Environment
August 2, 2017, Ottawa, Ont. - Domestic subsidies in many countries encourage production increases that result in considerable surpluses and lower prices on global markets, according to a new study released today by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI).

The study also found these production increases fuel highly unsustainable production practices and the misallocation of natural resources.

The comprehensive study, Understanding Agricultural Support, was prepared by Al Mussell, Douglas Hedley, Kamal Karunagoda, and Brenda Dyack of Agri-Food Economic Systems, with support from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. The report seeks a better understanding of the impacts of domestic income support programs in key markets and competitors on the competitiveness of Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector.
Published in Research

July 28, 2017, North Carolina - Laura Lengnick is a big thinker on agriculture and the environment. She has been guided in her work by the understanding that the problems generated by the U.S. industrial food system have been as significant as its ability to produce vast quantities of food. As she sees it, it’s not enough to produce food if there’s not a reckoning of costs and benefits from an unbalanced system.

This comprehensive outlook is a hallmark of Lengnick’s work, as is her positive vision for a more equitable and sustainable future. When it comes to her career, the question is not what work Lengnick has done to explore resilient, sustainable agriculture, but what hasn’t she done. Soil scientist, policymaker as a Senate staffer, USDA researcher, professor, sustainability consultant, advocate—Lengnick has done it all.

With her home nestled in a sunny cove in the North Carolina mountains, she bio-intensively tends to her 3,000-square-foot micro-farm. (She grows everything from greens and radishes to figs and sweet potatoes.) Based on her rich experience and deep expertise, Lengnick now views herself as a science interpreter in her interactions with farmers, public officials and the public at large. (She calls it “science-in-place").

Lengnick is the author of many articles and papers for scholars, practitioners and the general public, including the useful and engaging book Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate. She was also selected as a contributor to the Third National Climate Assessment, the authoritative U.S. climate report.

Over the years she’s traveled throughout the United States to meet with farmers to investigate the challenges and successes in the field and present her findings to many different audiences. Most recently, Lengnick has been invited to collaborate with the world-renowned Stockholm Resilience Centre, which will bring her views to an even larger audience. In a series of conversations, Lengnick and I spoke about her background, career, and philosophy to better explain where she is today. READ MORE 

Published in Profiles
July 28, 2017, Ottawa, Ont. - To support economic opportunities and to protect human health and the environment, Canada's federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) ministers of agriculture endorsed the Plant and Animal Health Strategy for Canada at their annual meeting. The strategy is a shared vision between partners across governments, industry, academia and others, and charts a path forward for collectively addressing evolving risks to plant and animal health.

Agriculture is an important driver in today's economy and has been identified as one of Canada's key growth sectors. Implementation of the Plant and Animal Health Strategy for Canada is essential to economic growth, and for the health of all of our citizens and the environment.

Effective action depends on the combined and co-ordinated work of numerous partners. By taking a collaborative approach, the partners will be even more successful at protecting plant and animal resources from new and emerging risks. The action-oriented strategy outlines how all parties will work together to protect these resources, unleashing the potential for growth in Canada's agriculture sector.

"Agriculture is a key growth sector for Canada's economy. By working in collaboration with partners we have been able to create a strategy that will improve how we work together to advance the protection of plant and animal health, reduce risk to Canadians and improve our economic opportunities," said the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Published in Federal
July 27, 2017, Waterloo, Ont. - A biotechnology company that created a spray that helps farmers and growers protect crops from frost damage was among the big winners at the Velocity Fund Finals held recently at the University of Waterloo. Velocity is a comprehensive entrepreneurship program at Waterloo.

Innovative Protein Technologies created Frost Armour, a spray-on-foam, after witnessing the effects of a devastating spring frost in 2012 that knocked out about 80 per cent of Ontario’s apple crop. Farmers would remove it after several days with another solution that converts it into a fertilizer.

"Frost damage not only affects farmers’ livelihoods, but also our food supply," said Erin Laidley, a Waterloo alumnus, who co-founded the company with Tom Keeling and Dan Krska, two alumni from the University of Guelph. "There are other spray-on solutions, but ours is non-toxic and has no negative environmental impact.”

During the competition, 10 companies pitched their businesses to a panel of judges representing the investment, startup and business communities. Judges considered innovation, market potential, market viability and overall pitch.

The following three companies were also grand-prize winners of $25,000 and space at Velocity. Three of the five top-prize-winning companies are based at Velocity Science.
  • Altius Analytics Labs is a health-tech startup that helps occupational groups better manage musculoskeletal injuries.
  • EPOCH is a skills and services marketplace that connects refugees and community members, using time as a means of exchange.
  • VivaSpire is making lightweight wearable machines that purify oxygen from the air without the need for high pressure.
For the first time, the prize of $10,000 for best hardware or science company went to a team that was not among the grand-prize winners. Vena Medical is making navigating through arteries faster, easier and safer by providing physicians with a camera that sees through blood.

During the VFF event, an additional 10 teams of University of Waterloo students competed for three prizes of $5,000 and access to Velocity workspaces.

The winners of the Velocity $5K are:
  • HALo works to provide manual wheelchair users with accessible solutions to motorize their wheelchairs.
  • QuantWave provides faster, cheaper and simpler pathogen detection for drinking water and food suppliers.
  • SheLeads is a story-based game that helps girls realize their unlimited leadership potential.
“Building a business is one of the boldest risks you can take, and yet our companies continue to demonstrate the vision, talent, and drive to think big and tackle challenging problems,” said Jay Shah, director of Velocity. “Today we are fortunate to benefit from an enormous wealth of experience from our judges who are leaders from the global investment, health and artificial-intelligence communities and entrepreneurs at heart. In helping Velocity award $125,000 in funding to these companies, we have taken a bet of our own in these founders, and said be bold, think big, and go out and change the world.”

The judges for the Velocity Fund $25K competition travelled from Palo Alto, San Francisco and Toronto. They were Seth Bannon, founding partner, Fifty Years; Dianne Carmichael, chief advisor of health tech, Council of Canadian Innovators; Eric Migicovsky, visiting partner, Y Combinator; Tomi Poutanen, co-CEO, Layer 6 AI.

The judges for the Velocity Fund $5K competition were Kane Hsieh, investor, Root Ventures; Tobiasz Dankiewicz, co-founder, Reebee; Karen Webb, principal, KWebb Solutions Inc.

For more information on the Velocity Fund Finals, please visit www.velocityfundfinals.com
Published in Spraying
July 19, 2017, Guelph Ont. - A new weather database providing real-time updates from 80 automated weather stations along with customized weather-based recommendations from agronomists is helping Ontario crop farmers make key growing decisions in real time.

Access to this new type of information means farmers can adjust the timing of everything from planting and necessary crop applications to harvest to get the most out of each acre.

Three major Ontario co-operatives, AGRIS Co-operative, Wanstead Co-operative and Haggerty Creek, recognized the need for a weather database providing real-time updates and customized recommendations from agronomists to Ontario growers.

In 2016, with Growing Forward 2 (GF2) funding accessed through the Agricultural Adaptation Council, the group successfully launched the AGGrower Dashboard, a project bringing southwestern Ontario growers together and assisting farmers making informed agronomic decisions.

The AGGrower Dashboard gives producers an edge when it comes to dealing with weather; one of the most unpredictable and volatile aspects of farming. Participating growers have access to a database dashboard with 80 automated weather stations across southwestern Ontario measuring variables including temperature, rainfall and heat units.

“We allow farmers to go onto the database and plot their individual field locations,” explains Dale Cowan, senior agronomist, AGRIS and Wanstead co-operatives. “Once they input their planting information, we give them field specific rainfall and heat unit data and then start to map out the growth stages in the crops throughout the growing season.”

This project is a game-changer for the Ontario agricultural industry because it not only allows farmers to access information from the entire region, but also sends farmers timely agronomic advice and recommendations for their crops based on the crop stage and weather.

“Everyone’s interested in how much it rains,” explains Cowan, “but what you have to know from a farm management standpoint, is if it rains, what do I need to do based on my crop growth stage?”

The collaboration of the three co-operatives allows producers to make smart, informed decisions that end up benefiting not just the producer, but also the industry, land and environment.

Cowan explains the database using nitrogen fertilizer application as an example. A farmer would never apply nitrogen the day before a big rainfall because the moisture would cause leaching.

As a member of the database dashboard, the farmer could have a more accurate reading on weather or receive a warning and know to hold off on nitrogen application. Small management changes like this go a long way in helping the farmer act as an environmental steward of the land.

When producers sign up, they enter geographical and crop information for each of their fields and adjust notification settings to what fits their lifestyle best. Farmers can group fields together to reduce the amount of notifications they receive, or check the site manually.

“Once you put your data in, you can see the entire growth season for your fields,” says Cowan. “Farmers can log onto the website and see weather-wise what’s going on in their fields in near real time.”

This is the first year all 80 weather stations are operating and recording data, but even during partial roll-out the previous year, the 160 early adopters using the dashboard were pleased with the results and Cowan expects to see an increase in farmer memberships this year.

This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
Published in Equipment
May 25, 2017 - Embrun, Ont. - Flooding, pests, disease and other extreme weather events are constant risks to the businesses and livelihoods of farmers. The Government of Canada is committed to working with industry partners to explore and develop new risk management tools that meets the needs of Canadian farmers when faced with serious challenges beyond their control.

Member of Parliament, Francis Drouin, today announced a $786,921 investment for Farm Management Canada to develop a new online agricultural risk management tool called "AgriShield".

This online tool will help farmers have real-time assessments of the potential negative impact of risks to their businesses and provide mitigation solutions. For instance, if an overland flood situation is imminent, the tool can help farmers to assess the degree of risk they face and potential mitigation measures that they can adopt, such as tile draining or insurance coverage.

This investment is being made through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's AgriRisk Initiatives (ARI) which supports the research and development, as well as the implementation and administration of new risk management tools for use in the agriculture sector.
Published in Equipment
May 26, 2017 – Embrun, Ont. – Flooding, pests, disease and other extreme weather events are constant risks to the businesses and livelihoods of farmers.

The Government of Canada is committed to working with industry partners to explore and develop new risk management tools that meets the needs of Canadian farmers when faced with serious challenges beyond their control.

Member of Parliament, Francis Drouin, today announced a $786,921 investment for Farm Management Canada to develop a new online agricultural risk management tool called “AgriShield”.

This online tool will help farmers have real-time assessments of the potential negative impact of risks to their businesses and provide mitigation solutions. For instance, if an overland flood situation is imminent, the tool can help farmers to assess the degree of risk they face and potential mitigation measures that they can adopt, such as tile draining or insurance coverage.

This investment is being made through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriRisk Initiatives (ARI) which supports the research and development, as well as the implementation and administration of new risk management tools for use in the agriculture sector.
Published in Production
May 19, 2017, Holland Marsh, Ont. - Environment Canada says a downburst destroyed a barn and caused all sorts of damage in the Holland Marsh and York Region.

Wind gusts stronger than 85 km/h accompanied a band of thunderstorms that moved east across central Ontario on Thursday evening.

The hardest hit areas were in the Holland Marsh, where winds obliterated a barn, tossing debris across a large field. Winds also forced a tractor trailer to flip on Highway 400 north at Canal Road. READ MORE


Video: Drone footage of the Holland Marsh following the May 18 storm system
Published in Vegetables
May 10, 2017, Chatham, Ont. - AGRIS Co-operative, Wanstead Farmers Co-operative and Haggerty Creek Ltd. announced an aggressive expansion of its web based weather service, the "AGGrower Daily Dashboard" across southwestern Ontario.

This collaborative effort will see the current compliment of 80 automated weather stations across southwestern Ontario expand to a goal of more than 400 reporting locations when completed. Producers who sign up for the AGGrower Daily Dashboard will have the ability to have field specific climate information delivered directly to their laptop, cellular phone or tablet.

"Our web based weather service will assist producers in managing their crops by providing real time precipitation, relative humidity, wind speed, growth models on individual fields and notifications of critical stages during the growth cycle," says Dale Cowan, senior agronomist and sales manager for AGRIS Co-operative and Wanstead Farmers Co-operative. "The AGGrower Daily Dashboard will also assist in timely do it yourself crop scouting using integrated pest management principles," added Cowan.

To supplement the web based weather reporting network, Cowan is now recruiting dedicated "citizen scientists" to join the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow network, (CoCoRahs).

"These volunteers would be part of a larger community of like-minded people that would help support our automated weather stations with additional rainfall data to support our new initiative of the AGGrower Daily Dashboard program," says Cowan.

Volunteer "citizen scientists" must live in Essex, Chatham-Kent, Lambton, West Middlesex or Elgin Counties, have a keen interest and dedication to collecting rainfall and a smart phone.

Installation and training on the use of the special rain gauge is provided at no charge to those participating. For more information on how you can become a "citizen scientist" contact Paul deNijs at 226-626-1048.

This project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
Published in Equipment
February 23, 2017, Victoria, BC – Due to an underwhelming response by users to register their wells, the province has extended its waiver of the application fee to December 31, 2017.

The new Water Sustainability Act took effect February 29, 2016 and includes licensing requirements for all non-domestic groundwater users. As a result, all wells used for irrigation and livestock watering must be registered. READ MORE
Published in Provinces
February 21, 2017, Boston, MA – According to new findings reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), farmers can invite greater bee diversity in their fields by diversifying their crops.

Researchers looked at 15 farms in central California, some of which grew only strawberries and some of which grew strawberries along with other crops like broccoli, raspberries, and kale. They found that several different bee species buzzed around the diversified farms, whereas only the European honeybee pollinated the strawberry-only ones. READ MORE
Published in Research

June 29, 2016, Kelowna, BC – In addition to looking nice, covering soil with wood mulch can actually help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, University of British Columbia (UBC) research shows.

Published in Fruit

June 20, 2016, Morell, PEI – U.S. food blogger Alyssa Rimmer says a visit to a P.E.I. blueberry field was all it took to cure her fear of bees.

Rimmer is one of 10 food bloggers from several U.S. areas who recently took part in a summit on honeybees hosted by Jasper Wyman and Son, one of P.E.I.’s largest blueberry producers. READ MORE

Published in Fruit

 

Using mulch to improve strawberry and raspberry crop maintenance and plant vigour is nothing new to berry growers. What is, however, is the growth in development and use of biodegradable mulches in berry fields.

A trial of five mulch treatments took place in Mount Vernon, Wash., during the 2014 day-neutral strawberry growing season while a non-scientific study was conducted by raspberry grower Randy Honcoop of Lynden, Wash. The findings of both tests were certainly not conclusive and more research is needed, but there are definitely more than just hints and nudges that biodegradable mulch use could be beneficial to berry crops.

Biodegradable mulch is one that will degrade into the soil upon incorporation. This is different from compostable mulch in that the biodegradable mulches are of starch or cellulose based materials that will shatter after continued exposure to the elements and will break down into the soil.

Lisa Wasko DeVetter of Washington State University (WSU) in Mount Vernon spoke about the Mount Vernon trial at the recent 2016 Pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, B.C. She noted that traditional mulches present a significant plastic waste issue in the U.S., and this issue is likely similar in Canada. The objectives of her study were to identify if biodegradable mulches are suitable for day-neutral strawberries and see if these mulches have any issues with chemical migration.

Chemical migration is a potential issue because mulches do not currently require the same handling procedures as other food contact materials. If chemicals can leach from the biodegradable materials into the soil or onto the plants, this presents a potential risk.

“There are questions as to whether biodegradable mulches have the potential for chemical migration,” Wasko DeVetter said. “They are not currently treated as a food contact substance.”

Five mulch treatments were trialed in Wasko DeVetter’s study: 1) corn-starch based biodegradable mulch, 2) experimental fermentation based biodegradable mulch film, 3) cellulose based biodegradable mulch, 4) standard black plastic (polyethylene) and 5) no mulch.

“My thought was it would create a greenhouse and it did,” Wasko DeVetter said of the mulch’s impact on early results she witnessed in the study.

As expected, yields were comparable for all mulched crops with the un-mulched crop yield being lower. However, there were some other differentiators at this early stage of study.

“Number 2 [experimental fermentation based] broke down way too fast,” Wasko DeVetter said.

She added that the third product – the cellulose based paper-like material – may need different installation practices to be most effective. It is important to note that while biodegradable mulches are approved for organic growing in the U.S., the standards imposed are so rigid only one product meets them.

“The paper-based product blew off multiple times,” she said.

In her summary, Wasko DeVetter noted: “We need more research to understand how this can be applied.”

In another Washington field, Honcoop explored with a trial of biodegradable mulches in his raspberry fields to create a better environment for his tissue culture plug planting.

“I wondered: ‘How can I develop a system that is feasible, manageable for me to use these tissue culture plugs?’” he said during his presentation.

He had two basic criteria at the start of the installation. Honcoop wanted to avoid using black plastic and he needed something to control the weeds that would impede the growth of the tissue cultures.

“I did not want to place polyethylene sheeting in my raspberry field because it does not go away unless you remove it,” Honcoop said.

He ordered 4,000-foot long and 36-inch wide rolls of film from Organix Solutions, a company dedicated to eliminating waste to landfills. It was late May when the process of installation began.

“I was really late in the game,” he said, “but I really wanted to give this a try.”

Through experimentation with equipment, he developed a tool to punch through the plastic while planting the tissue culture plugs. The beds were created at about five inches above grade with 18 to 20-inch wide tops. Drip tape was installed under the film.

“The plants seemed to establish very well. There was minimal shock,” he said. “The moisture control is fantastic. With the film on there, I think I probably used a third of the amount of water.”

The control row he planted with tissue culture plugs has a lot of weeds, prompting Honcoop to determine the film “did a fantastic job on weed control.”

Given the process of installation, wind did not affect the film, which was snugged under the soil at the edges.

While yields are obviously not available yet from Honcoop’s trial, he felt there was more growth on the cultures in the mulched rows than in the non-mulched control row.

“I think there might be a future for this in our industry,” he added.

 

 

 

Published in Fruit

 

As I write this editorial, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a recall for a blend of frozen berries and cherries sold exclusively through Costco stores in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia plus Newfoundland and Labrador. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 13 people have contracted Hepatitis A, some becoming sick after eating the frozen fruit.

In light of the recall, Costco Canada is offering free Hepatitis A vaccinations for anyone affected by the product recall.

Why am I sharing this?

Well, also as I write this editorial, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is gearing up promotion of its Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), described as “the most sweeping reform” made to the country’s food safety laws in the past 70 years. And, according to David Gombas – the United Fresh Produce Association’s senior vice-president of food safety – Canadian growers, packers and processors who export produce to the U.S. will be facing the new rules as early as Fall 2016 (see article on page 16).

What does this mean for Canadian growers?

It means that if you’re shipping produce over the U.S. border for resale, you may need to become verified under the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP), a program that insures “that food imported into the United States has been produced in a manner that meets applicable U.S. safety standards.”

When you visit the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act information website – fda.gov/FSMA – be prepared for page after page of legal gobbledygook containing fuzzy bureaucratic words like “stakeholder,” “reasonably foreseeable” and “potential hazard.” The FSVP section of the website is particularly dense with them, the sort of reading only a legal-type or someone really keen on filling in forms and jumping through regulatory hoops would enjoy – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But this editor knows when she’s reached the limit of her legalese translation skills and bows to the much wiser experts available out there.

One thing that is possible to glean from the reams of information available is not every Canadian grower exporting to the U.S. will be required to become verified under the FSVP. According to the FDA, very small importers and importers of food from certain small suppliers – defined as a sales ceiling of $1 million (US) annually – will only be required to meet “modified” FSVP requirements. Farms that average $25,000 (US) or less in annual produce sales will also only be required to meet “modified” FSVP requirements. It’s not clear what those “modified” requirements might be but one example cited is: “certain importers would not have to conduct hazard analyses and would be able to verify their foreign suppliers by obtaining written assurances.”

Clear as mud, right?

Visit fda.gov/FSMA for more information.

Stay informed and have a safe, prosperous 2016 growing season.

 

 

 

Published in Food Safety

March 28, 2016, Charlottetown, PEI – If the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance has its way, the province's most grown potato may eventually be a spud of the past.

The provincial environment department has been hearing submissions on what a new provincial Water Act should look like. In its presentation to the department, the Watershed Alliance targets Russet Burbank potatoes. READ MORE

Published in Fruit

 

I love books. I love the way they smell, the way they feel in my hands, how the pages sound as they turn, even the inherent way books tend to stack in tall, teetering towers.

My home reflects my love of the published word. There are bookcases everywhere. And, where bookcase space is at a premium, there are piles – piles and piles of stacked books. Even the attic is full of books, boxes carefully filled with titles outgrown by the offspring or read and set aside to be donated later. Unfortunately, later hasn’t arrived yet.

My husband, who is also an avid reader but thankfully born without the hoarding gene, started off humouring my book obsession. But now, as the piles of first editions continue to push further and further into his personal space, he’s finding the situation frustrating.

“This is not sustainable,” is his favourite gripe, usually muttered while redistributing a stack of biographies or mysteries in a bid to gain access to an unoccupied electrical plug.

Sustainability – based on my book accumulation habit, it would appear I’ve always struggled to understand the meaning of the word. And I’m not alone in my confusion. During a recent sustainability conference I attended in London, Ont., one roundtable group gave up on reaching a consensus on the definition of the term. Instead, they agreed to disagree, believing it was more important to have a continued dialogue about the idea than get bogged down in the details.

Sustainability has become the new agriculture buzzword and, while it used to be attached to the idea of environmental sustainability, its definition is ever expanding, encompassing everything from economic feasibility to workers’ rights.

During its 2015 annual conference, the Canadian Horticultural Council formed a working group tasked with developing a sustainability plan for Canada’s horticultural sector. Admitting the issue is “broad and complex,” Anne Fowlie, executive vice-president of the CHC, recently penned a message in the council’s Autumn 2015 Fresh Thinking publication. She described the working group as “our opportunity to create a plan that will bring positive results now and into the future.”

Because that really is the key element to the sustainability issue – the future. It’s widely believed that by 2020, about 9.5 billion people will populate the earth and food production will need to increase by 70 per cent to feed those people. According to the United Nations, sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Admittedly, some groups are further ahead in identifying and meeting those production needs. As highlighted by the CHC, Canada’s greenhouse growers are already well started on addressing their long-term sustainability goals. It will be interesting to see in the coming months and years what goals the CHC working group sets.

As for my own pressing sustainability issues, I’ve been forced to examine my book hoarding habits and search out different ways of meeting my reading goals. The answer – electronic books. I wonder how sustainable virtual hoarding is?

 

 

 

Published in Federal

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.

 

 

Published in Irrigating

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.

Published in Irrigating

June 23, 2015, Fort Worth, TX – Come join the competition! The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) has posted its 2016 sustainable winegrowing application on its website and is ready for downloading by wineries wishing to compete in BRIT’s 2016 sustainable winegrowing competition.

The award attracts progressive and passionate wine organizations from around the world that are taking a leading role in “ground to glass” sustainable programs. The competition is based on the continual improvement of the three tenets of sustainability – environment, economic, and social – and wine taste.

The competition begins July 1, 2015, with a submission deadline of October 25, 2015. The winners will be selected and notified in January 2016. Platinum, gold, silver, and bronze-level medals will be awarded to top-placing wineries.

The competition’s overall winner will be presented with BRIT’s International Award of Excellence in Sustainable Winegrowing during the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival scheduled March 31 to April 3, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.

The sustainable winegrowing application is comprised of 18 high-level self-assessment questions focusing on the three tenets of sustainability: environmental, social, and economic aspects, plus a 19th subjective assessment – wine taste. The judging committee values a balance between all the criteria.

Among the 18 criteria judged are seed selection; agricultural and winemaking protocols for saving water; soil conservation; saving energy; packaging protocols for waste reduction; programs for reducing carbon (CO2 e) emissions; social responsibility programs; and plans for continual improvement.

Applicants must describe their organization's conservation efforts in the vineyard and in operations: how waste is avoided, how it is reclaimed, and how the winery extends conservation efforts to its customers. They must also detail the practices established by their organization to maintain environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically feasible winemaking principles. A bottle of wine must also be provided for a tasting by the judging committee.

International entrants may use their U.S. distributors to forward their wine samples to BRIT or may use BRIT’s consignee, Accolade Brands, to clear shipments. If wishing to use Accolade, please contact Mark Newman, Accolade Brands, at 1-818-390-3888 or email, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it before shipping.

Previous award recipients include: LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards (2014), Yalumba (2013), Trefethen Family Vineyards (2012), Parducci Wine Cellars (2011), and HALL Wines (2010).

The 2016 Sustainable Winegrowing application may be downloaded at the BRIT website: 2016 International Sustainable Winegrowing Application.

Published in Provinces
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