focus on demonstrating sustainable production practices in Western Australia (WA). The project identified and worked with industries that had developed, or were developing food safety, quality, environmental or animal welfare assurance programs, and required support for on-farm adoption. Stakeholders came from a range of industries (dairy, grain, sheep and wool, horticulture and wine), and from a range of organisational structures (grower groups, corporations, statutory boards). The establishment of a stakeholder network fostered relationships between the organisations; maximised funding opportunities; and enhanced the sharing of information, tools and training opportunities. The network enabled more timely and cost effective development of assurance processes. Through this network an integrated management systems approach (food safety and quality, and environmental management) was developed for the WA broadacre industry using the Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH) Group’s BetterFarmIQ food safety and quality assurance program (underpinned by SQF1000CM Certification), the Blackwood Basin Group’s BestFarms and Mingenew-Irwin Group’s HealthyFarms environmental management systems.
Integrated management systems, sustainable agriculture
In 2006 the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) initiated the Farming for the Future project to facilitate the increased uptake of on-farm assurance programs focused on demonstrating sustainable production practices in Western Australia (WA). The role of government in this area was not to create new systems, but to support the relevant industry bodies to enable them to either meet emerging market demands or regulatory requirements. They did this by using existing assurance processes or by developing their own programs in the absence of any suitable alternative.
The broadacre industries in WA (grain, sheep and beef cattle) had access to a coordinated food safety and quality assurance program, Better Farm IQ, managed by Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH). (CBH is WA’s farmer owned cooperative bulk grain handler.) Better Farm IQ was initiated by CBH following increases in food safety incidents and the implementation of import restrictions by major international customers. By 2008 harvest the program had 70 per cent of WA grain and 50 per cent of WA grain growers Certified. The Better Farm IQ program is underpinned by SQF1000CM (SQFI 2005) Certification, a non-prescriptive approach to Certification. The use of Multi-Site Certification under the systems based approach of the SQF program avoids the need for growers to comply with ‘prescribed’ on-farm practices (a constraint in GlobalGAP® (2009) and the ‘Care’ family of Codes of Practice) and minimises audit and implementation costs to growers.
In 2008 Primaries of WA (Primaries), a wool and agricultural products brokering company, received requests from some customers for evidence of certified environmental management systems at the farm level, preferably based on the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 14000 family of standards (ISO 14000-14020-14040). This request was consistent with other requests agri-food businesses are receiving to meet customer expectations that “natural and human resources are used in a sustainable manner” (Noonan 2004). On the basis of the market and systems factors outlined above it was logical for Primaries to partner with the CBH Group in the BetterFarmIQ program.
Through its planning and engagement phases, Farming for the Future identified industries which could benefit from support for on-farm adoption of existing food safety, quality, environmental or animal welfare assurance programs. Stakeholders came from a broad range of industries (dairy, grain, sheep and wool, horticulture and wine) and organisational structures (grower groups, corporations, statutory boards).
Support was provided to the identified industries and groups via a stakeholder network which fostered relationships between the organisations; maximised funding opportunities; and enhanced the sharing of information, tools and training opportunities. The network enabled more timely and cost effective development of assurance processes. It was as a result of this network that the CBH Group and Primaries formed their partnership to meet market needs and to provide an integrated management system for broadacre industries in WA.
While the ISO family of standards are widely used in post farm businesses’ around the world, there has been only modest uptake at the farm level. The Joint Accreditation System for Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) register for ISO14001:2004 certification indicates that, in Australia, only seven agricultural enterprises have achieved certification (JAZ-ANZ 2009a). In a broader context, few farm operations globally have reached an ISO14000 family certification (Batt et al 2006).
Impediments to implementation of EMS, or moving to full certification for agri-food businesses include:
However, the Plan-Do–Check-Review methodology associated with the ISO14000 family provides a sound base upon which environmental performance can be reviewed and improved under an EMS (Carruthers 2005). The Plan-Do–Check-Review also avoids the inherent flaws and frailty of the ‘Best Management Practice’ (BMP) paradigm (Pannell 2009) and takes the potential user towards the principles of current recommend practices espoused by Farming for the Future.
Historically, Australian broadacre industries are not as well organised in regards to the implementation of EMS, food safety and quality assurance programs as other industries and do not have the clear market signals like other industries (Seymour et al 2007). Wool producers have participated in a number of EMS pilot projects that have delivered the foundations for industry capacity to provide assurances to markets (Phal 2007 and Sallur et al 2007). The first substantive market signals for wool producers have become apparent in association with animal welfare issues and requests to source wool form sheep that have not be mulesed using traditional techniques. The Merino Company (TMC) is a wool brokerage company that “provides vertically integrated fibre solutions for retail and brand partners globally” (TMC 2009).
Under its Generation Y brand, TMC is requesting wool from WA farms wool from WA farms with an ISO 14001 based, Certified EMS. A consequence of this request was for Primaries to evaluate its marketing program and to determine how it could differentiate WA wool from that of its competitors. In cooperation with Farming for the Future it identified there were programs currently operating within the WA broadacre industries that would meet this specific market request.
Earlier in this decade, the Blackwood Basin Group’s BestFarms and Mingenew-Irwin Group’s HealthyFarms environmental management systems were piloted and now have been established and implemented in the broadacre regions of WA. Concurrently, the Better Farm IQ food safety and quality assurance program was being implemented by CBH. A logical and cost effective linkage of these endeavours would deliver against customer assurance requirements for WA producers supplying to Primaries and other wool brokering companies.
There were multiple other benefits for Primaries to partner Better Farm IQ in WA’s broadacre areas. Some of these benefits are:
These relationships enabled the WA broadacre industry to encourage better environmental management through the delivery of local EMS programs, yet at the same time meet international market requests for a certified management system.
The BetterFarmIQ program provides an equivalent to SQF1000CM level 3 Certification, and by coupling with either BestFarms or HealthyFarms, enables compliance with the requirements of SQF’s Responsible Environmental Practice add-on module. The scope of the Certification can also be extended to include formal assurance of social accountability via SQF’s Responsible Social Practice module (recognising good social practices on-farm). In addition, the Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) requirements that are normally expected at Level 1 of SQF SQF1000CM Certification, which encompass animal welfare and customer specified requirements such as the use or non-use of mulesing, enable a broader spectrum of issues be managed and outcomes assured and certification provided.
By fostering these partnerships, Primaries have been able to offer farmers a coordinated and integrated approach to meet the assurance requirements of their markets. Primaries and CBH both recognise that by adopting an integrated management system it would save farmers time and money by integrating their record keeping and auditing systems, which is supported by the findings of Seymour et al (2007). The approach being pursued by the partners is compatible with a four step or tiered approach, outlined by Seymour et al (2007), to provide both process (Guide 62) and product (Guide 65) assurances by growers to the value chain. An abbreviated outline of the four step approach is presented in figure 1.
The four step approach enables growers to have a low level entry point, where self assessment is undertaken, and progression is encouraged through the subsequent adoption of more sophisticated systems approaches to assurance. It moves them from second party audit and recognition, though to internationally recognised certification via third party audit mechanisms.
Figure 1: A four step approach to integrate food safety, quality and environmental assurance.
Quality Assurance Scheme
SQF1000CM level 2/3 + Responsible Environmental Practice (REP) module
Certified to ISO14001
SQF1000CM level 1 + REP module
National On-Farm QA System
Environmental Farm Plan
Livestock Production Assurance 1 (LPA 1)
Beginners Guide to Environmental Awareness
Source: Updated from Seymour et al (2007).
Market drivers for credence attribute assurances in the broadacre industries are weak. However the Primaries/CBH partnership demonstrates that when market requests are made, the WA industry is able to harness its resources and meet these demands in a timely manner.
Farming for the Future fostered a network of industry organisations and on-farm assurance programs that allowed this integrated management system to be initiated by working collaboratively. It provided the technical knowledge and support to allow this partnership to develop its own assurance process out of existing programs which met customer demands. Using existing programs saves growers the inconvenience of multiple audits and recording and reporting structures for different assurance programs. By using existing programs, the WA broadacre industry is able to offer its markets, particularly wool, assurances that it is producing a quality product whilst endeavouring to maintain or enhance its natural environment.
We acknowledge the leadership of Jon Warren (Department of Agriculture and Food) in the development and delivery of Farming for the Future, and his support for this paper.
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1 ISO/IEC Guide 65 - General requirements for bodies operating product certification systems – known as ‘Guide 65’ enables product certification based on the production and intrinsic quality attributes of the product (ISO 1996b).