June 28, 2017, Toronto, Ont. - Schools are actively enrolling in Fresh from the Farm for September 2017. Building on the success of the four year pilot project, over 5000 schools representing 73 Ontario school boards, First Nations Schools and a sampling of private sector schools are eligible to participate in this year’s campaign.

Since 2013, 665 schools have collectively distributed over 1.6 million pounds of fresh, Ontario produce, representing over $1 million in Ontario root vegetables and $600,000 in Ontario apples. Over $910,000 has been paid to Ontario farmers for product and delivery.

Students raise funds by selling bundles of fresh, Ontario-grown potatoes, onions, carrots, sweet potatoes and apples. “Schools return to participate in Fresh from the Farm year after year, achieving significant profit for their school while helping to create a more supportive nutrition environment,” reports Cathy O’Connor, project co-ordinator with Dietitians of Canada, one of the program’s partners. “The top selling school this past year – Timmins Centennial Public School – raised over $9,000 in profit!”

“As we launch the fifth season of the Fresh from the Farm campaign to include new school boards and First Nations communities in Ontario, we continue to be amazed by the growth of the program. It would not be possible without the collective effort of all our partners including the volunteers, schools and farmers that make it happen,” states Dan Tukendorf, program manager, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association.

The program was designed to provide schools and students a healthy fundraising alternative. Fresh from the Farm supports and integrates several Ontario government priorities, including Ontario’s Food and Nutrition Strategy, 2017, The School Food and Beverage Policy and the Local Food Act, 2013.

“Our government is proud to invest in programs like Fresh from the Farm which help boost local food literacy with students across the province. I encourage Ontario students and families to take part in this unique fundraising program and learn more about the good things grown in our province, while supporting our growers and building up our schools,” says Jeff Leal, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Students fundraise September 5 through to October 11 with deliveries scheduled throughout November. Parent volunteers bundle produce the same day the Ontario grower delivers the product to the school.

Fresh from the Farm provides an ideal opportunity for schools to introduce the topic of agri-food and healthy eating into the classroom. Interested parents, educators and students can contact their school principal to enrol at
Published in Profiles
June 28, 2017, Ottawa, Ont. — The Board of Directors of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) is pleased to announce the appointment of John F.T. Scott to the position of Chair.

Scott has been involved with CAPI since its inception and has served on the Board for the past three years. He is the former CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers and the past chair of the acclaimed Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. He cites the work of CAPI as one of his great passions in life.

Scott succeeds Ted Bilyea, who announced his resignation earlier this year. "Over the six years I have been Chair, CAPI has accomplished a great deal to the benefit of the sector, culminating in Canadian agri-food being acknowledged as a growth sector," said Bilyea. "I have every expectation even more will be achieved under John's leadership."

Scott stated, "I am deeply honoured to receive the trust of the Board and I look forward to working with this strong group to build the CAPI of tomorrow. I join the Board in expressing our deep appreciation to Ted and with pleasure announce that he will remain with us as a Special Advisor."

At its Annual Meeting on June 20, 2017, CAPI elected two new members to its Board of Directors. Chantelle Donahue is the Vice President & Commercial Seed Manager for Global Edible Oil Solutions-Specialties (GEOS-S) at Cargill Limited.

Deborah Stark is the former Deputy Minister of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. She retired from this position in 2016 following a rich career in the Ontario public service, during which she held several senior management positions.

"CAPI is extremely fortunate to have these two exceptional individuals join our Board," said Mr. Scott. "Their skill sets complement and enhance those held by our continuing Directors. We anticipate valuable participation from each of them."

The Board of Directors expresses its sincere appreciation to retiring Board member Wayne Stark, who served on the Board for the past eight years. Through that time Mr. Stark made several significant contributions to the agri-food sector, and CAPI looks forward to continuing to work with him.
Published in Companies
June 14, 2017, Toronto, Ont. - Vive Crop Protection is pleased to announce the recent appointment of Dr. Darren Anderson as President.

Darren was one of the original founders of Vive and has been a member of Vive’s Board of Directors since the company was formed in 2006. Since founding the company, Darren has served in various senior management roles, including leading Vive’s product development, regulatory, and communications activities.

Keith Thomas, who will remain as CEO of Vive, states that “Darren’s deep understanding of modern agriculture, keen strategic insight, and excellent business sense continue to be an asset to Vive. I am looking forward to working with Darren in his new role.”

“I am excited about Vive’s future”, added Darren. “With three new products launched in 2017, several recently announced partnerships, and an innovative product pipeline, we are poised for very rapid growth.”
Published in Companies
Last month Statistics Canada released the results of the 2016 Census of Agriculture. Like many of you, I was eager to read up on the results and discover how our industry has changed in the five years since the last survey was conducted.

Some findings, such as the edging up of the average age of farm operators from 54 in 2011 to 55 in 2016, aren’t all that surprising. After all, aging is a fact of life. Other findings, however, gave me pause. For example, Statistics Canada found that even though the average age of farmers has increased, only one in 12 operations have a formal succession plan outlining how the farm will be transferred to the next generation.

In other words, the vast majority of Canada’s farm operators have not taken steps to safeguard the businesses they’ve worked long and hard to build.

Experts in the field agree there are many reasons farmers shy away from succession planning, including fear: fear of change, of creating conflict within the family, of losing one’s identity as a farmer, and of confronting the fact that not even the healthiest among us live forever. Then there’s the time required to craft a plan and implement it when there are still animals to feed, seeds to plant and suppliers and customers to work with, plus all the other tasks that contribute to a farm’s long-term success. Perhaps one of the most significant barriers, though, is the daunting scope of work the term “succession planning” entails.

Though we can’t do that work for you, the editorial teams behind Agrobiomass, Canadian Poultry, Fruit & Vegetable, Manure Manager, Potatoes in Canada and Top Crop Manager have partnered to help ease the way with our first annual Succession Planning Week.

From June 12 to 16, we’ll be delivering a daily e-newsletter straight to your inbox, packed with information and resources to help you with succession planning in your operation. Each e-newsletter will offer practical advice and suggestions you can use, whether you’re an experienced farm owner wondering if your succession plan needs some tweaking or an aspiring successor wondering how to start the succession conversation.

But that’s not the only conversation we want to kick-start. Share your succession planning tips and success stories on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #AgSuccessionWeek. The best of the best will be published on our website ( and included in Friday’s e-newsletter.

We hope Succession Planning Week offers valuable information to help you keep your operation growing, now and for generations to come.
Published in Business & Policy
June 12, 2017, Victoria, B.C. - The Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. (IAF) announced last night that Kirk Homenick, President of Naturally Homegrown Foods, is the recipient of the inaugural B.C. Buy Local Award of Excellence for his campaign, 'A Chip Close to Home.'

"Every year we are thrilled to see how the Buy Local program is helping to boost producer and processor market success, and I'm proud to say that our award recipient tonight exemplifies this achievement," said IAF director Alistair Johnston. "This project continues to have a profound impact, not only on the local agrifood market but on B.C.'s economy."

Naturally Homegrown Foods is home to the Hardbite line of potato and root vegetable products, the only potato chip to be produced and processed in B.C.

Seeking to differentiate Hardbite in the highly competitive snack food category, Homenick launched a unique and bold Buy Local rebranding campaign that marketed distinctly west coast lifestyle attributes and offered transparency to locally-sourced ingredients.

"It's wonderful to be recognized for our efforts to promote local foods and create jobs in B.C.," says Homenick. "Since 2014, Naturally Homegrown Foods has tripled sales, which means triple the procurement of raw vegetables from the local marketplace."

The BC Buy Local Award of Excellence recognizes one outstanding producer or processor based on the achievements of the best Buy Local marketing project--the campaign that was the most creative, strategic and effective in increasing sales and consumer engagement.

This year's winner was announced on June 8th at the BC Food Processors Association's FoodProWest Gala in Vancouver.

In addition to the winner, the Selection Committee recognized two Honourable Mentions-- Merissa Myles, Co-Founder of Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt, for using Buy Local funding to connect with grocery buyers, celebrity chefs and consumers about the benefits of buying 100% BC milk dairy; and Robert Pringle, CEO of the United Flower Growers Cooperative Association, who spearheaded the 'Flowerful BC' initiative to encourage consumers to 'pick local' when buying plants and flowers.

"We are proud to recognize the achievements of our nominees and the opportunities they are driving, not just for the agrifood industry but for local consumers and the B.C. economy," said Johnston. "We are continually inspired by the ingenuity of our project partners and their success in motivating British Columbians to buy local."
Published in Profiles
June 12, 2017, Malden, N.B. - A family of New Brunswick potato farmers are getting into the booze business by making vodka from spuds.

Blue Roof Distillers has joined a small handful of distillers in the country making the product.

The Strang family has been farming in the community of Malden, N.B. since 1855. For decades, the blue roofs on their barns have symbolized potatoes. But now they also represent their new line of ultra-premium Blue Roof vodka.

Potato vodka has been around since the days of the backyard still, but this is a first for New Brunswick. READ MORE
Published in Vegetables
June 8, 2017, Vernon Bridge, PEI - The company, based in Vernon Bridge, recently received a loan of $250,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to purchase and install packaging equipment.

J&S Visser will add a baler and bagger system, which allows the company to move quickly between types of potatoes and various packaging sizes.

Increasing the variety of its potato products meets market demand and attracts new consumers. The company’s products are sold across Canada and in the United States. READ MORE
Published in Companies
May 31, 2017, New Hamburg, Ont. – An Ontario company that developed lunar rovers for the Canadian Space Agency has adapted the technology for use on earth.

The resulting vehicle – called Argo J5 XTR (Xtreme Terrain Robot) — has applications across a variety of industries, including agriculture.

Ontario Drive & Gear Limited (ODG) is well-known to many consumers as the maker of Argo, popular all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that can travel on rough terrain through land and water.

The Argo J5 XTR is an unmanned robotic platform that travels on rough terrain in a variety of conditions ranging from war zones to underground mines — without putting an individual operator at risk. READ MORE
Published in Production
May 30, 2017, Montreal, QC - Forty years ago, when few people had even heard of organic gardening, Yves Gagnon decided to make it his mission.

Today this true green gardening pioneer is receiving the recognition he deserves, as he will be presented with the Henry Teuscher Award as part of the 20th Great Gardening Weekend at the Montréal Botanical Garden.

Among his most noteworthy accomplishments, of course, are Les jardins du Grand-Portage, in Saint-Didace, where Yves and his wife, Diane Mackay, offered country-style meals for many years.

In this two-acre space, he created an organic vegetable garden and designed English- and Oriental-style gardens where he grows medicinal and ornamental plants as well as vegetables and herbs.

Many interns have joined him there over the years to further their training and draw inspiration from this great visionary's experience.

After meeting Brother Armand Savignac in the 1980s, Yves began producing seeds as well. His daughter Catherine, who launched her own company called Semences du Portage, now handles the marketing aspect, offering open-pollinated organic heritage seeds grown by her parents in Saint-Didace and by other Quebec producers.

From the outset, Yves' books on horticulture became key reference works on organic gardening in Quebec.

They are regularly updated and republished, and have continued to influence new generations of gardeners. He has also made it his mission to educate others about health and food self-sufficiency, and has appeared on many television and radio programs as a columnist or guest expert.

In fact, the interest among today's youth in ecology and healthy eating is due in part to pioneers like Yves Gagnon and their devotion and enthusiasm in communicating their values, even at a time when they were not so popular.
Published in Profiles
May 19, 2017, Santa Rosa, Cali. - “Bittersweet” from Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse in British Columbia took the Sweepstakes Award for best cider at the Second Annual Dan Berger International Cider Competition (DBICC).

The traditional English style cider is produced from apples grown in the Sea Cider's own orchards.

The Sea Cider Bittersweet beat out nearly 200 other ciders entered into the competition held in Sonoma County, California on May 5th.

Off dry and rich in tannin, the Sea Cider Bittersweet impressed the judges with its rich yet balanced style and a complexity that results from use of well-cultivated traditional cider apples.

Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse is located in Saanichton, British Columbia.

All the medal winners can be viewed at:
Published in Companies
May 16, 2017, Thornbury Village, Ont. - Thornbury Premium Apple Cider, Ontario's number-one-selling Ontario Craft cider is enjoying a newly renovated home at the recently restored, historic apple storage building overlooking beautiful views of Georgian Bay and the Blue Mountains.

A grand opening celebration and ceremonial apple tree planting was held among local dignitaries and industry stakeholders on May 16th to celebrate the conclusion of the year-long renovation.

Jim Clark, President of Thornbury Village Craft Cider and Brew House commented, "We are thrilled to be able to open our doors to the public following our extensive renovations. Everyone involved in the project is proud of the results and we're confident that our historic location will become an important landmark in the area, both for local residents and tourists."

The century-old cider house is nestled in the heart of Ontario apple country, which has over 7,500 acres of apple orchards in the surrounding area.
Published in Companies
May 4, 2017, Niagara Falls, Ont. - More than 750 wine and food lovers celebrated excellence in Ontario VQA winemaking on March 24 at the annual Cuvée Grand Tasting.

The event, held at the Scotiabank Convention Centre, was organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI). The proceeds help fund academic scholarships and research focused on priorities of the grape and wine industry.

Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Gerald Klose was honoured with the Cuvée Vineyard of Excellence Award that evening, which is presented by BASF Canada Inc. and recognizes a grape grower who promotes excellence in vineyard practices.

Klose was selected by an expert panel for maintaining a high level of quality in his Chardonnay vineyard.

The Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence, honouring those who further the aims and aspirations of Ontario’s wine industry, was presented to award-winning wine journalist Ian D’Agata. He was recognized as a “great ambassador for Ontario wines on the world stage.”

The VQA Promoters Awards, which recognize individuals who support VQA wines through promotion or education, were also announced at Cuvée and given out April 19 at CCOVI’s Experts Tasting.

The 2017 winners are:

Lifetime Achievement: Roberto Martella, owner of Toronto’s Grano Italian restaurant, for routinely promoting VQA wines in his establishment.

Education: Barb Tatarnic, manager of Continuing Education and Outreach at CCOVI, for her commitment to advancing wine education over the past two decades.

LCBO: Melissa McFadden, customer service representative in Owen Sound, for her comprehensive product knowledge and eagerness to promote VQA wines.

Media: Angela Aiello, founder and editor of Toronto’s and editor at Chloe magazine, for vibrantly promoting VQA Ontario in countless print, television and radio appearances.

Hospitality: Mike Fish, sommelier and owner of London restaurant Glassroots, for 10 years of promoting VQA wines and for hosting London’s only all-Canadian wine list.

Retail: Brian Hanna, sommelier at Prince Edward County’s Huff Estates Winery, for sharing his deep knowledge about Ontario wines in a way that educates, promotes sales and enriches the lives of those around him.

To further student engagement, long-time Cuvée Education Advocate sponsor BASF Canada Inc. also sent the 20 top oenology and viticulture students from Brock University and Niagara College to the event.

“As the Cuvée Education Advocate, BASF is thrilled to provide an opportunity for some of Brock University and Niagara College’s best oenology and viticulture students to network with future employers, colleagues or even customers at the Grand Tasting event,” said Scott Hodgins, BASF Crop Manager (Horticulture, Professional & Specialty Solutions), on the importance of providing the valuable learning opportunity for students every year. “The development of the Canadian wine industry has been built on innovation, and we continue to support the new innovations that these students and others will bring to drive the industry forward.”

When reflecting on what the experience meant to her, Alexandra Gunn, a third year OEVI student at Brock University, said: “It is an incredible honour to represent Brock as a top Oenology and Viticulture student within the program — an opportunity I wouldn’t have been able to experience without the generous support of BASF.”

Second-year Niagara College Wine and Viticulture student Amelia Keating-Isaksen said she was “pleased to go to Cuvée because of the known prestige of the event, as well as the connections and people attending.”

Brock University’s second year student Catherine Cahill summed it up by saying: “Being acknowledged affirms my hard work, dedication and passion for Oenology and Viticulture. Receiving such an incredible opportunity encourages me to continue to work hard towards my dreams.”

Visit for emerging details and dates for Cuvée 2018.
Published in Provinces
April 18, 2017, Okanagan Valley, B.C. - A Chardonnay icewine made in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley won the top prize at a prestigious international Chardonnay competition in France.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s 2014 Chardonnay Icewine beat 706 wines from 38 countries to take first place at the Chardonnay du Monde competition in Burgundy on March 8 to 10.

Two other wines from Okanagan, the 2016 See ya Later Ranch Chardonnay and McWatters Collection 2014 Chardonnay, won prestigious gold medals at the competition but Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s icewine was the only Canadian wine to finish in the top 10.

The award-winning icewine, which retails at $148 per bottle, has “notes of honey, apricot, and poached pears,” according to the winery. The winery recommends serving it “chilled by itself or with fresh fruit, drizzled over ice cream or in a nice icewine martini.”

Second place in the competition went to a wine from Spain, third place to a South African wine and fourth place to an Austrian wine. Four B.C. wines and two Ontario wines won silver medals. READ MORE
Published in Fruit
February 21, 2017 – Brenda Lammens, former chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA) and the Ontario Asparagus Growers, passed away Saturday, February 11, 2017. She was 61.

“Brenda was a strong, influential leader who contributed much to the edible horticulture sector and the agricultural industry as a whole,” said Jan VanderHout, current OFVGA chair. “She was a positive voice for growers, and had a particular passion for mentoring women in agriculture. She will be fondly remembered.”

In January, Brenda was named the 2017 recipient of the OFVGA’s Industry Award of Merit – an award given out annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the fruit and vegetable industry. For more than 30 years, she and her husband, Raymond, operated their family farm, Spearit Farms located in Norfolk County. She served on the OFVGA board for seven years and became the second woman to chair the OFVGA in 2007.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the Lammens family during this difficult time and hope they take some comfort knowing the legacy that she leaves behind as a champion for agriculture may serve as a powerful source of inspiration,” said VanderHout.
Published in Business & Policy
January 13, 2017, Toronto, Ont – Former Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) chair Brenda Lammens has been named the 2017 recipient of the organization’s Industry Award of Merit.
Published in Associations
December 16, 29016, Leamington, Ont – Fresh-picked local strawberries in the winter are no longer a fantasy in Essex County.

A Leamington greenhouse is growing strawberries and gearing up to have its berries in grocery stores by Christmas.

The strawberries at Orangeline Farms are marketed as Zing! Healthy Foods and have been sold in Metro stores and at the greenhouse at Highway 77 and Road 14 north of Leamington. READ MORE


Published in Fruit


Jamie Quai is very much a hands-on guy and the blue-purple stains around the cuticles of his fingernails can attest to that.

Just the day before being installed as Ontario’s 61st Grape King, he’d been cleaning up after pressing Concord grapes at the family winery where he is co-proprietor, vigneron (French for grape grower) and winemaker. And while he was scrubbed up and wearing his new Grape King blazer for the event, it’s almost impossible to remove the telltale stain of the grape variety that’s better known as a juice grape than for making wine.  

That was at the end of September. In mid-month, he had been named Grape King at a luncheon in St. Catharines, Ont. to launch the Niagara Wine Festival. A second crowning ceremony was held at his 22-acre vineyard, Quai du Vin Estate Winery (roughly translated as “dock” or “port” of wine) near the north shore of Lake Erie, some 30 kilometres south of London Ont.

Winters can be long and cold and that means the soil stays colder longer – some seven to 10 days longer than in Niagara, Jamie said. That puts blossom time outside the dangerous frost period, a question he fielded when asked by a panel of three academic judges why he didn’t have wind machines, like growers in other areas, to ward off a late spring frost.

“The heavy clay soil presents it’s own challenges.”

While growers in other areas may have no cover crop between the rows of grapes, or only between alternate rows, Jamie has a permanent grass cover crop that competes for nutrients with the grapes.

“Excessive (leaf) growth is as bad as too little,” he said.

Another thing the judges had to consider is his donation of trial plots for Ontario ministry of agriculture and food research.

“The doors are always open. We’re the benefactors of someone else’s (research) contribution to the industry and like to move that forward.”

From the front window of the winery, he points across the road to a large neighbouring cornfield.

“My grandfather waited to buy this land and made growing grapes and making wine his retirement project,” he said. “He knew grapes could only be grown on the ridge we are on, and that it was suitable for more than gravel pits.”

The top line of that ridge can barely be seen from the back of the winery – which fittingly is on Fruit Ridge Line – past rows of blue Concord and white Niagara grapes and other varieties associated with making sparking wines (Aurore, New York Muscat). There’s also hardy red wine Baco Noir and Marechal Foch which are French hybrid varieties, and red Merlot, as well as harder to grow Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris white vinifera varieties. As well, he grows Ehrenfelser, a German white grape variety that’s a cross between Riesling and Silvaner. It’s not grown extensively in Ontario, but is widely grown in the Okanagan winegrowing region of B.C.

Redi Quai and wife, Louisa, came to Canada in the early 1950s and for 15 years he worked as a subcontractor pouring cement basements for new homes and buying and selling houses on the real estate market.

“He was flipping houses before it became a TV show,” Jamie said.

Redi began growing grapes in 1972, and before he died in 2011, saw his dream of a family winery take root.

In 1990, Jamie’s parents – Roberto and Lisa – opened the winery and it’s being passed on to Jamie, 34, and wife, Kim – a school teacher – and quite possibly their two sons, Gavin, 4, and Nicklaas, eight months.

The Quai family name (pronounced Kwai, like the movie Bridge on the River Kwai) is of French derivation. His great-uncle believed retreating soldiers, or deserters in Napoleon’s army, may have settled in the area of northeast Italy where Redi came from. It’s at the geographic crossroads of France, Germany and Italy, “but shaded more into Germany,” Jamie said.

“More sauerkraut and bratwurst than croissants or pizza,” he quipped.

Jamie studied wine making at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) in St. Catharines, Ont., and gained hands-on experience working in large and small wineries in Niagara over three harvest years. At CCOVI, he taught the engineering side of winery operations as the instructor for the OEVI 3PP21 course from 2007 to 2016. In layman’s terms, the course code means learning how to use pumps, cooling systems, stainless steel tanks, equipment for crushing, de-stemming, and wastewater drainage and storage.

”It’s where the scientific meets the practical (application),” he said.

 The Grape King is selected from a handful of growers who are nominated each year by some 500 fellow growers. Except for Jamie Quai and Sal D’Angelo (1999) from Essex County, the king or queen has always been from Niagara. So much so that it’s become an informal competition between growers in Niagara-on-the-Lake and growers in St. Catharines (and Louth), the towns of Lincoln, West Lincoln, Hamilton, and Wellington County. 






Published in Profiles

August 29, 2016, Nanaimo, BC – A young Nanaimo family is bringing a dormant winery back to life, continuing on the dream of the man who planted the grapes decades ago.

As the five acres of vineyards nestled in a hot valley along Nanaimo’s Maxey Road ripen, it is also the fruition of a man’s lifework. The late founder Harry Von Wolff, who planted it all and cleared the land of trees two decades ago. READ MORE

Published in Profiles


John Picard, owner of Ramblin’ Road Brewery in La Salette, Ont., was raised on a farm, worked tobacco fields through his teens and studied economics as a young adult. He always had it “in his blood” to return to farming.

That passion, in addition to things like new equipment availability, have allowed Picard to create Ontario’s first and only “brewery farm,” where he grows hops, makes beer, makes kettle chips and has created a very unique product that couldn’t be made anywhere else.

Picard’s brewery farm adventure began in 2004, when Picard found suitable property to purchase. In 2006, the equipment necessary for the production of craft beer became available, and he was keen.

“How to develop a craft beer business on the farm was the question,” he remembers. “We started with planting 3,600 hops rhizomes that year and it went well. It evolved into the brewery project, which started in 2010.”

By 2012, he and his team were proudly introducing the people of Norfolk County to their first locally brewed craft beer. Ramblin’ Road current offerings include a lager, ale and pilsner – as well as another brew that is very special.

The uniqueness of this particular beer is directly related to the uniqueness of the kettle chips that Picard had started making when he bought the farm in 2004. Picard wanted the snacks to stand out with a full-bodied flavour, and had come up with the idea to take the raw sliced potatoes and bathe them in beer stock to achieve this.

“Creating unique food products has always been a passion of mine, and the market for these kettle chips was already there,” Picard says. “People in bars and pubs are looking for local, unique and high-quality snacks. We just recognized this market and offered the consumer a distinct product in both processing and flavour.”

One day, Picard eyed the lager beer stock that they bathed the potato slices in, and wondered what would happen if he tried to take it all the way to beer. It was a simple lager, and using professional consultation, he was able to take the liquid and very carefully measure its acquired starches. It was hoped, and proven to be true, that the “potato sugars” would create a very distinctive smoothness in the final beer. These sugars, Picard would also learn, also offer a touch of sweetness from the start, which continues to evolve in the aging process, creating what he calls “an amazingly distinctive product.” In addition to measuring how much potato starch was present, Picard needed to bring it to a consistent volume in order to have the right final desired alcohol content. An enzymatic reaction process does the trick, controlling how much breakdown of starch occurs, allowing all processing parameters to be calculable and factored into the finished product, and eliminating all concerns for beer deterioration and oxidation.

Ensuring the process was repeatable was also a tough thing to accomplish.

“There are differences in potato quality, due to things like whether it’s a new crop or a stored crop,” Picard notes. “We didn’t know how the sugars would vary through the season.”

It took six months of trials to optimize the process and guarantee quality. At that point, Ramblin’ Road Premium Dakota Pearl Potato Ale was born.

“When we tasted it, it was fabulous and has been our number one seller since its introduction.”

Ramblin’ Road has seen a doubling in demand for both its Dakota Pearl ale and its kettle chips over the last two years, and this growth continues.

“We’re just beginning to establish networks for product distribution,” Picard explains. “Currently, we supply a few retail outlets from Chatham to the Bruce Peninsula. The snack products are seeing expanded market opportunities and great repeat sales. Locally, the beer distribution has been serviced primarily in Norfolk, with a few specialty accounts in restaurants in Oxford and the Kitchener-Waterloo area. This year, we are creating a delivery system for those enquiries outside of this area, and we currently have had over 20 enquiries.”  

To create all his brews, Picard grows 3.7 acres of hops, with varieties that possess varying degrees of bitterness, flavouring and aromatics. Those currently used in production are Mt. Hood, Nugget, Fuggle, Cascade and Brewer’s Gold, with Centennial, Hallertau and Simcoe under cultivation for future use.

“Some hops have one quality and some hops have all three, and the combinations are incredible with our selection of cultivars,” Picard says. “We are learning every year how to improve our hops qualities and yields. In 2014, the moderate heat seemed to be a plus for the hops as we realized very good hops cones, the weather in combination with proper fertilization are key to a lush hops field. We’ve also built our own harvester.”

In 2015, Picard and his team expected to process hops for commercial sales. To prepare them for this after growing and drying, their alpha acid content must be measured, followed by hammer-milling, pelletizing and vacuum sealing into packages.

Picard points to marketing as another current challenge.

“We are a bit more cautious in the marketing side as there is a very competitive demand for limited beer tap space in most licensee establishments,” he says. “We choose to be in venues where the owner chooses his offerings based on his customers’ tastes rather than what is cheap and discounted for quick sale. We are sourcing markets for our kettle chips where we are able to maintain differentiation from the multi-nationals.”  

Future plans include the development of more beverage and snack products.

“Just in December 2014, we launched our fifth beer – PurebRED, which highlights the true red qualities of roasted and malted barley, added to this is our elevated hops bitterness for a very well-balanced flavour,” he notes. “It is my hope that the market distribution/retail system will expand accordingly, as this seems to be lynch pin to connect consumers and local products. But I think that with the rise in consumer awareness and demand for these products, the distribution system will evolve or alternative avenues of accessibility will develop.”

Picard says winning a Premier’s Award in 2014 was a great honour, not only in that they recognize his efforts, but because they as a whole recognize that agriculture is continually and rapidly evolving.

“Projects like the Ramblin’ Road Brewery Farm are developments that you would not have seen 10 years ago,” he says. “Highlighting these unique and diverse expansions into agriculture is a great way to confirm with consumers that their food supply is indeed more local, traceable and defined. It’s truly a recognition that entrepreneurs will continue to enhance our food experiences and that agriculture is capable of continually surprising us.”




Published in Marketing

 SkySquirrel Technologies in Hammond Plains, N.S., uses drone imaging and data analysis/reporting to currently serve about 30 vineyards in Canada, Chile, France, Spain, Romania and Switzerland. Photo by Photo courtesy of SkySquirrel Technologies

When someone tells you drones are about to revolutionize agriculture, believe them. More and more people in the farming industry believe that use of drone imagery will soon be standard practice on most major farms, helping to manage everything from potatoes to horticulture crops, grapes to field crops.

The way things are currently, growers have to scout for disease and other crop issues (and in many cases, send samples away for confirmation). But the human eye can only detect a fraction of the information that can be measured with today’s sensors. With properly-calibrated imaging tools – which can pick up a great deal of information beyond the visible spectrum – there is a whole new dimension of crop management emerging. It’s true growers can and do use sensors to gather information now by physically walking around the fields with a sensor tool or carrying one while riding in a machine, such as the Greenseeker. But drones in the sky are more efficient. They are able to take hundreds of images across large areas in a few minutes and send the data wirelessly to a central database. The system software analyzes data as it arrives, comparing it with norms on file, then automatically sends reports back to the grower – in some cases within 24 hours – with the time for the whole process to cycle shortening all the time.

The reports are tied into GPS positioning, so that growers can use their smartphones or tablets to go directly in the field to pinpointed areas of concern. Drought stress and a few diseases are already capable of being detected. Drone imaging is also being used to assess crop status (planting evaluation, growing stage, yield estimates), evaluate and survey for drainage, and to track weed levels.

Andy Reynolds says most remote sensing work in vineyards so far has been conducted in Australia and Europe using fixed wing aircraft.

“[It] has involved use of sensors that record red-green-blue spectral reflectance from plant canopies that provide a metric called normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI),” explains the professor at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ont. “The utility of these data comes from spatial relationships between NDVI and yield, vine vigor, water status and possibly berry composition metrics such as sugar (Brix), titratable acidity (TA), anthocyanins, phenols, etc.”

Reynolds says there are generally direct correlations between NDVI and yield, vigor, etc. because NDVI is basically measuring greenness in a plant canopy. A low NDVI is typically associated with low vine water status, low TA, high Brix, anthocyanins, and phenols, partly due to smaller berries and the associated concentration effects.

The remote sensing work done by Reynolds and his team in Niagara in the mid-2000s illustrated these results.

“One of the challenges, which we will continue to have with our drone work which just began in 2015, is the fact that Niagara vineyards have green cover crops in row-middles that reflect the same as plant canopies,” he notes. “So, all the pixels associated with the cover crops need to be masked to provide NDVI data representative of the vine canopies exclusively.”

He names another stumbling block with assessing drone tech to be weather differences from year to year, with high rainfall seasons having the capability to completely change the zonal patterns in NDVI and other pertinent variables. Reynolds and his colleagues saw this happen in a recent five-year study in a large Riesling vineyard in Beamsville, Ont., and a two-year study in four Pinot noir vineyards in St David’s, Ont. These two issues, he notes, are major challenges in the process of convincing the industry that the use of remote sensing – either by drones or standard aircraft – might be worth widespread investment.

Reynolds believes all this research may someday allow scientists to delineate temporarily-stable zones of a vineyard that will end up producing wine of differing quality.

“This information might be used in two ways,” he explains. “If the zones are somewhat geometric in nature, it might be possible to implement ‘precision viticulture’ whereby variable rate fertilization, liming etc. might be used to reduce the variability.

“The other way of using the data is to simply accept the fact that the vineyard is variable, and make two or more different products that reflect the variability, for example a $15 bottle of wine from the high-vigor zone and a $25 bottle product from the low-vigor zone. All this will depend upon a clear correlation between the NDVI data accessed by the drone and all the variables on the ground.”

SkySquirrel Technologies in Hammond Plains, N.S., uses drone imaging and data analysis/reporting to currently serve about 30 vineyards in Canada, Chile, France, Spain, Romania and Switzerland. The company also does a little field crop and golf course work. About half its clients are Canadian, based in B.C. and the Maritimes, with at least one Ontario client coming on board in 2016. SkySquirrel has a partnership with VineView of California, which started gathering aerial infrared data in vineyards using airplanes about 12 years ago.

SkySquirrel formed in 2012 and focussed in on vineyard management in 2013.

“Grapes are a high-value crop and the flight time is a good match for size of vineyards,” says Richard van der Put, company CEO.

Usable analysis is back to vineyard managers usually within 24 hours, and the flight planning training for vineyard managers takes about a day. Van der Put says the biggest challenge in developing their system was image calibration – creating software algorithms that would compare imaging data with norms and also make comparisons over time.

Cost return for drone use is best measured on a per-acre basis, in van der Put’s view.

“There’s an immediate return on investment, but how much depends on the application,” he notes. “One disease that is very important in vineyards is grapevine leafroll virus. As many readers would know, there is no treatment and you have to remove the plant. Early stage management is critical and provides a huge return on investment.”

Leafroll shows up on the images with an obvious colour change, but that could be due to other diseases, so vineyard managers usually send plant samples for confirmation testing before culling.

SkySquirrel currently has no capability to detect mildew or other diseases, but offers differential harvesting analysis (a determination of when grape harvesting should occur), and is in the process of incorporating water management services. van der Put notes that its partner company, VineView, helps vineyards in California drop water use by 25 per cent.  

Drone use in hort crops, potatoes
Drones have been used in several projects in Ontario’s Holland Marsh area, according to Jody Mott, Holland Marsh Growers’ Association’s interim executive director. The projects have mostly focussed on surveying fields and buffers. Mott adds that a recent Campbell’s soup commercial involving a Holland Marsh grower was filmed using a drone.

One current Holland Marsh drone project is being spearheaded by Mary Ruth McDonald, a professor at the University of Guelph and the research trial coordinator at its Muck Crops Research Station. The two-year study, supported by federal Growing Forward 2 funding and involving Bradford Cooperative Storage Ltd., has been extended into 2016. McDonald says one objective of the research is to investigate the use of aerial photography to improve integrated pest management programs – basically to see if crop damage can be identified earlier and more efficiently with drones than through scouting (with the cost of scout labour increasing and drone costs coming down). She and her colleagues also want to see how drone imaging can affect research itself, as it may provide more data and more objective data than that which is currently gathered.

Resson Aerospace of Fredericton, N.B., delivers data analysis for various clients, and the Financial Post newspaper reports that Resson signed a seven-figure multi-year deal with McCain Foods.

According to Nicole Rabe, a land resource specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, barriers at this stage in using drone imagery in the horticulture sector include cost, the time it takes to get usable data back, and risk.

But Rabe also asks about the risk to the grower if something has been missed. With more research projects and private partnerships looking into drones in Canada, it seems clear that answers – and a reduction of barriers to drone use in agriculture – are on the way.




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