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AAFC research helping Ontario fruit, vegetable farmers

June 2, 2015  By Press release

Donna Speranzini AAFC

June 2, 2015, Guelph, Ont – An Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research project on environmental best practices will give Ontario fruit, vegetable, and flower growers the information they need to make environmentally-conscious decisions on water and nutrient use in their operations.

The Calculating Environmental Sustainability Metrics for Ontario Horticultural Production Systems project has shown that not all horticulture production systems have similar environmental challenges and that a “one size fits all” approach will not necessarily work.

“This project will allow farmers to use a whole-farm approach when choosing best management practices,” says project manager Donna Speranzini, regional ag-land and agroforestry manager with AAFC’s Knowledge Technology Transfer Office in Guelph. “All practices involve trade-offs. Growers will now have the information they need to evaluate those trade-offs. They’ll be able to make more informed decisions about which practices and technologies to use and how they’ll impact water and nutrient use in their operations.”


The horticulture production systems studied in this project include: apples, grapes, tender fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, prunes, pears and sweet and sour cherries), mixed fruit, berries, greenhouse vegetables, greenhouse flowers, mixed greenhouse operations, nurseries, sod, mushrooms, ginseng, potatoes, field vegetables and mixed vegetables.

For the first time ever, all the knowledge and information most relevant to Ontario growing conditions is being studied. The framework used will reflect Ontario specific crop rotations, crop management practices and horticultural production systems. It will be the most comprehensive systems-based environmental study of horticulture in Ontario.

Each collaborating horticulture sector will get a “report card” outlining how their sector is doing environmentally, where they provide an ecological benefit, and where improvement and next steps can be made. The different sectors will then be able to share this information with their stakeholders.

At this stage in the project, both the grape and tender fruit growers have received some good news. Given that their crops have permanent soil cover (grass), they don’t have significant soil erosion issues. With no soil erosion, their phosphorus loss and potential to negatively impact surface water quality is insignificant. These growers can now establish real instead of perceived environmental impacts and focus their efforts and resources on the most appropriate environmental strategies moving forward.

The project has also shown that grape and tender fruit growers need increased access to water for irrigation to get higher yields and the improved crop quality that consumers demand.

Speranzini and her team have been compiling research data from AAFC, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Statistics Canada, universities, various industry groups, and farmer surveys since 2012. The six metrics they are studying are: soil erosion, nitrogen use, phosphorus use, wastewater management, water demand (how much water a production system needs), and irrigation water demand (how much water a farm needs to supplement).

“Our work with these grower organizations is critical to making sure we have the most detailed and representative data available,” says Speranzini.

The project will be completed in 2016, and AAFC will communicate the results back to the different sectors in the winter of 2016-2017.

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