Equipment

June 24, 2016, Guelph, Ont – An all-natural spray, developed by University of Guelph researcher Jay Subramanian and his team of scientists, could do wonders to reduce food waste and enhance food security by extending the shelf life of fruit by up to 50 per cent. The spray uses a nanotechnology-based application of hexanal, a natural plant extract that prevents fruit spoilage. READ MORE
January 7, 2016, Orange, CA – New research reveals that irradiation can also be effective for treating blueberries and grapes for export without compromising fruit quality. It is often necessary to treat produce for insects in order to transport crops out of quarantine areas. Fumigation with methyl bromide, one of the most common treatments, is in the process of being phased out because of its depleting effect on the ozone layer. Alternately, ionizing irradiation at low doses is being used worldwide as a promising phytosanitary treatment for fruit such as guava, rambutan, and mango. Star, Jewel, and Snowchaser blueberries and Sugraone and Crimson Seedless grapes were irradiated at a target dose of 400 Gy (range of 400-590 Gy for blueberries and 400-500 Gy for grapes) and stored for three and 18 days under refrigeration, plus three days at ambient temperatures. "This experiment was designed to simulate the time of ground transport (from California) to Mexico and sea transport from California to Asia," the scientists explained. The fruit was then evaluated for soluble solids concentration, titratable acidity, and weight loss. With respect to these quality attributes, the results showed differences among fruit varieties, but the researchers found treatment effects to be "not significant." The study also involved sensory tests in which consumers evaluated the fruit on appearance, flavour, texture, and overall "liking." "Firmness was the primary attribute affected by irradiation for both varieties of grapes, but sensory testing showed that consumers did not have a preference for control or irradiated fruit," the authors said. "However, sensory scores for flavour were higher for the irradiated berries than the control berries after storage, suggesting a decline in quality of the control blueberries with time." The authors said the research showed that (in terms of quality) irradiation at 400 Gy can maintain blueberry and table grape quality sufficiently to meet transportation, distribution, and storage needs for overseas markets. "Our results show that both blueberries and grapes have a high tolerance for phytosanitary irradiation and that storage affects their quality more than irradiation treatment," they concluded. The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site: http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/50/11/1666.abstract.  
October 7, 2015, Guelph, Ont – It can be a real challenge for farmers to match their supply of fresh fruits and vegetables with consumer demand – especially at the height of the harvest when there is often an excess of fresh produce on the market, which can lower prices to growers. The new bins, designed for use in cold storage facilities, may help solve that problem by extending the shelf life of perishable crops to give farmers more flexibility with their marketing decisions. “Reducing oxygen levels slows down the ripening process of fruits and vegetables, and our module is an air-tight container that can store fresh produce in a low oxygen environment,” explains Vincent Nicoletis, general manager of Janny MTCA, the Canadian subsidiary of the product’s French manufacturer, Janny MT. The storage bin lids contain semi-permeable membranes that release carbon dioxide from the bin while maintaining a small concentration of oxygen inside, and can achieve concentration levels of three per cent for both oxygen and carbon dioxide. The normal concentration in the atmosphere or in a cold storage room is approximately 20.9 per cent for oxygen and 0.1 per cent for carbon dioxide. Dr. Jennifer DeEll, fresh market quality program lead with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, is leading a two-year project to test the effectiveness of the modified atmosphere storage bin on Ontario crops. In 2014, her team worked with asparagus, cherries, plums, apples, and pears, and this year trials are being conducted on blueberries at Blueberry Hill Estates near St. Williams, Ont. “Overall, we’re finding that the bins do extend the storage life. Blueberries also generally respond well to modified atmosphere storage, so we’re hoping to find the same thing this year with the blueberries as well,” she explains. For this year’s trial, four of the new bins were filled with blueberries and placed into cold storage. Each week for four weeks, a gas sample is taken from one of the bins to make sure it is providing the expected environment. This bin is then opened and the fruit is removed and weighed before it is taken to a lab to be analyzed for acidity, colour, sugar, juice, firmness and overall quality. The technology lends itself particularly well to smaller operations with on-farm markets or who sell to farmers’ markets. For example, Nicoletis says the storage bin will give apple and pear growers more time to sell their crops on the higher value fresh market instead of having to look for wholesale or processing markets. Growers of crops with a short shelf life, like asparagus, blueberries and cherries, can hold back part of their production to sell at a later date when the price might be higher, but without affecting product quality. “The main benefit for consumers is fresh, local produce available for longer,” he adds. The Janny MT module evaluation project has received funding from Ontario Agri-Food Technologies’ (OAFT) Rapid Response to Research Needs program. OAFT is supported by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. More information about the modified atmosphere storage modules can be found at www.jannymtca.com.
September 8, 2015, Windsor, Ont – A Canadian company claims it’s leading the race to provide the public frozen tomatoes, green peppers and onions, foods that until now didn't freeze well. Bonduelle Canada CEO Daniel Vielfaure says his company "has the leap on everyone" when it comes to the production of dehydrofrozen vegetables, a process which reduces the water content in vegetables before freezing them. READ MORE
Uncovered forklift openings and through the “hot” fruit where it warms (purple arrows). It‘s then drawn through the slots in the plywood (red arrows) and upward towards the evaporator coils to be re-cooled. Photo by courtesy of Hugh Fraser, OMAFRA The key to keeping fruits and vegetables alive after they’re harvested is lowering the temperature of the produce and forced-air cooling systems. “A lower produce temperature reduces ethylene production, damage from micro-organisms, moisture losses and bruising injury,” says Hugh Fraser, extension agricultural engineer with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in Vineland. Three kinds of forced-air cooling systems are available, but the one he likes best for cooling produce packed into bins that have slots in the bottom is the serpentine cooling system. Although this is a simple cooling system, it can be difficult to explain in words, he said. Specially sized, high capacity fans inside the cold storage unit pull refrigerated air through a specially designed duct that a column of bins in multiples of two are placed against; usually four or six bins high. The duct has slots lined up perfectly with every-other forklift opening of the bin column [bin number two, four and six in the case of a column six bins high]. With the fans operating, the forklift openings of these same bins are covered with a tarp so refrigerated air cannot enter that forklift opening across from the plenum slots. Because the duct is under suction, these tarps are sucked tightly against these forklifts openings. Refrigerated air is then compelled to enter through the remaining three forklift openings and travel up bins one, three and five, or down bins two, four and six, through the produce via the slots in the bins’ floor. Hence, the name serpentine forced-air cooling. For each column of bins, atop the plenum wall is one centrifugal squirrel cage fan that draws a minimum of one cubic foot per minute per pound of produce (CFM/lb) at 10 mm of static pressure. Multiple stacks should be packed tightly together with slots/holes covered on the outer most columns to ensure there is little to no short-circuiting of refrigerated air. “The outer bin sides can be tarped, but in reality, you don’t get a lot of short circuiting through there and there is little difference in cooling,” Fraser said. One advantage of this system is that it takes the least amount of floor area per kilo of fruit. The second advantage is that the cooling air travels through the depth of the bin and not the width, which puts less load on the fan and speeds cooling. “This is very efficient and is the best option for cooling bulk produce before packing,” he said. The disadvantages are it works only with bins that have a slotted floor and any side vents should be blocked. “There can also be some short circuiting of air through the top bins. And because the cross-section of the fork lift openings are so small … you have a relatively small area through which to pull air. This restricts how many bins.” Fraser said going two or three stacks deep would work just fine with correctly sized fans. So how does it compare to the room cooling method? An Ontario producer built a serpentine cooling system that Fraser used in a test with pears. In this test, one stack of six plastic bins were cooled the serpentine way and compared with room cooling in three plastic bins sitting in an open area of the cooler surrounded by cold, blowing refrigerated air. Researchers simultaneously monitored the internal temperatures of pears in both the serpentine forced air-cooling and room cooling systems. They found the serpentine system cooled the pears five times faster and reached a 7/8 cooling time of 3.6 hours versus 18 hours for the room cooling system. “We were actually very ‘kind’ to the room-cooled pears because if these were packed into a cold storage the way they normally would be, it could be a lot longer than 18 hours. I’ve done tests like this with apples and it can be a day and a half before they all get cooled,” he said. Fraser identified the six components needed to make a forced-air serpentine system. FanNeed one squirrel-cage centrifugal fan per column of bins. The fan should be able to draw one cubic foot of air per minute (CFM) per pound of fruit at 10 mm (0.4 inches) of static pressure. This translates into one 3,000 CFM fan for six stacked bins of fruit holding about 500 pounds. “The good news is that every piece of fruit in these bins is at virtually the same temperature when you are done,” he said. DuctsBe wary of any undue restrictions on the fan due to holes that are too small in the bin, or cross-section of forklift opening. You want about two square feet of opening for every 1,000 CFM of airflow. “So with a 3,000 CFM fan you would like about six square feet of cross section so you are not choking the fan and putting an undue load on it,” he said. ContainersMost plastic bins used by Ontario tender fruit producers are ideal for serpentine cooling because they have straight side walls, they fit like LEGO™ blocks and have long, slotted floor vents. A full 25 per cent of the area perpendicular to the airflow is open. Short circuit prevention“If you want to do this right, you have to make sure the air flows through the produce so you have to make sure there are no spots where the air is going to sneak through,” Fraser said. Put bins together nice and tight, use bumper pads to fill gaps and cover forklift openings correctly. Use foam on the wall for good seal. Use a static pressure gauge to measure if the system is tight. RefrigerationEnsure you have enough refrigeration capacity to pull the heat out quickly. The hot air pulled from the fruit is directed toward the evaporator coils where it is cooled, then blown back into the cold storage where it is picked up again by the serpentine system. MonitoringMonitoring is simple and tells you how effective your system is. In one particular case, the cold air going into the bins measured at 36 F, while at the fan, the hot air coming out was about 51 F. “That hot air is about half way between the cold air going in and what the fruit temperature actually is. In this particular case, the fruit averaged about 64 degrees which is close to half way,” he said. By monitoring the temperature of the cold air going in and the hot air coming out, you can predict when the thermostatically controlled fan should be turned off. “I can’t emphasize enough that virtually every piece of fruit in that bin [should be] about the same temperature when you are done,” he said.      
April 27, 2015, Jalandhar, India – Researchers at the Central Potato Research Station (CPRS) in Jalandhar, India, claimed to have invented a new technique that would ensure storage of potatoes for longer duration. According to the principal scientist at CPRS, researchers have assembled a machine that can remove water from freshly harvested potatoes and keep them from rotting in storage. READ MORE
December 5, 2016, Jerusalem, Israel – Farmers of the not-so-distant future may be able to accurately project their fruit yields with the help of an automated “AGRYbot” currently taking shape in central Israel. Known more formally as the “Robotic Sonar for Yield Assessment and Plant Status Evaluation,” the AGRYbot is a sonar system mounted on the end of a robotic manipulator that is capable of identifying the acoustic signature of different entities in the agricultural plot. READ MORE
October 24, 2016, Elmwood, PEI – Up until this fall, Alex Docherty, chairman of the PEI Potato Board and a potato farmer in Elmwood, P.E.I., would do what most potato farmers on the Island still do today — hire rock pickers. This year, he purchased a Spudnik AirSep Harvester, a piece of equipment instead that eliminates one of the more mundane tasks of the potato harvest — separating the rocks from the spuds. READ MORE
  Since a blueberry is mostly water, any touch has the potential to bruise it. While most human pickers are gentle enough to pick the berries without bruising them, the same cannot be said for mechanical pickers. Bruising is almost guaranteed when berries drop more than 30 cm onto a hard surface, generally the case on today’s picking machines. As more growers turn to machine picking to offset the increasing cost and decreasing availability of labour, bruising has become more of an issue. Researchers have developed a new BIRD (blueberry impact recording device) sensor to more accurately measure bruising in mechanical pickers and on packing lines. Roughly the size and shape of a blueberry, the BIRD weighs about six grams and can be dropped in a machine just like a blueberry. “It’s very good at measuring impact,” says U.S. Department of Agriculture research horticulturist Fumiomi Takeda, who is based at the Appalachian Fruit Station in West Virginia. The BIRD has shown that no two packing lines are the same and has pinpointed transition points as creating the most impacts. Even if each impact is small, the cumulative effect of multiple impacts is enough to create bruising and reduce overall fruit quality. While the BIRD sensed little damage in hand harvesting, it found severe impacts in picking machines, particularly from the catch plates. Even if bruises aren’t apparent to the naked eye, they exist, Takeda told growers and packers at the recent Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, B.C. “Ten per cent of the [machine-picked] fruit you put into cold storage is damaged.” Primary ways to lessen bruising are to develop a firmer berry that can stand up to machine picking or to build a picking machine that can handle berries more delicately. Berry breeders, researchers and engineers are working on both options. “Growers have identified machine harvestability and firmer fruit as their highest priority and that’s one trait we’re focusing on,” says B.C. berry breeder Michael Dossett. Success is still a long way away. The commercial release of a new variety can take up to 15 years and the B.C. blueberry breeding program is in its ninth year. Even if Dossett releases a new variety in the next six years, there is no indication his earliest selections have the firmness growers want and need. Takeda says engineers are making some headway, noting they have created a new catcher plate design that “virtually eliminates bruising.” Another promising design picks from the top using angled rotors and drops the berries onto a soft surface. “It has the same fruit quality as hand harvesting,” Takeda says. Researchers have also tried a walk-a-long unit (not much improvement) and a semi-mechanical machine with multiple shakers to eliminate some of the mechanical movement. Last year, Naturipe Farms – one of the world’s leading blueberry growers and marketers – issued the Blue Challenge, inviting “innovators, developers and technology integrators to help transform the way we will harvest blueberries in the future.” It has promised $10,000 and a joint development agreement for up to five semi-finalists, which were selected in January and February. The first person to deliver a working prototype with a demonstrable ability to be a viable commercial automated system will receive a $200,000 prize. While they await a winner, Takeda says one thing growers can do is pad their catch plates so berries don’t drop straight onto hard plastic. Packers should also consider rejigging their lines to reduce the number of transition points.      
  Starting a business isn’t hard. Starting a business that stands the test of time is more difficult. Ag-Tronic Control Systems Inc. has grown hand-in-hand with the industry it supports in Ontario and elsewhere. Joe Sleiman is the mastermind and owner behind the company, which is celebrating 25 years in business in 2016. Located in Lakeshore, Ont. – near Lake St. Clair – Sleiman says Ag-Tronic has become known as an innovative automation design and manufacturing company. Over the past quarter century, the company has succeeded in designing and manufacturing automated sorting and grading systems, setting new industry standards for the 21st century. This is particularly true for cucumber and sweet corn production. Prior to the birth of Ag-Tronic, Sleiman worked as a lead electro-mechanical service person for a farm equipment dealer, which earned him a reputation for providing exemplary customer service. He also designed and manufactured three successful automation systems. Due to a slowing economy in the early 1990s, Sleiman found himself unemployed but not out of ideas. Realizing the future of the agriculture community was dependent on technology and automation, he seized the opportunity. Ag-Tronic Control Systems began with Sleiman and his wife, Samia. Today, the couple’s operation employs 20 people. “We’ve done a good job of recognizing new opportunities and supplying the best solutions at competitive prices,” says Sleiman. An example is the spin-off sales company Accu-Label Inc., created in 2001 to meet product-labeling requirements in the fruit sector. Rapid growth of the industry has presented its share of challenges. Finding and maintaining staff to represent Ag-Tronics is one thing Sleiman admits has always been tough – especially for a businessman who likes to over-deliver.  “Our ability to tailor appropriate technical as well as practical solutions to customer needs is a result of 25 years experience both in Canada and abroad. Right now, we are in the process of establishing a global network to expand our products and services all over the world. Diversification will keep us going and growing for another 25 years.”      
 The closed structure and controlled environment of the greenhouse makes for an ideal place for robot technology to flourish but there are many challenges. Photo by Contributed photo Bill Gates predicted that every home in South Korea would have a robot by 2015, says Medhat Moussa, a professor with the school of engineering at University of Guelph, adding that Japan’s robotic industry would reach $50 billion in sales by 2025. “That hasn’t happened,” he admits. “However, every year has seen record sales of robots for the last five years. Every year breaks the record. Some of that is due to the auto sector but also to technological advances in robotics.” What does that mean for agriculture? “A recent market study predicted that the agricultural robot market would grow from $817 million in 2013 to $16.3 billion in 2020, that’s just seven years,” Moussa says. This growth is happening and researchers at the University of Guelph are helping it along. Examples in the fieldA lettuce-thinning robot, created by Blue River Technology in California, is used for the thinning and weeding of lettuce to increase yield. Its vision system scrutinizes each plant then applies “advanced artificial intelligence algorithms that make plant-by-plant decisions,” says Moussa, to optimize yield and then eliminate unwanted plants according to its programming. Agrobot S.L., a company based in Spain, has developed a strawberry harvester that uses cameras to analyze the plant and find the ripest berries. It takes 20 photos per second and sends the data to a computer algorithm that separates each berry by its shape, size and colour. If 80 per cent of a strawberry meets the criteria, an arm is extended to scoop up the fruit in its basket and a blade extends to cut the stem. “This machine should be available quite soon,” Moussa says. “Most of these robots are for specific crops, and attached to that is a specific feasibility study of whether or not there is a cost benefit to operating these systems.” So what about a general robot for harvesting? “For this, there are many challenges,” he says, citing a research paper published last year that followed 40 different projects worldwide over the last 30 years. “Not a single one of them was commercialized for general harvesting.” Why? The issue lies in the different variables existing for each crop to be harvested, Moussa says. Each crop has its own size variability, reflectance and ripeness signature that the vision system has to accommodate. Plus the accessibility and visibility of the fruit must be optimal. There is also the variability in the growing environment – whether it be wind and rain, natural lighting conditions or physical objects in the way. For fruit, different cultivation and training systems that impact tree geometry must be accounted for in the programming. Guidance systems that are appropriate for open fields or orchards are also needed. “All of these add to the complexity of using a robot in the open field,” Moussa says. Robots in greenhouse applicationsThe closed structure and controlled environment of the greenhouse, however, makes for an ideal place for robot technology to flourish but there are many challenges. “The Leamington area has the largest concentration of greenhouses in North America and these are all high tech,” Moussa says. “In terms of the level of technology, the only competition is in Holland.” Besides environment, robots are needed in the greenhouse industry because labour accounts for 30 per cent of expenses or about $70,000 to $80,000 per acre per season. Moussa and his research team were approached by a large operation in 2009 to develop a robot system for harvesting, de-leafing and later scouting for diseases. While setting up this system, Moussa says they had some issues. “In terms of technical issues, tomato greenhouses have 10,000 to 12,000 plants per acre which is difficult for a robot looking for fruit covered by leaves.” The other problem is dynamic, where the robot is attempting to grasp a tomato but brushes against the plant causing the whole plant to move which changes its location. Another issue is speed. Researchers have found that workers are generally very efficient and can pick a tomato in six to seven seconds. The robot takes just over one minute. Safety is a concern and not just for workers for whom there are guards and sensors mounted on the robot, but also for the health of the plant. “If you make a mistake and cut the plant, that’s a production issue,” Moussa says. “There are a lot of tomatoes on one plant.” The last issue is cost. “How much are you willing to spend? Can we actually use robots to increase revenue by reducing waste and increasing yield?” Moussa’s team uses a systems approach, which includes both hardware and software, with the design being driven by data. He calls the system the Guelph Intelligent Greenhouse Automation System or GIGAS. To generate this data, GIGAS’ components include a vision system with multiple cameras to take images of the plants. “At the back end is a plant database that keeps track of all the plants in the greenhouse, with a decision support and planning element, where all the calculations are made,” he says. “Once a decision is made, that message is sent to the robot that goes and does the job.” This robot can gently pick an individual beefsteak tomato, or properly select a tomato cluster for supper. The robot also has a different arm adapted for trimming foliage and de-leafing.   During a workshop in 2012, Moussa was asked by some growers if GIGAS could be used for disease scouting. “This is very preliminary, but we can actually scan for powdery mildew and detect it early on,” he says. Challenges over next five yearsOne technical challenge is giving the robot full functional capabilities. For a robot to work well, to pick the crop and deliver the harvest, it has to be connected with the rest of the infrastructure in the greenhouse and this has not been done. “This is more of an engineering issue than a research one,” Moussa says. “Our vision system now is about 60 to 70 per cent accurate and we are working to increase that. We are also looking at multiple cameras and other sensors like laser. “As for the gripping system, we are doing very well. This is our last iteration and we have tested many exotic designs with multi-fingered hands but the more exotic, the more costly it becomes and no one can afford it. So the dual-finger gripper can be picked up from many manufacturers, I can adjust that, add sensors and a controller then you can have something that is reasonably priced.” Moussa predicts that in four to five years, they will have developed a commercially viable robot for harvesting and de-leafing. For now, the industry waits.      
July 6, 2015 – A project involving 3D camera technology currently being developed at the University of Lincoln, UK, could result in a fully automatic robotic harvesting system for broccoli. The University of Lincoln was one of more than 70 UK businesses and universities to share funding through the £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst, which aims to improve the development of agricultural technology in the UK. The project, which is jointly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Innovate UK, will test whether 3D camera technology can be used to identify and select when broccoli is ready for harvesting. This will be a key step towards the development of a fully automatic robotic harvesting system for broccoli, which will significantly reduce production costs. The research team comprises academics Professor Tom Duckett and Dr Grzegorz Cielniak from Lincoln’s School of Computer Science and Dr Simon Pearson from the university’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) at Holbeach. The main industry partner is R. Fountain & Son Ltd, horticultural consultants based in Boston, Lincolnshire, who will be responsible for creating the broccoli-cutting device. “Broccoli is one of the world's largest vegetable crops and is almost entirely manually harvested, which is costly,” said Dr. Tom Duckett, group co-ordinator of the Agri-Food Technology Research Group at the University of Lincoln. “This technology is seen as being an important move towards developing fully automatic robot harvesting systems, which could then be used for a variety of different crops. “In all our agri-related research work, our mission is to develop new technological solutions for the business of producing food through agriculture. The long-term impact of our research includes safer food, less waste, more efficient food production and better use of natural resources, as well as promoting human health and happiness.” “The Agri-Tech strategy aims to make the UK a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability,” said Ian Meikle, head of agriculture and food at Innovate UK. “The funding decisions are expert-led and evidence-based. They support great ideas that address challenges of the future in food and farming. With business, research and government working together, these investments can unlock potential and deliver major benefits for society and the economy.” Another project benefiting from the University of Lincoln’s expertise in this area is the early detection and biocontrol of prevalent diseases of mushrooms and potatoes. Also funded by Innovate UK, this project addresses challenges associated with the identification, prevention and management of disease by developing diagnostic tools for farm use and alternatives to chemical pesticides. This will enable the primary producers in these industries to rapidly diagnose the existence of disease and facilitate earlier decision making. It is anticipated that this project will develop a long-needed alternative to the use of pesticides by the mushroom and potato industries, thereby ensuring their future sustainability. “Food loss from farm to fork, due to disease and spoilage, causes considerable environmental and economic effects,” said Dr Bukola Daramola, principal investigator with the university’s NCFM. “The outputs of this project have the potential to significantly address the challenges presented to the mushroom and potato sectors by pathogenic bacteria and fungi, their detection and resistance to treatment. At the heart of the project is a drive to develop robust solutions for bio-monitoring and bio-control, leading to scientific advancement and the marketing of products which will ultimately have significant economic and societal benefit for the UK and beyond.”
January 17, 2017, Edmonton, Alta – The HortSnacks-to-Go 2016-2017 Webinar Series continues on January 30, 2017, at 3 p.m. MT (5 p.m. ET). “The webinar will feature Rebecca Shortt from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs,” says Dustin Morton, commercial horticulture specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF). “An expert in irrigation management, Rebecca will discuss scheduling with drip irrigation and how to get the most bang for your buck from your irrigation system.”There is no charge to attend the webinar. To register, call Dustin Morton at 780-679-1314 or via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more information on the HortSnacks-to-Go Webinar Series, go to AF's horticulture homepage.
June 22, 2016, Vancouver, BC – Semios, a provider of real-time agricultural information for precision farming, is offering two years of free soil moisture monitoring for their customers to optimize irrigation efficiencies, improving crop quality and yield. “Water shortages have been tough for farmers,” says Michael Gilbert, company CEO. “By fine-tuning irrigation to where and when it is most needed, farmers can protect their crops from drought conditions and time the irrigation sets throughout the season to enhance growing conditions.” With more than 200 customers and 50,000-plus sensors reporting every 10 minutes, Semios is a leading precision platform and is committed to helping the industry with the challenges of drought. “We know it will improve the farmer’s bottom line and conserve a vital, depleting resource in the process,” Gilbert says. Current soil moisture monitors are costly and generally comprised of data loggers that require farmers to go into the field every one to two weeks to get historical data. Integrated into the Semios network, the soil moisture module includes time domain transmissometry (TDT) sensors that measure temperature (+/- 0.1 F), eletroconductivity (EC) and water content (+/- 1%). The sensor stations include water probes at depths of one and three feet. The data from the sensors is relayed wirelessly every 10 minutes through the Semios network to the grower’s computer and/or mobile phone through Semios applications. Combined with integrated weather forecasts, farmers can now react to current conditions and forecasts to ensure crops get the right amount of water where and when they need it most. The Semios soil moisture module is part of a custom designed controller and sensor network that gives fruit and tree nut farmers remote access to conditions in the field 24/7. The soil moisture module conserves water and fertilizers by ensuring irrigation flows do not continue beyond the root zone and that crops do not suffer from a deficit of water. Other modules offered by Semios include pest management, chilling hours, frost management and disease control. Semios will deliver, install and service the soil moisture solution demo stations to its customers for two years at no additional charge. Modules have video tutorials and Semios customer support is available 24/7.
January 21, 2016, Kemptville, Ont – Rebecca Shortt, OMAFRA water specialist, will be leading a drip irrigation workshop Feb. 2 from 9 a.m. to noon in the Kemptville area. Shortt will take growers through a step-by-step process to optimize farm irrigation water use. By the end of the workshop session, growers will know: Farm water requirements Plant water requirements Preferred irrigation scheduling tools and techniques And will leave the workshop knowing how long to run their system and how to schedule for cooler days and various crop growth stages. Improving system management can save producers money and conserve water. Attendees are asked to bring a calculator and a pencil. Pre-registration is required as space is limited. Interested people can confirm their spot by emailing Kevin Schooley at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or calling 613-258-4587.
Nov. 2, 2015, Ontario – Climate change is making Ontario’s farmers look carefully at water conservation and efficient use. Agriculture is a significant water user in the province, and after experiencing drought-like growing conditions in 2012 and watching regions in the United States deal with severe water restrictions, Ontario agricultural researchers are working to find new cropping methods to use water as efficiently as possible. In Ontario, crop irrigation systems are most commonly used on fruit and vegetable crops; fewer than 5,000 acres of field corn are currently irrigated. However, irrigation is essential to producing maximum corn yields in parts of Ontario, leading researchers and irrigation experts to team up to find new ways to irrigate crops in a more water conscious and efficient manner. The result is a new-to-Ontario below ground crop watering system, Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI). Since 2013, University of Guelph Plant Agriculture professor Rene Van Acker has led a research team studying this low-pressure, high-efficiency irrigation method that uses buried polyethylene drip lines to bring water and nutrients to crops. The team has been testing the system in corn fields, since corn requires more inputs like water and nutrients than other Ontario-grown field crops. “Traditional crop irrigation methods are very labour intensive with inefficient water and energy use,” says John O’Sullivan, also a professor in the University of Guelph’s Plant Agriculture department and the on-site project manager of the SDI research. O’Sullivan explains customary irrigation systems use aluminum pipes laid above ground and across fields, using overhead water sprinklers to deliver water to crops. Mobile sprinklers are also popular, but use a lot of energy and of the irrigation water applied, as little as 50 per cent is actually used by the crop. “SDI can deliver water with an efficiency of 95 per cent or higher and keep corn root zones closer to optimum soil moisture and maximize fertilizer utilization,” says O’Sullivan.The team has proven SDI is the most efficient system with water savings of 25-50 per cent when compared to traditional overhead water irrigation.   Burying the SDI water lines instead of sprinkling water onto the crops immediately boosts water use efficiency by eliminating water evaporation from above ground sun and air exposure. Unlike other drip irrigation systems where water lines lay flat on the ground surface, SDI drip tapes are buried 14” in the ground. Doubling the efficiency of the new irrigation system, crop nutrients, or fertilizer, can also be added to the water pumping through the sub surface irrigation lines. This allows farmers to deliver exact amounts of fertilizer to the crop throughout its growing stages. And since nutrients are applied right at the plant’s root level, very little is left unused, which reduces the chance of fertilizers leaching into the environment.   “It’s like spoon feeding our plants,” says Gary Csoff, technology development representative with Monsanto Canada Inc., who points out the ability to apply nutrients through the SDI system also maximizes the crop’s yield, quality and the farmer’s economic investment in costly crop nutrients. “This new crop production technology will maximize productivity per acre while protecting our environment,” says O’Sullivan, adding that a one per cent adoption rate of SDI by Ontario farmers would generate an additional $10 million in farm gate sales through increased yields and more efficient nutrient management. SDI research has been funded by Farm and Food Care Ontario’s Water Adaptation Management and Quality Initiative. The research team has also been awarded funding through the University of Guelph’s Gryphon’s LAAIR (Leading to Accelerated Adoption of Innovative Research) program to continue testing and conducting demonstrations to farmers interested in adopting this new technology. The Gryphon’s LAAIR is supported through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. “This is an out of the box approach to irrigation that has stimulated a lot of thought and discussion,” says Csoff. The SDI research team also received input support from Peter White, Irrigation Research Associate at Simcoe Research Station, Todd Boughner of Judge Farms in Simcoe, and Vanden Bussche Irrigation of Delhi.    
September 22, 2015, Gainesville, FL – Sanjay Shukla looked out over row upon row of tomato and pepper plants and had an idea: What would happen if he made the compacted soil rows taller and more narrow? Would the plants need less water, fertilizer and fumigation? Would the plants grow as tall? Would the plants produce as many vegetables? And so, instead of planting rows that were normally six to eight inches high and about three feet across, the University of Florida professor planted them 10 inches to a foot high and 1.5 to two feet across. Instead of needing two drip lines to irrigate each row, they required only one. In addition, they needed fewer square feet in plastic mulch covering. He calls it “compact bed geometry” or “hilling.” Shukla, who specializes in agricultural and biological engineering, was astounded by the answers. Not only did the tall narrow rows grow the same amount of vegetables, they retained more fertilizers – reducing what would have leached into groundwater – and they would need half the amount of water. In addition, he cut fumigation rates for pests by as much as 50 per cent. He estimates the revamped rows could save farmers $100 to $300 an acre, depending on the crop, the setup of their farm and how many drip lines they use per row; with a 1,000-acre farm, that can add up to a $300,000 savings. If used statewide, the potential cost savings for vegetable growers who use plastic mulch, could run into millions per crop per year. “I’m looking at a business solution – you do this, you save money,” said Shukla, whose primary interest is water quality and supply issues. His location at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s Research and Education Center in Immokalee puts him at the northern edge of one of the most delicately balanced environments in the world – the Everglades. “And oh, by the way, it’s better for the environment.” By using less water and plastic, he explained, fields will be less flooded and, thus, water contaminated with fertilizer is not being discharged into nearby lakes, streams and rivers. Several farms have already adopted Shukla’s tall, narrow rows, including a 2,000-acre tomato farm. Chuck Obern, who grows eggplants and peppers at C&B Farms in Clewiston, has switched 140 acres of eggplants and estimates he has saved at least $500 an acre on the cost of drip tape for irrigation, fumigation, and the pumping of water and fertilizer. “His experiment was in a production field and they were side by side with our crops,” Obern said. “His experiment used half the water and half the fertilizer as our crop, yet you couldn’t see any difference. It told us we were wasting half our water and fertilizer.” Obern said he is excited to see what Shukla can do for his pepper crop in the fall. Shukla’s discovery is vital, as Florida is already struggling to provide enough water for an ever-increasing population. The state has seen a 32 per cent increase in population since 2005 and, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state will likely not be able to meet the demands for water – 31 million cubic meters per day – by the year 2030. Shukla says his next step is to explore if the compact bed geometry will work elsewhere. If it does, it has the potential to help improve agriculture globally. “I’m hoping to go to California and Georgia to learn about their production systems and see what can be done at a larger scale,” he said.
  Popular across many U.S. states with both field crop and horticulture crop farmers, controlled drainage (CD) is making inroads in Ontario. Now, a joint study on these innovative systems, being led by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) and McGill University researchers, is aiming to make Canadian horticulture crop growers and well as drainage contractors more familiar with the technology – and therefore more willing to adopt it and its benefits. Put simply, controlled drainage delivers advantages for farmers and the environment that standard drainage cannot offer. Let’s take a look at how it works. Each controlled drain, placed just before the outlet, consists of a plastic tube 45 cm wide and almost two metres long, integrated with the existing drainage tile. Inside each tube are vertical plastic panels that can be pulled up to let the water flow freely or pushed downward to stop it. The system is meant to be left open in the spring and fall to help drain the field and closed during the summer to retain water from rainstorms (along with the valuable nutrients in that water). Most years, that should have a positive effect on crop yield. However, CD systems only work well on flat topography. With fields that aren’t flat, more controlled drain structures are required to control water flow and having structures located in the field itself (instead of just at the edge) make tasks such as planting and harvesting quite difficult. The three-year McGill-AAFC study, currently underway in Ontario’s Holland Marsh area, aims to increase the adoption of CD by broadening its applicability. “CD has primarily been examined in continuous and corn-soybean production systems because these systems generally cover the majority of acres across Eastern Canada,” explains AAFC Senior Water Management Engineer Andrew Jamieson. “While horticultural production covers fewer acres, it’s often located in areas that have good potential for the installation and success of CD – flat land and medium-to-coarse textured soils.” Jamieson adds that since horticulture crops have higher nitrogen and phosphorus requirements than field crops, they present a greater opportunity for CD to decrease nutrient loss through runoff. It’s estimated that about 80 to 90 per cent of the phosphorous and nitrogen in a field crop field will stay put with controlled drainage compared to what would have been lost into the watershed with conventional drainage tile systems. “There is also greater potential for profitability with CD use in the hort sector due to the higher value of the crops,” Jamieson notes. “Research has shown that the yield bump from CD systems doesn’t happen every year (for example, in wet years), so we need a better grasp on how often will a producer see the yield bump and how a grower can manage a CD system to optimize yields.” The CD structures cost approximately $700 apiece plus installation, and when a farmer could expect to break even depends on yearly crop yields and prices, weather patterns, snow melt, soil type and so on. Jamieson notes the overall goal of the study – which he is co-leading with McGill’s Dr. Chandra Madramootoo – is to address a number of adoption barriers that have been identified by both producers and tile drain contractors. This same goal also applies to a study of CD in field crops near Lucan, Ont., being spearheaded by AAFC and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. “We have reams of research results confirming the environmental benefits of CD,” Jamieson says. “But what we hope to accomplish with these projects is a better understanding of how CD works at a farm level and the challenges of managing such a system from producer’s point of view.” For example, producers need have best management practices on when the water table should be raised, or how long in a wet year the field be left to drain. Tile drainage contractors have also asked AAFC for guidelines and standards for the installation of CD systems, and Jamieson hopes these studies can provide a foundation for that. “The contractor is the first point of contact for producers regarding drainage on their farm and if we don’t resolve the contractors concerns with CD, then the adoption of CD will remain slow,” he explains. One concern stems from the fact that CD systems are known to be more effective with newer tile drainage systems as they feature more pipes in the ground. More pipes with less space between them means a more uniform water table in the field can be achieved with the new drainage systems. The study is taking place in organic soil as it has been identified by researchers as having good potential for CD. The controlled drains were installed during the fall of 2014 at two sites in the Holland Marsh. The first site is 0.62 hectares under organic carrot production. The second site is just more than four hectares being used for organic celery and onion production. A third site with conventional tile drains (organic onion production) will serve as the study control. “The fields have been instrumented to sample tile runoff and measure tile flow all year round,” Jamieson says. “We’re using two different methods for that – in case one fails, and also to get a sense of which method costs less. During the growing season, the fields will also be equipped with water table and soil moisture monitoring. We should be able to get a good sense of how CD can be used to maintain a fairly constant water table depth.” Jamieson notes that while some of the results will not be applicable to non-organic production, others definitely will. On the one hand, results on things like nutrient loading impact or ability of the system to maintain a consistent water table will be difficult to directly translate because organic (muck) soil is inherently different. “However, there will be takeaways about the challenge of managing a CD system with a traditional irrigation system, which are applicable to many horticultural production systems.” Study of controlled drains has been going on for more than two decades at the AAFC research station in Harrow, and has included an evaluation of the annual impact of CD on nutrient loading from tile and surface runoff on a plot scale, but Jamieson notes that CD research in Canada has generally had an overall focus on its function and effects only during the growing season. A look at the entire year is more valuable as it provides the entire picture, and that’s why Jamieson and his colleagues are taking on the challenge of monitoring over the winter months, attempting to study the annual impacts of CD on a field scale. “Some recent research results out of Ohio where CD was used in fields after harvest until the spring time show a 40 to 70 per cent reduction in dissolved phosphorus loads,” Jamieson says. “We are looking forward to seeing what conclusions we can draw from our year-round study.” The next step after this study is complete, says Jamieson, would be to examine the potential of CD and/or sub-irrigation (SI) on additional horticultural crops. “As well, we should examine the benefits of retrofitting an existing tile system to CD or installing a new CD system for the purposes of reducing the need for irrigation,” he explains. “This would involve a cost-benefit analysis along with examining the differences in time management between CD and/or SI and traditional irrigation methods.”      
November 8, 2016, Pocatello, ID – An invention called a “humigator” is helping potato growers across the U.S. have yearlong control over their potatoes. Garry Isaacs, the creator of the humigator, developed the first prototype in 1985. He said the name is a combination of the words humid and fumigator. Its primary function is to clean the air of potato storage sites, by doing so the pathogens known for inflicting diseases like silver scurf and black dot disease are taken out. READ MORE
  When applying chemicals to crops, where the chemical is delivered is sometimes more important than how much is delivered. A team of U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists has developed a new laser-guided spraying system that controls spray outputs to match targeted tree structures. “Conventional spray application technology requires excessive amounts of pesticide to achieve effective pest control,” says ARS agricultural engineer Heping Zhu. “This challenge is now overcome by our automated, variable-rate, air-assisted, precision sprayer. The new system is able to characterize the presence, size, shape, and foliage density of target trees and apply the optimum amount of pesticide in real time.” The system has many parts that have to work together with precision, including a high-speed laser-scanning sensor working in conjunction with a Doppler radar travel-speed sensor. “Our field experiments showed that the precision sprayer, when compared to conventional sprayers with best pest management practices, consistently sprayed the correct amount of chemicals, despite changes in tree structure and species,” Zhu says. “Pest control with the new sprayer was comparable to that of conventional sprayers, but the new sprayer reduced average pesticide use between 46 and 68 per cent, with an average pesticide cost savings of $230 per acre for ornamental nurseries. The cost savings can be much higher for orchards and other fruit crop productions.” Additional tests in an apple orchard demonstrated that the new sprayer reduced spray loss beyond tree canopies between 40 and 87 per cent, airborne spray drift by up to 87 per cent, and spray loss on the ground between 68 and 93 per cent. Sharon Durham is with Agricultural Research Service’s information staff.        
  The old axiom of “thinking outside the box” applies well to fruit and vegetable producers looking for ways to reduce costs in their cooling-packing facility, says Hugh Fraser, a consultant with OTB Farm Solutions and retired extension agricultural engineer with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). “The first thing I am going to say is to stop coaching and sit in the stands for a while,” he says. Take note of where your produce is not flowing in a straight line and where travel distances could be a lot shorter. “Look at things from a different perspective and ask key workers for their good ideas on efficiency and reward them,” Fraser says. “With a forklift, you can assume that it costs about $20 per hour to own, fuel and operate, and that’s on the conservative side. “Let us assume you are picking seven hours per day and that you have 50 picking days per season, and that you pick 60 bins per day. Let us also assume that each bin is touched about 12 times per cycle.” Fraser says the cycle starts with an empty bin that goes to the orchard to be filled, then comes back, goes into cooler storage, then the pack line to be emptied before the process repeats. He estimates the bin is touched one to three times at each location. “Over the course of the season, this adds up to about 36,000 touches,” he says. “This is costing you about 20 cents every time you touch that bin. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but after you touch all those bins 36,000 times in the season, there is a lot of money to be saved.” Fraser says to also think about forklift trips and how time gets added. “Slowing around corners can waste a lot of time, or blind spots where you can’t see what’s coming, or busy areas where you may have to slow down because it’s a bottleneck,” he says. “Every time you travel an extra metre, you add one second to your trip.” Moving bins to get at bins and then moving them back is a big time waster so think about ways to reduce the number of moves for the forklift, he says. Be careful around obstructions and in poorly lit areas, and try to handle the optimal combination of bins that will safely save you time. “Try to stop the re-warming of produce out of storage. You spend a lot of time and money to make the produce cold and then we bring it out to pack it and it gets re-warmed. It has to spend as little time out of cold storage as possible.” He remembers being in California where they had bins of produce passed on a conveyor through a hole in the cold storage wall right onto the packing line, which reduced the time the produce was out of storage. Fraser says all produce cools quickly at first, then slowly over time, regardless of the produce type or the style of cooler. In a typical forced-air cooler, produce will cool about 3 C in about 12 minutes, by 6 C in 24 minutes and by 9 C in 36 minutes. “We can’t stop re-warming but there are some things we can do to slow it down,” he says. Produce actually re-warms just like it cools, so it warms quickly at first then slowly over time. Fraser uses peaches as an example. “Assume that produce coming out of cold storage and onto the packing line is at one degree C and that it rewarms at only half the rate of forced-air cooling, which is very possible. So, in 12 minutes the temperature would rise by 1.5 degrees to 2.5 degrees, in 24 minutes by three degrees to four degrees, and in 36 minutes by 4.5 degrees to 5.5 degrees. “At 5.5 C, we are getting into the danger zone for potential mealiness with peaches,” he says. “Trying to re-cool peaches after you’ve got them in baskets and into the shipping container [is] very, very difficult.” Ideally, you want the shortest possible time out of storage to keep that coolness. “Do a simple test on your time out of storage. Let’s assume you dump your first bin at 8 a.m., and your last (60th bin), is packed out by 6 p.m., so it took 10 hours to pack 60 bins. That’s about 10 minutes on average per bin. It’s worth doing a little test to convince yourself that stuff is not out of storage very long.” Another way to reduce costs is to improve labour efficiency on the pack line, he says. Researchers at the University of California talk about having an adjustable, soft floor with a foot rail so that people can change their positions throughout the day. For shorter workers, the floor can be raised to allow their forearms to be nearly horizontal. “It’s a simple thing but it can be a big thing,” he says. Another idea to consider is having an adjustable shelf that sets the packing boxes at an optimum 12 to 15 degree incline from the horizontal so they tip in toward the worker. This position allows the worker to keep their upper arms more comfortably at near vertical. Fluorescent lighting should ideally be in the range of 500 to 1,000 lux – a unit of illumination. “Many packers are older and they need better lighting. Workers should also be rotated to reduce fatigue and monotony.” Fraser suggests not implementing these changes across the board, but to start with only a few workers to see how they respond to the changes. “Your workers will tell you very quickly if they like what you did or not,” he says. In some peach packing facilities, it can take 10 minutes of down time to switch containers on the line and it can easily happen twice a day. “If you have 20 packers, then they are idle 333 hours over 50 days, which is about $4,000 in lost time.” Evaporator coils must also earn their keep. “To get the most efficiency out of your coils, ensure they are drawing cold air through and around the produce so it’s cooling it. Air always takes the path of least resistance and it will not flow through bins or pallets unless it is forced to do so. Also, if you restrict airflow, or have short-circuiting of cold air back to the coils, you’re going to have faster frost buildup and more frequent defrosts required, which means higher electricity costs and slower pull down times. “You have to make the cold air in your storage do a better job for you,” he says. To do this, ensure there are four to six inches between bin or pallet rows that are parallel to the airflow in the room, and six to eight inches at the sidewall that are parallel to the airflow. “You should have at least 12 inches of space under the coils so the air has room to get back to the cooling coils and get re-cooled,” Fraser says.  “It’s easier to cool fruit in a bulk bin than after it is packed in a basket and placed in a corrugated container. Fruit not cold when packed is more susceptible to bruising and a shorter shelf life.” Over his 35-year career, Fraser has found the need for more cross-pollination among farms. “Tender fruit producers often don’t know what vegetable growers are doing and greenhouse growers don’t know what grape growers do,” he says. “We’ve lost some of that cross-pollination of good ideas.” Greenhouse vegetable and flower operations are highly mechanized and have pack lines, forklifts, automation and all can learn from everyone else. They also pack in containers and some use forced-air coolers. “Your non-competitors are going to share good ideas with you more than your competitors will,” he says. Having a long-term plan is another area that needs work. “Most farms expand production 100 per cent over one generation but nobody has a plan ready in their back pocket. And disaster can strike with a 100 per cent loss and again nobody has a plan to draw from,” he says. By thinking outside the box, producers can reduce costs and streamline operations. By having an expansion plan in place, they can be ready for whatever life brings their way.      
 Jason Verkaik of Carron Farms has been a pioneer in bringing new and ethnic vegetables to Ontario, including East Indian red carrots and heirloom carrots that come in many colours, from white to purple. Photo by Contributed photo A few years ago, multi-coloured carrots were a novelty in Canada, if you had heard of them at all. Now, they are becoming commonplace, and in Ontario, that’s partly due to Carron Farms. Owner Jason Verkaik has been a pioneer in bringing new and ethnic vegetables to residents of the province and beyond. He started growing crisp and sweet East Indian red carrots a decade ago and, over the past few years, has started growing large amounts of heirloom carrots. They come in many colours, from white to purple, and consumers love their look, taste and their healthy anthocyanins. However, manually sorting and bagging the heirloom carrots so each package has a good colour assortment was quite labour-intensive, and anyone in horticulture knows that labour must be minimized in order to keep farm businesses sustainable. Verkaik needed a mechanized solution, and for his innovative efforts and his first-in-Canada results, he won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. Verkaik’s family have deep roots in the Bradford area. The year was 1934 when his ancestors purchased a parcel of land on the west side of the Holland Marsh, an area that would come to be known as Springdale. Over the years, the Verkaiks cleared more land and expanded their farming operations, selling produce through farmer’s markets throughout Ontario. In 1967, the farm was divided into separate family farms to support the needs of the next generation. One of these farms belonged to Jacob (Jake) Verkaik and his family, and they named the farm by combining the letters of the farm’s two most prominent vegetables (you guessed it - carrots and onions). Jake passed away in the mid-1970s and two of his sons, Doug and Jack, took over the operation. Together, they developed a state of the art onion curing and storing facility as well as a carrot storing and packaging facility. Eventually, Doug’s son, Jason, took the reins. In the beginning of his search for a machine that would package both the farm’s heirloom carrots and traditional orange ones, Verkaik approached three companies. “Two of the companies thought they could work with me to adapt a packing machine to provide a balanced colour mix,” he remembers. “We realized it was going to require some physical changes as well as some computer programing changes to make it work. After going over ideas, both companies came in with quotes, and we went with one.” The resulting machine is the first of its kind in Canada. It has 14 weigh scale buckets, and the software chooses randomly from all 14 scales to find the optimum weight according to the parameters set. “This works extremely well for a single colour,” Verkaik explains. “But the randomness posed a challenge for the colour mix packs. What we did was create three separate channels out of the fourteen scales, feeding the machine separately with the different colours.” The machine then picks from a channel with red carrots, one with purple, and a third with carrots of three colours (orange, yellow, white). They all flow into a collecting bucket, which goes to the bagging machine and then to a packing table. It wasn’t all smooth sailing from the start, however. “Once the machine was set up, it didn’t start off very smoothly and adjustments had to be made to the programs to make it work more efficiently for the heirloom packs,” Verkaik remembers. “Also, we need do physical changes to the machine when we switch from heirloom packs to one-colour packs, which takes time. So, for small orders we just use the machine in regular mode and mix the colours on the line and use a couple of inspectors to ensure there’s a good colour mix in each bag. If there’s not, the bag is emptied and repacked by hand. It’s still faster this way than packing everything by hand. What took us four hours to do before, we now can do in one hour.”Verkaik says the success of the system has given him the confidence to go after larger carrot accounts both at home and in export markets. “Expansion of the yield is challenging,” he says. “As new accounts come, I know have the ability to meet the demand not only from a field production point of view but also a packing and delivery angle as well. It’s a good feeling.”Current challenges at Carron Farms include everything from weather to government policies, says Verkaik. “Our growth as a family farm has to be continually monitored,” he notes. “We farm 30 per cent more land than we did three years ago and our produce sales have doubled over that time, but it’s important that the growth is done for the right reasons. As we look to the future, we’re still looking for business growth both from the fields and the packing facilities. I see the heirloom carrots being an important part of that growth. I’m confident in myself and my farm’s team ability to grow a good harvest and ship a quality crop. I love working in the fields.” Verkaik considers it an honour to win a Premier’s Award. He thinks the awards are important because they demonstrate that the government recognizes farmers and the innovation that’s always at the forefront of the agriculture industry. “It’s humbling to see all the innovation across the sector and others who have won the awards, and to be included with them,” he says. “I would also like to encourage the government to keep the industry at the table and heed their knowledge and advice when policies are made that relates to agriculture,” he adds.      
February 10, 2015, Racine, WI – Orchard growers eager to match tractor power and efficiency with the best-possible working environment now have a cab tractor option from Case IH. The new cab combines a low profile with a roomy interior to protect crops while maximizing operator comfort. With an overall height of 83 inches, the new cab provides one of the lowest profiles in the industry and will help keep produce on the trees. The Orchard Cab provides the operator with a 360-degree view, and all the windows are recessed into the cab for a smooth exterior surface that will not catch on tree limbs. The ergonomic control layout, large entry and exit doors, cab pressurizer and HVAC system are designed to maximize operator comfort while reducing operator fatigue. Plus, the cab offers spacious design. With 98 per cent Case IH OEM parts, dealers are able to service almost every part through the Case IH part system. This ensures adequate parts stock inventory and overnight availability of these parts using the dealer’s order system (already in place). The cab is compatible with the Tier 4A Farmall 85C, 95C, 105C and 115C and will be available for the Tier 4 B 90C, 100C,110C and 120C soon.
January 30, 2015 - As companies continue to innovate new ways to get food items to people around the world, more than three-quarters of Canadians say there needs to be more environmentally friendly or “green” packaging when it comes to food products, according to a recent survey conducted by Asia Pulp & Paper Canada (APP) – one of the world’s largest paper companies. In fact, 58 per cent of Canadians say they seek out food that is packaged in containers that can be recycled or reused. While half of Canadians actively seek out environmentally-friendly food packaging based on APP’s study, nearly one third said they are also proactive about finding restaurants that embrace sustainable practices, including products packaged with recyclable or compostable content. In particular, nearly half (44 per cent) of millennials (18-34) research the environmental sustainability practices of restaurants. The survey, conducted by business research firm Opinion Research Corporation International (ORC), was completed in late September. About 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans were interviewed across the two countries. Generally, Canadian females tends to have more sustainable attitudes. Overall, the results showed that Canadians had stronger attitudes – some of the areas had striking differences – when it comes to food packaging compared to Americans.Key Take-aways 77 per cent of Canadians want more environmentally-friendly / green packaging for food products Baby boomers (55+) felt the most strongly about this issue (82 per cent) The Canadian results were significantly higher than American attitudes at 62 per cent  58 per cent of Canadians seek out food that is packaged in containers that can be recycled or reused The Canadian results were significantly higher than American attitudes at 46 per cent 50 per cent of Canadians actively seek out food that is packaging in an environmentally-friendly way More than half (53 per cent) of the millennials (18-34) said they are proactive about greener food packaging  The Canadian results were significantly higher than American attitudes at 38 per cent  32 per cent of Canadians actively seek out restaurants that embrace sustainability practices throughout their operations  Nearly half (44 per cent) of the millennials (18-34) said they research their restaurants for their practices The Canadian results were very similar to American attitudes at 31 per cent
February 8, 2017 – Walki, a producer of technical laminates and protective packaging materials, has developed an organic mulching solution based on natural biodegradable fibres instead of plastic. Walki Agripap is made from kraft paper that is coated with a biodegradable coating layer, which slows down the degradation of the paper. Without the coating, the paper would degrade in the soil within a few weeks. Walki’s new organic mulching solution has been the subject of extensive field-testing in Finland. The tests, which were carried out in 2016 by independent research institute Luke Piikkiö, compared the performance of different biodegradable mulches for growing iceberg lettuce and seedling onions. The tests demonstrated that Agripap was easy to lay on the fields and delivered excellent weed control. The results in terms of yield and durability were also good. Following the successful testing and approval of Agripap in Finland and Sweden, the next step will be to complete testing in Europe’s main mulching markets: Spain, France and Italy.
June 8, 2016, South Rustico, PEI – A P.E.I. potato farmer has taken to social media to show people what exactly he does for a living. "I have a bunch of friends that, you know, they just don't know what I do for a living," said Marten Nieuwhof. READ MORE
Jul. 18, 2013, Vancouver, BC - Vancouver has created the country’s first urban orchard and it is being touted as the largest of its kind on the continent. While innovative to Canada, growing fruit in city spaces is not a new concept in North America nor the rest of the world. Close to 500 trees stand ready to produce fruit in a vacant lot bordering Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, which will including Meyer lemons, Santa Rosa plums, French butter pears, persimmons, figs, and quince. As well, around 50 to 60 types of culinary herbs that will be ready for harvest this fall. READ MORE
June 7, 2013, Kunkletown, PA – Vineyard posts are essential to proper trellising, but they come at a cost, both ethically and fiscally. The wood in the post doesn’t come from anywhere but trees, and there are social concerns about to deforestation and overuse of natural resources. Enter the recycled plastic vineyard post. Not only do they provide an ethical benefit in regards to deforestation issues, but they also stand the test of time better than any wood could. “Vineyard poles are highly durable,” said inventor and manufacturer Patric Kelley. “They’re not susceptible to rot, termites, carpenter bees or other wood boring insects. They look good and function well for many, many years. Compare it to wood yourself. We think you will be pleasantly surprised.” Where wood continues to rot and requires constant upkeep (and money), plastic requires very little, if any follow-up maintenance over the same lifespan. One might express a concern about the plastic itself, and whether or not there are any chemicals that might be leached into the earth, especially when dealing with something as delicate as soil used for growing grapes. According to Kelley, unlike pressure treated wood, there are zero hazardous chemicals that could be leached from it. With a dedication to helping preserve the environment and a desire to help others who are also committed to this goal, Close the Loop was established in October 2000 after much research. Products are made in the U.S. from recycled plastic scrap and waste wood fibre. For more information, click here or check out Close the Loop on Facebook.
April 11, 2013 – Versatile has unveiled a new line of front-wheel assist tractors that feature one of the largest cabs in the industry and a considerable increase in wheelbase and size. The styling of the new tractor is a departure from the existing Versatile front-wheel assist. A sloped hood offers visibility and features cues from the new Versatile design first introduced on the line of four-wheel drives. An increased grille area allows for better airflow with reduced maintenance and cleaning requirements. Combined with a longer wheelbase, this new design allows for tight turns, even with 30-inch row spacing. First introduced on the four-wheel drive, the new cab offers operator space and comfort. The door swings wide for easy entry and egress. The adjustable armrest features fingertip controls for ergonomic comfort and a seven-inch high-resolution display for electro-hydraulics and the tractor performance monitor. Multi-power sources are available including 110-volt AC and five volt USB ports. The new Versatile tractor is available in 260, 290 and 310 horsepower, which is provided by a Cummins QSL 9.0L featuring interim Tier 4 technology. The QSL features the Cummins Variable Geometry Turbo (VGT) for sharp response in the field and offers a torque rise of more than 40 per cent. A reversing fan system is available that works as needed, providing quiet operation and fuel savings. The fan reverses approximately every 20 minutes to blow out the grille, reducing maintenance. The transmission is a 16F x 9R full powershift transmission with push-button controls. Designed to work with the power bulge and torque curves of the Cummins engine, this transmission offers durability and smooth shifts in the field. Fuel capacity has been increased to 170 US gal.
Jul. 27, 2012 - Soybean varieties that thrive even in soggy fields could result from studies by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists. This would help increase profits for Mississippi Delta farmers who can see yield losses as high as 25 percent when they plant soybean crops in rotation with paddy rice. This work is being conducted by former Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Tara VanToai, who now works as a collaborator at ARS' Soil Drainage Research Unit in Columbus, Ohio. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of ensuring international food security. For more than two decades, VanToai has studied flood tolerance in soybeans in a range of environments, including greenhouses, laboratories, growth chambers, experimental fields and farm fields. She and her colleagues are finding and incorporating genes from non-native soybean varieties in an effort to supplement the narrow genetic base of U.S. soybeans and improve their tolerance to wet soil and associated diseases. In one study, VanToai used outdoor "screenhouses"—which are greenhouses with screens instead of glass—to assess the flood tolerance of 21 soybean lines. This study included soybean lines native to Vietnam and Cambodia, lines developed via selection by farmers and gardeners, and lines from Australia, China, Japan and Taiwan that were created with modern breeding techniques. The plants were grown in pots. When each plant was in full bloom, it was placed for two weeks in a bucket of water so that the water level was two inches above the soil surface. The screenhouse tests identified the top three flood-tolerant lines: Nam Vang, which is native to Cambodia; VND2, native to China; and ATF15-1, which is native to Australia. Plants from these three lines grew the tallest and produced the biggest seeds and highest yields. When the study was replicated in flooded experimental fields, the results were the same. Read more about this work and other research VanToai has conducted on soybean flood tolerance in the July 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
November 28, 2016, Halifax, NS – A sewing needle has been found in a dish of cooked P.E.I. potatoes, the latest in a string of incidents involving metal objects discovered in Island spuds. Halifax police Const. Dianne Penfound said they received a report Sunday evening that a sharp object was found in the potatoes after they had been peeled and cooked at a local home. READ MORE
Jan. 28, 2013 - Modern farming is a dangerous business. In 2011, it was ranked the second most dangerous industry, behind construction, mining and quarrying, according to the National Safety Council. One often overlooked strategy of improving farm safety is visual workplace communication—in other words, using labels and signs to show where hazards exist and how to deal with them. Labels and signs are types of visual workplace communication. In general industry facilities, visual communication is used virtually everywhere. Safety labels and signs reduce the chances of a workplace injury by reminding workers of the hazards around them. Most farms, though, have not implemented strong visual communication, despite having an arguably greater need for safety than industrial facilities. One reason for this is that many farms view the installation of signs and labels as a relatively unimportant goal and not worth the cost and effort. Another reason is that many smaller farms aren't required to meet OSHA standards, which is where a lot of the push for hazard communication comes from for larger organizations. And a third reason may be a lack of dedication to improving safety in general. There are bright spots in farm safety among a few organic farms. "We follow all OSHA regulations at JR Organics," said Joan Marrero from JR Organics. "Most of our signage revolves around food safety and first aid situations. With so many visitors to the farm, we need to keep the areas where we process and clean our vegetables uncontaminated. These areas are 'Farmer only' areas. We also prominently display signs where we store our first aid kits," said Bryan Allen of Zenger Farms. "We have signs along the border fences to alert road crews that we are an organic farm and no spraying is allowed on our property," added Leland Gibson of Gibson Farms. Most workplace accidents happen due to workers not being aware of a hazard or underestimating the danger of a hazard. This is especially a concern with young farm workers, who are often insufficiently trained and insufficiently experienced to recognize the many workplace hazards around them. It is also a concern with ESL workers (English as second language), who may not understand the training they receive if it's not in their main language. Farm machinery and vehicles are the source of most injuries on U.S. farms, accounting for approximately 60-70 per cent of farm fatalities. A good visual communication program should start with putting labels on the most obvious hazardous areas. Examples of common places for warning labels are PTO shafts, machine guards, augur entry points, moving blades and electrical components. "Our tractors are the most dangerous vehicles on our farm. They are pretty stable but can roll over. Their high horsepower and low gearing can break implements without the driver even feeling it. The roto-tiller attachment for the tractor could kill a person quickly. It has a few safety labels on it from the manufacturer," said Wyatt Barnes from Red Wagon Organic Farm. A lot of farm equipment is purchased second-hand, especially on smaller farms. These pieces of equipment may lack basic components, including labels. For used farm equipment, because it may have some strange operational quirks or malfunctioning components, it is especially important to make sure its hazards are easy to understand. Besides directly marking the hazardous areas, labels can also be used to communicate important notes and instructions to your workers. Example: place a label on a PTO-driven grain augur that has a short set of instructions on how to safely attach and detach the tool. Or, place a note by a tractor's ignition to remind the operator to turn off the PTO drive or lower a grain augur before moving the vehicle. "The chain saw is the most dangerous piece of equipment. A person with no experience and knowledge can cause serious injury or death to themselves or others. High up on the list are bush hogs, sickle blades, hay balers hay rakes. Safety guards and warning are all over these machines for a reason," said Gibson. Some farm safety issues aren't as easy as others to label, although a few cautionary signs might help alert workers to a concentrated methane zone resulting from manure. Excessive methane inhalation is not just unpleasant -- it can be a health hazard. Fortunately, university agricultural extension programs offers suggestions about using covers to minimize odor and gas emissions from manure storage, the impact of wind speeds, prevailing wind direction and topography (hills, valleys, trees) on odor dispersion. These are just a few examples of label uses that could improve a farm safety program. There are no real limits to visual workplace communication. Every farm is different, with unique procedures and unique workforces. To optimize a farm safety program, it's necessary for farm managers to brainstorm the safety issues that are most important at that specific location. For more information about farm safety and visual communications, visit www.DuraLabel.com, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 800-788-5572.

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