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Rhubarb research launched in Nova Scotia

launched in Nova Scotia


April 1, 2008
By Dan Wooley

Topics

Rhubarb production is receiving a
boost in Canada. The Nova Scotia Agricultural College’s (NSAC) new
edible horticulture program recently established a partnership with
Henry Knol, a grower and processor in northern Nova Scotia, to develop
rhubarb as a niche crop.

rhubarb_researchRhubarb production is receiving a boost in Canada. The Nova Scotia Agricultural College’s (NSAC) new edible horticulture program recently established a partnership with Henry Knol, a grower and processor in northern Nova Scotia, to develop rhubarb as a niche crop.

“It is one of the crops that the Atlantic Provinces can grow very successfully because it fits in well with our kind of climate conditions and among the vegetables, it has the least amount of pesticides required,” explains Dr. Raj Lada, a NSAC vegetable research scientist.

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Rhubarb has the highest amount of vitamin C of all the vegetables and is thought to have more than 200 therapeutic properties as well as being a good source of dietary fibre.

Dr. Lada sees great potential to diversify rhubarb from home gardens into commercial production, as there are currently just 500 acres of the crop farmed in Canada, based largely in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.

Since the main constraint attached to increasing rhubarb acreage is the costs associated with producing and harvesting propagules (the plant’s crowns), Dr. Lada’s research will concentrate there. He plans to investigate techniques to improve propagation while also examining ways of orientating the rhubarb plant’s leaves for easier machine picking, considered the most efficient way of harvesting, as some human pickers are allergic to the leaves. Dr. Lada says orienting the leaves through trellis systems, electrical stimulation, or plant population density will allow machinery to pass unhindered between the rhubarb rows. Even simply growing the plants closer together will help stimulate their vertical development, “which is what we want.”

Increased grower opportunities may be on the horizon if rhubarb crowns are to be grown as a separate crop, says Dr. Lada. Specialized crown production could become a niche market, resulting in more income for growers, he explained.

Another niche market might also be found in the plant’s leaves, which are never eaten due to their oxalic acid content. But Dr. Lada notes that his research will also examine the rhubarb leaves’ potential to yield desirable compounds since they also contain anthroquinadins with anti-viral and anti-fungal properties, having great anti-oxidant potential for the human immune system.

As part of the research partnership, Knol Farms will provide Dr. Lada with plant material and monetary support, while all of the trials will be based on the Oxford, Nova Scotia, area farm.

Three varieties will be in the research trials: Sutton, Red Right Through and German Wine.

At present, Knol Farms grows 15 acres of rhubarb and buys and processes rhubarb from 12 other growers in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Treasa Pauley, Knol Farms’ operation manager, says the operation plans to double its annual processing volume in the next five years from its current 500,000 to 600,000 lbs. This despite the fact that many large processors are moving away from rhubarb production, seeing it only as a small, low-value crop. She explained that since Knol Farms is small and flexible, the company sees a niche market opportunity for the vegetable.

It’s a unique product “that your grandmother used to make as rhubarb pies or relish,” said Pauley. “But it has a lot of good health benefits. It is health-enhancing comfort food.”