By Alex Barnard
Spring is on the horizon, and growers across Canada are gearing up for the 2021 growing season. As the ground thaws and temperatures slowly rise, plans for planting, pruning and preparing the soil are shifting into high gear.
With the lessons of 2020 still fresh in our minds, this season’s plans will likely look a bit different from past years. Pandemic safety measures are still in effect, which makes many things uncertain. Will community-supported agriculture have another banner year of surplus subscribers? Are online produce sales still the way to go, or will farmers’ markets and roadside stands be back in business? Will temporary foreign workers be allowed back into the country when they’re needed?
It’s no secret that labour is a huge obstacle for the fruit and vegetable industry, and has been for some time. It’s difficult to find – and more importantly, retain – domestic workers, and this will only become more difficult in the coming years, according to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC). And, as the pandemic made painfully clear, the availability of foreign labour is at the mercy of factors beyond our control.
One option that’s becoming increasingly viable is automation. The automated harvesters discussed on pages 8 and 12 present a glimpse into the future of horticulture. Robots that can tell which cucumbers are ready for harvest or collect blueberries with minimal dropping and damage were little more than a dream just a few short years ago.
This technology isn’t a replacement for human employees, but it can be a major help to growers who can’t secure reliable labour or want to expand their operation but don’t have the workforce. For those interested in automated ag tech, look into whether local companies or research organizations through the federal or provincial government or nearby universities are conducting research trials. By getting involved, you can help shape the future of ag tech.
In search of the next big thing? Be sure to check out the New Varieties section, starting on page 14. Perhaps you’ll find that tomato or pepper variety your farm’s been missing, or the perfect pumpkin for your farmers’ market stall. This section also features the most beautiful photo of cauliflower I’ve ever seen – seriously, it’s worth a look.
Speaking of the next big thing – read all about the opportunities in growing okra on page 20. Demand for this vegetable is projected to rise steadily over the next two decades as immigration patterns shift. For those who can build the infrastructure needed to sell okra consistently, there’s a niche to be filled.
And be sure to check out the Canadian Fruit & Vegetable Summit on March 10 for the latest in production practices and research. We’re putting together a line-up of live and on-demand sessions with growers and industry experts who will give you the information you need to start the 2021 season off right.