Research
October 12, 2017, Deschambault, Que – The Canadian government is prioritizing science and innovation and the competitiveness of the agriculture industry as a whole to create better business opportunities for producers and Canadians.

Funding was announced recently for two projects by the Centre de recherche en sciences animales de Deschambault (CRSAD), including a plan to increase the pollination efficiency of bees to achieve better yields in cranberry production.

Funding of $183,127 will enable the CRSAD to identify the best method of feeding bees with sucrose syrup and to test variations of that method to maximize the bees’ pollination efficiency in cranberry production. The outcomes of this project are designed to increase cranberry yields and decrease bee feeding costs.

“The CRSAD is very appreciative of the federal government’s strong support for its research activities,” said Jean-Paul Laforest, president of the CRSAD. “Canada holds an enviable position in the world for cranberry production, and bees are major allies of the industry. Our project will deliver positive outcomes for both cranberry production and the bees themselves.”

In 2016, the Quebec cranberry industry generated nearly $82 million in market receipts and over $30 million in exports.

 
Published in Research
October 12, 2017, Madison, WI – The colour red is splashed across gardens, forests and farms, attracting pollinators with bright hues, signaling ripe fruit and delighting vegetable and flower gardeners alike.

But if you put a ruby raspberry up against a crimson beet and look closely, you might just notice: they are different reds.

Millions of years ago, one family of plants – the beets and their near and distant cousins – hit upon a brand new red pigment and discarded the red used by the rest of the plant world. How this new red evolved, and why a plant that makes both kinds of red pigment has never been found, are questions that have long attracted researchers puzzling over plant evolution.

Writing recently in the journal New Phytologist, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Botany Hiroshi Maeda and his colleagues describe an ancient loosening up of a key biochemical pathway that set the stage for the ancestors of beets to develop their characteristic red pigment. By evolving an efficient way to make the amino acid tyrosine, the raw material for the new red, this plant family freed up extra tyrosine for more uses. Later innovations turned the newly abundant tyrosine scarlet.

The new findings can aid beet breeding programs and provide tools and information for scientists studying how to turn tyrosine into its many useful derivatives, which include morphine and vitamin E.

“The core question we have been interested in is how metabolic pathways have evolved in different plants, and why plants can make so many different compounds,” says Maeda. “Beets were the perfect start for addressing the question.”

The vast majority of plants rely on a class of pigments called anthocyanins to turn their leaves and fruits purple and red. But the ancestors of beets developed the red and yellow betalains, and then turned off the redundant anthocyanins. Besides beets, the colour is found in Swiss chard, rhubarb, quinoa and cactuses, among thousands of species. Betalains are common food dyes and are bred for by beet breeders.

When Maeda lab graduate student and lead author of the new paper Samuel Lopez-Nieves isolated the enzymes in beets that produce tyrosine, he found two versions. One was inhibited by tyrosine – a natural way to regulate the amount of the amino acid, by shutting off production when there is a lot of it. But the second enzyme was much less sensitive to regulation by tyrosine, meaning it could keep making the amino acid without being slowed down. The upshot was that beets produced much more tyrosine than other plants, enough to play around with and turn into betalains.

Figuring that humans had bred this highly active tyrosine pathway while selecting for bright-red beets, Lopez-Nieves isolated the enzymes from wild beets.

“Even the wild ancestor of beets, sea beet, had this deregulated enzyme already. That was unexpected. So, our initial hypothesis was wrong,” says Lopez-Nieves.

So he turned to spinach, a more distant cousin that diverged from beets longer ago. Spinach also had two copies, one that was not inhibited by tyrosine, meaning the new tyrosine pathway must be older than the spinach-beet ancestor. The researchers needed to go back much further in evolutionary time to find when the ancestor of beets evolved a second, less inhibited enzyme.

Working with collaborators at the University of Michigan and the University of Cambridge, Maeda’s team analyzed the genomes of dozens of plant families, some that made betalains and others that diverged before the new pigments had evolved. They discovered that the tyrosine pathway innovation – with one enzyme free to make more of the amino acid – evolved long before betalains. Only later did other enzymes evolve that could turn the abundant tyrosine into the red betalains.

“Our initial hypothesis was the betalain pigment pathway evolved and then, during the breeding process, people tweaked the tyrosine pathway in order to further increase the pigment. But that was not the case,” says Maeda. “It actually happened way back before. And it provided an evolutionary stepping stone toward the evolution of this novel pigment pathway.”

The takeaway of this study, says Maeda, is that altering the production of raw materials like tyrosine opens up new avenues for producing the varied and useful compounds that make plants nature’s premier chemists.

For some unknown ancestor of beets and cactuses, this flexibility in raw materials allowed it to discover a new kind of red that the world had not seen before, one that is still splashed across the plant world today.
Published in Research
October 11, 2017, West Lafayette, IN – Apple growers want to get the most out of their high-value cultivars, and a Purdue University study shows they might want to focus on the types of apples they plant near those cash crops.

Since apple trees cannot self-pollinate, the pollen from other apple varieties is necessary for fruit to grow. Orchard owners often plant crab apple trees amongst high-value apples such as Honeycrisp, Gala and Fuji. Crab apples produce a lot of flowers and thus a lot of pollen for bees to spread around to the other trees.

“If you are growing some Honeycrisp, you want to plant something next to your Honeycrisp that bees will pick up and spread to your Honeycrisp and make good apples,” said Peter Hirst, a Purdue professor of horticulture and landscape architecture. “Growers will alternate plantings of different cultivars every few rows to promote cross-pollination, and they’ll sometimes put a crab apple tree in the middle of a row as well.”

Hirst and Khalil Jahed, a Purdue doctoral student, wondered if it mattered which type of apple pollinated high-value cultivars. To find out, they manually applied pollen from Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, and two types of crab apple – Ralph Shay and Malus floribunda – to Honeycrisp, Fuji and Gala. They put a net over the trees to keep the bees out, so they could control the pollen that was applied.

Their findings, published recently in the journal HortScience, showed that Honeycrisp pollinated with the Red Delicious variety doubled fruit set — the conversion of flowers into fruit — compared to Honeycrisp pollinated with the crab apple varieties.

In Honeycrisp, pollen tubes created by Red Delicious pollen reached on average 85 per cent of the distance to the ovary, compared to 40 per cent for pollen tubes from crab apple pollen. And fruit set with Red Delicious pollen was four times higher in the first year of the study, and eight times higher in the second, compared to crab apples.

“On Honeycrisp especially, the two crab apples we tried are not very effective at all. The pollen grows very slowly, and you end up with reduced fruit set as a consequence,” Hirst said.

The crab apples did better with Fuji and Gala but still didn’t match the effectiveness of Red Delicious pollen.

When pollen lands on the pistil of the flower, it must be recognized, and if it is compatible, the pollen will germinate and grow down the style to the ovary. Once fertilized, the ovule becomes a seed and the flower becomes a fruit.

Jahed collected flowers from pollinated trees each day for four days after pollination and measured pollen tube growth and fruit set. Overall, the Red Delicious was the best pollinizer, followed by Golden Delicious and then the crab apple varieties. Jahed said the experiment should lead apple growers to consider the design of their orchards to ensure that better pollinizers are planted near high-value crops.

“If they have a good pollinizer and a compatible pollinizer, the fruit quality and fruit set will be higher than with those that are not compatible,” Jahed said.

The research was part of Jahed’s master’s degree thesis, which he has completed. He and Hirst do not plan to continue studying the effectiveness of different pollinizers, but he hopes that others take up the research. They do plan to publish one final paper on pollination and fruit quality in 2018.
Published in Research
October 4, 2017 – Soils keep plants healthy by providing plants with water, helpful minerals, and microbes, among other benefits. But what if the soil also contains toxic elements?

In some growing areas, soils are naturally rich in elements, such as cadmium. Leafy vegetables grown in these soils can take up the cadmium and become harmful to humans. What to do? The solution goes back to the soil. Adrian Paul, a former researcher now working in the Sustainable Mineral Institute in Brisbane, Australia, is working to find which soil additives work best.

Cadmium appears in very low levels or in forms that prevent contamination in soils across the world. However, some soils naturally have more than others. It can result from the erosion of local rock formations. In some instances, it’s present due to human activity. Metal processing, fertilizer or fossil fuel combustion, for example, can leave cadmium behind.

Cadmium may decrease people’s kidney function and bone density. As a result, international guidelines set safety limits on cadmium found in food. Growers with otherwise fertile fields need to grow food within these safe levels. Their livelihood depends on it.

“Our research aims to protect producers and consumers by lowering the cadmium in vegetables. This gives producers the ability to grow safe, profitable crops,” Paul says. “Consumers need to be able to safely eat what the farmers grow.”

Paul worked with four additives: zinc and manganese salts, limestone, and biosolids [nutrient-rich organic materials from sewage processed at a treatment facility] compost.

Although each works in a slightly different manner, the soil amendments generally solve the cadmium problem in two ways. They can prevent the passage of cadmium from the soil to the plant by offering competing nutrients. They can also chemically alter the cadmium so it is unavailable.

The researchers found that a combination of compost, zinc, and limestone brought the levels of cadmium in spinach down to nontoxic levels. The next step in this work is to better determine the ideal combination of the soil amendments. Researchers also want to study vegetables besides spinach, and other elements.

“Farmlands provide for us all,” Paul says. ”Rehabilitating agricultural fields, by removing heavy metals like cadmium, means healthier soils and healthier food.”

Read more about this study in the Journal of Environmental Quality.
Published in Research
September 18, 2017, Brooks, Alta – Potato plants need a lot of nitrogen to produce tubers at optimum levels, but with more applied nitrogen comes an increased risk of nitrogen loss to the atmosphere.

Guillermo Hernandez Ramirez, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, is studying the use and loss of that fertilizer in potato crops. He is testing various nitrogen fertilizer formulations and biostimulants to gauge their effect on potato productivity and nitrous oxide emissions. READ MORE

 

Published in Research
September 11, 2017, Geneva, NY – Breeding the next great grape is getting a boost thanks to new funding for a Cornell University-led project that uses genomic technology to create varieties that are more flavourful and sustainable.

The project – VitisGen2 – is a collaboration of 25 scientists from 11 institutions who are working in multidisciplinary teams to accelerate development of the next generation of grapes. Launched in 2011, the project was recently renewed with a $6.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Specialty Crop Research Initiative.

The work has the potential to save millions of dollars annually for the U.S. grape industry – in excess of $100 million in California alone, according to Bruce Reisch, professor of grapevine breeding and genetics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), who co-leads the project with Lance Cadle-Davidson, plant pathologist with the USDA-ARS Grape Genetics Research Unit, both located at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.

VitisGen2’s multipronged model addresses the grape production continuum. An economics team examines the benefits of improving grape varieties. Geneticists identify molecular markers for important traits in grapes, from resistance to diseases like powdery mildew to boosting low-temperature tolerance and fruit quality. Grape-breeding scientists develop new grape varieties that incorporate these traits, and teams of outreach specialists help growers and consumers understand the advantages of newly introduced grape varieties.

The result is a new generation of high-quality grapes that can be grown at lower cost and adapt easily to a range of geographic regions and climates, all with less environmental impact.

“We all stand to benefit in areas ranging from the environment to economic sustainability to improving the profit and quality possibilities for the industry,” Reisch said.

Among the achievements in the project’s first five-year phase:
  • Deploying DNA sequencing technology to map the grape genome, a project led by Cadle-Davidson and Qi Sun of the Cornell Bioinformatics Facility.
  • Identifying 75 genetic markers associated with a range of important traits.
  • Pinpointing a gene that controls acidity in grapes. The discovery by the winemaking fruit quality team, led by Gavin Sacks, associate professor of food science in CALS, will help winemakers moderate excessive acid levels typically found in wild grape species, which are often used in crossbreeding for their resistance to disease.
  • Developing a process called Amplicon Sequencing, or AmpSeq, that allows researchers to rapidly analyze genetic variation in multiple genomic regions – anywhere from 2 to 500 DNA sequence markers – simultaneously.
The project has already shared its disease-resistant germplasm with breeding programs throughout the U.S., speeding the development of grape varieties with more flavour and that are more environmentally sustainable.

Looking to the future, Reisch and the VitisGen2 teams are aiming to expand the use of high-throughput DNA and plant evaluation technology to improve the quality of wine, raisin and table grapes, as well as rootstocks. VitisGen2 is using genome sequencing to identify markers within numerous genes of interest to better understand which genes are controlling priority traits.

The team is also looking at ways to use its collective knowledge of genetics to help growers manage vineyards. For example, AmpSeq technology can track the powdery mildew pathogen population, allowing researchers to determine which pesticides are most effective at specific times of the season, thereby reducing pesticide spraying and increasing its efficacy.

Ultimately, VitisGen2 will bring greater efficiency to grape growing, which is an intensive, comprehensive and costly process, said Reisch.

“It takes 15-plus years to get a new variety to the market,” Reisch said. “We’re probably shrinking the timeline down by two or three years.”
Published in Research
September 5, 2017, Netherlands - In a hidden experimental field in Wageningen, the Netherlands, surrounded by tall maize plants, there are several smaller plots with potato plants.

In some of these plots there are only dead plants, in others the plants have been affected by late blight (Phytophthora infestans) to a greater or lesser extent, but there are also fields with only perfectly healthy potatoes.

The latter are the result of the latest crosses by the Wageningen company, Solynta. The breeders have succeeded, thanks to their revolutionary hybrid breeding technique, in making potato plants insusceptible to the dreaded potato disease.

A new way of potato breeding

Potatoes are generally clone-bred and grown vegetatively. A seed-potato is put in the ground, which produces some ten new potatoes. One of the disadvantages of this system is that the parent plant transmits diseases to the offspring. Also, making the crop resistant is a long process.

Solynta has therefore selected a whole new approach: the company developed hybrid breeding with elite parent-lines, which allow propagation with true seeds. READ MORE
Published in Research
August 30, 2017, Washington, D.C. - With the produce department facing its second consecutive quarter of decreased sales, understanding consumer exposure to new products and how they engage with food will help retailers meet changing needs as the produce department, according to the United Fresh Produce Association’s Q2 2017 edition of the FreshFacts® on Retail report.

This quarter’s report features seasonal category deep dives on apples, potatoes and lettuce with a close look at important Q4 2016 vs. Q4 2015 results to help companies plan for a successful Q4 2017. A spotlight on organic produce, which represents 10 per cent of all produce sales, showcases purchasing trends and commodities that still have room for growth in the organic sector. The report also looks at value-added fruits and vegetables, including a continued feature on the packaged salad category.

Building on Q1 2017’s report on fresh produce at convenience stores, the Q2 2017 report explores produce’s role in healthy snacking more broadly.

“Consumers are seeking healthy options, and produce departments are seeing competition for dollar share as healthy snack options are featured in all corners of the retail store,” says Jeff Oberman, United Fresh Vice President of Trade Relations and United Fresh’s Retail-Foodservice Board liaison. “However, there is great potential for produce companies to find success in cross-merchandising and partnerships with other food companies to maintain a presence with the consumer across the store, which will help retailers continue to fresh produce sales success.”

The FreshFacts® on Retail report, produced in partnership with Nielsen Fresh and input and direction from the United Fresh Retail-Foodservice Board of Directors, measures retail price and sales trends for the top 10 fruit and vegetable commodities as well as other value-added produce categories. The report is sponsored by Del Monte Fresh Produce.

For more information, visit www.unitedfresh.org
Published in Associations
August 30, 2017, California - The Public Strawberry Breeding Program at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues in California and Florida have received a $4.5 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the disease resistance and sustainable production of strawberries throughout the nation.

The collaborative grant is good news for strawberry farmers and consumers everywhere, according to Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission. To signal its own support, the strawberry commission pledged an additional $1.8 million to the UC Davis program.

“An investment in the UC Davis strawberry breeding program is an investment in the future of strawberries,” Tomlinson said. “Thanks to their groundbreaking research and strong partnerships, Director Steve Knapp and his colleagues are developing improved strawberry varieties publicly available to farmers.”

Improving genetic resistance to disease

Strawberries constitute a $4.4 billion-dollar industry in the United States, and 94 percent of the nation’s strawberry fruit and nursery plants are grown in California and Florida.

Strawberries are especially vulnerable to soil-borne pathogens, which destroy plants and greatly reduce yield. Since the 1960s, strawberry growers have depended on fumigants like methyl bromide to treat soils before planting berries in an effort to control disease. But methyl bromide has been phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency and will no longer be available after 2017.

“Following the elimination of methyl bromide fumigation, strawberry growers are under greater economic pressures, and there is an urgent need for improved, disease-resistant strawberry varieties that will thrive without fumigation,” Knapp said.

Knapp will head a team of scientists from UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and the University of Florida.

Together, researchers will identify and manage pathogen threats, mine elite and wild genetic resources to find natural sources of resistance to pathogens, and accelerate the development of public varieties resistant to a broad spectrum of disease and other pests.

“Strawberry growers are faced with the need to deliver high-quality fruit to consumers year-round, while protecting the environment, fostering economic growth in their communities and coping with profound changes in production practices,” Knapp said. “We look forward to collaborating with our industry partners through research, agricultural extension and education to help them reach those goals.”

UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program

During six decades, the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program has developed more than 30 patented varieties, made strawberries a year-round crop in California and boosted strawberry yield from just 6 tons per acre in the 1950s to 30 tons per acre today.

Knapp took over directorship of the program in 2015. He and his team are working to develop short-day and day-neutral strawberry varieties; studying the genetics of disease-resistance, fruit quality and photoperiod response; and applying genomic techniques to make traditional strawberry breeding more efficient. They have 10 public varieties in the pipeline and plan to release one or two new strawberry varieties later this year.

Initiative collaborators

The grant is funded by USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Collaborators from UC Davis include agricultural economist Rachael Goodhue, plant pathologist Thomas Gordon, and plant scientists Julia Harshman and Thomas Poorten.

Other key collaborators are Oleg Daugovish with UC Agricultural and Natural Resources; Alexander Putman at UC Riverside; Julie Guthman at UC Santa Cruz; Gerald Holmes and Kelly Ivors, both at Cal Poly; and Seonghee Lee, Natália Peres and Vance Whitaker, all of the University of Florida.
Published in Research
August 29, 2017, Vineland, Ont. – Farmers interested in adding a new crop to their production line-up may want to look at okra as an opportunity.

That’s according to researchers at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) who have been working with the crop for the past five years and have some very promising results from two years of field trials with three okra varieties.

“We know okra can be grown commercially in southern Ontario and that yields of 20,000 kg per hectare are possible,” said Vineland research scientist Dr. Viliam Zvalo.

Canada imported over six million kilograms of okra in 2015 – an increase of 43 per cent since 2011 – so the market demand for this new crop, popular especially in South and Southeast Asian cuisine, is there.

Zvalo is particularly excited about three additional varieties Vineland has been able to source from East West Seeds from Thailand. The company is a key player in the okra seed market in countries like India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand where much of the world’s okra is grown.

“We planted some of these varieties in June last year and were amazed by the yield potential,” he said. “I believe they may outperform the varieties we’ve been using so far and we are quite optimistic they’ll do very well here.”

Okra grows well in Canada’s hot summers but less is known about its performance in cooler, wet weather. However, Zvalo believes these new Asian varieties, which are developed for the cooler monsoon season, should perform well in Canada. Also, one variety is slower to mature than others, which means it needs to be harvested only every two or three days.

“Normally okra has to be picked daily to keep it from over-ripening and becoming woody, so this would give growers a bit of a buffer at harvest time,” he said.

Retail support for the new crop has been strong with prices for growers averaging $2.50 – $2.60 per pound. The key to getting into the okra business, though, is knowing the market, believes Zvalo.

“Big retailers are very interested in locally-grown okra, but are unlikely to deal with growers who only grow half an acre,” he said. “And if you’re harvesting and shipping daily, you need to be reasonably close to the market to get the crop there on time and be cost-competitive.”

For those interested in experimenting with okra, Vineland will provide a small quantity of seeds per variety as well as technical assistance related to growing the crop. This lets growers see first-hand how the varieties perform in their particular climate and soil.

According to Zvalo, the crop will grow reasonably well in areas of 2700 – 3300 crop heat units and growers in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba are trialing all six of the varieties this year.

Vineland has been conducting okra research on optimal plant spacing, fertilization, use of covers in early spring as well as the impact on yield potential of direct seeding versus transplanting. More information is at http://vinelandresearch.com/program/feeding-diversity-bringing-world-crops-market.

“I think the okra story is definitely more promising today than it was just a few years ago,” Zvalo said.

Vineland’s okra research is funded in part by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, through the AgriInnovation Program.
Published in Vegetables
August 25, 2017, Fredericton, N.B. - Benoit Bizimungu spends about 12 years working on a single type of potato, trying to develop a more resilient crop that requires less fertilizer or chemical.

The research scientist had a chance to share his work with the public last week when his workplace, the Fredericton Research and Development Centre, opened its laboratory doors to the public on Saturday, Aug. 19th.

More than 300 people stopped by the open house to get a peek into the federal facility, which primarily focuses on researching potatoes. READ MORE 
Published in Profiles
August 18, 2017 - The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) recently held an AgriWorkforce Roundtable to discuss challenges and possible solutions to address the critical agricultural labour shortage in Canada.

Participants included primary producers, processors, retailers, policy makers and academics – all putting their heads together to come up with new solutions to what is becoming a persistent problem; how do you attract and retain farm workers?

Marc Smith, retired Assistant Director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva and Senior Extension Associate opened the discussion with an international perspective on shared agricultural labour challenges among the United States and Canada.

Smith started off by identifying several trends in the U.S. agricultural labour climate:
• Regardless of government policy, people seeking employment in agriculture will be scarce.
• Economic and other motivations to develop and adopt labour-saving technologies are growing.
• Political and economic pressures will force minimal wages higher in many states.
• Perception of agriculture as an unattractive field for careers is a perennial challenge.

The consequences of these U.S. agricultural labour trends has resulted in a 20 per cent decline in available agricultural workers between 2002-14; an annual loss of US $3.1B to fruit and vegetable production due to labour shortages; and a declining U.S.-born population willing to work on farms.

In Canada the gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past 10 years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs. This was a key finding of Labour Market Information (LMI) research by CAHRC entitled Agriculture 2025: How the Sector’s Labour Challenges Will Shape its Future. The LMI research also revealed that Canadian primary agriculture had the highest industry job vacancy rate at seven per cent - higher than any other industry in Canada. This resulted in $1.5-billion in lost sales.

Poor worker compensation is often cited as the primary reason for low interest in working on farms. However, Smith notes that agricultural wages in the U.S. have gone up faster than any other sector in the past 10 years with the median wage being $13.23/hr ($17.76 Cdn) as of April 2017. In Canada, farm hourly rates averaged $17.50/hr in 2016.

Smith advocates that wages alone are not the issue but rather what is needed is a coordinated effort to improve labour policy, on-farm workforce needs, and farm practices.
Smith suggests that farmers need to develop realistic policies that attract and retain workers. Investment in leadership and management capacity within the agricultural industry is also needed to encourage innovation, research and development for long-term solutions to the already critical agricultural workforce.

It is not enough to simply pay required wages and comply with regulations. Employee compensation should also include how workers are treated and have their needs accommodated such as providing housing, access to the internet, transportation, communications in their own language, offering English as a second language training, job training, flexible hours, and creating a sense of community. It is important to make workers feel welcomed, valued and confident.

Finally, modifying farm practices to reduce the need for labour is another way to reduce on-farm workforce pressures. This may include adopting new technology that negates the need for human workers, changing crop mixes to less labour intensive commodities, or moving production operations to streamline efficiency.

To help attract and retain a motivated workforce, CAHRC has developed several tools to help farm managers including: AgriSkills – customizable and commodity specific on-farm training programs; Agri HR Toolkit – an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business; and Agri Pathways – promoting careers in agriculture. For more information on these and other CAHRC offerings visit www.cahrc-ccrha.ca.

In the meantime, Smith says producers should champion farmers that are doing a great job with their workers and get the word out that agriculture is a rewarding and fulfilling career with a strong future.
Published in Business & Policy
August 16, 2017, Ottawa, Ont. - Canadian fruit growers need the best varieties of plants to be successful. In the case of Canadian strawberry growers, they grow the best varieties of plants, which foreign buyers demand. The import and export of fruit plants, however, must go through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to test for potentially devastating plant viruses. Currently, this testing and quarantine process takes an average of three years to complete, significantly hampering the speed of trade.

Today, the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, announced that the CFIA will lead two projects worth $500,000 that use new DNA-based technologies to reduce the quarantine testing time, helping to boost trade and economic competitiveness in the $240 million Canadian fruit tree industry.

"Together with provincial partners and industry, our government is making the investments in innovative science that enables agriculture to be a leading growth sector of Canada's economy. Together we can help meet the world's growing demand for high-quality, sustainable food and help grow our middle class," Minister MacAulay, said. 

The first project will dramatically shorten the testing period of seeds, cuttings and bulbs imported into Canada to grow new varieties of plants. With this funding, scientists will use DNA technology to test for all viruses associated with imported plants to get an early indication of any plant diseases present. This approach could reduce the quarantine testing time by up to two and a half years.

The second project streamlines the testing of strawberry plants. Traditionally, multiple tests for viruses are required before exporting strawberry plants to foreign markets. This project will test for multiple viruses in one single test, dramatically reducing the time and cost to get plants to market.

Funding for these projects is provided through a partnership between the CFIA, Genome British Columbia, Summerland Varieties Corporation, Phyto Diagnostics, the British Columbia Cherry Association, and Vineland Research and Innovations Centre.

"Canadian import/export markets will be stronger and more competitive because of these genomics-based tools. Early detection of pathogens and viruses is a vital outcome of genomics and it is being applied across many key economic sectors." Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Genome British Columbia said. 
Published in Fruit
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
August 2, 2018, Guelph Ont. – Reducing food waste is not just the right thing to do; it’s also a way to improve business efficiency and profitability.

That’s the outcome of a food waste reduction project spearheaded by the Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA) with funding provided by Growing Forward 2.

OPMA teamed up with Value Chain Management International (VCMI) to develop a workbook, prepare several case studies, and roll out a series of workshops to help OPMA members wrap their heads around how they can reduce waste in their businesses while making more money in the process.

“This is to identify opportunities for improvement in the value chain; if you improve process, you automatically reduce waste in areas like labour, energy, product, packaging and transportation,” project lead Martin Gooch told participants in the Agricultural Adaptation Council’s summer tour on June 14. “This will position the Ontario produce industry as a leader in reducing food waste, but it’s also a business opportunity for the entire value chain.”

The first Ontario industry case study was recently released, with three more nearing completion. The case study with a progressive Ontario potato supplier, EarthFresh Foods, clearly shows the business opportunity in addressing food waste: a 29 per cent increase in grade-out of potatoes results in a 74 per cent increase in producer margin.

Most of the produce loss can be directly attributed to production practices, storage and handling, but addressing the problem requires a slight shift in thinking for farmers.

“Farmers often look at what their production per acre is, but don’t connect that with how much is actually being marketed and that’s where they are paid,” he said. “If you can prevent that 29 per cent loss of product, that’s an overall $17,000 increase in return on a single trailer load of potatoes. Businesses also benefit from incurring lower costs.”

To date, close to 100 people have participated in the waste reduction workshops developed by VCMI. The accompanying workbook uses a whole value chain perspective, and was designed to be an easy to use tool for businesses small and large with 10 easy steps to follow.

“You don’t need to have a PhD in math or be a statistical genius to improve your business,” Gooch said. “It’s about identifying where the opportunities are, what the causes are, and how do we address those causes in a constructive way.”

Overall, participants come away from the workshop with solutions they can use to improve performance in their businesses and no longer simply accept waste and “shrink” as part of doing business. Media interest in the initiative has been strong with global coverage, and other sectors, like meat processing, are making inquiries about applicability of the program to their industries.

More information is available at www.theopma.ca.

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 Research
July 27, 2017, Vineland, Ont – It’s been 10 years since a new horticultural research facility in Niagara Region was launched as the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland).

Since then, Vineland has been turning heads across Canada and internationally with its needs-based innovations. The organization reflects the entire horticulture value chain from farmers to consumers, and they’re not afraid to take big steps to help the industry solve problems.

“We started by understanding what needed to be done and how we needed to work to make a difference, which is real results with real impact from acres in the field to shelf space in the store,” says Vineland’s CEO, Dr. Jim Brandle.

Addressing the labour intensive nature of horticultural production was a need identified early on. Today, machines designed in Vineland’s robotics program and built in Ontario are coming into use in fruit and vegetable greenhouses, which Brandle says will go a long way in helping to keep growers competitive, as well as boost the local manufacturing and automation sector.
Sweet potatoes, okra and Asian eggplant are offering new market opportunities for growers and consumers eager to eat more locally produced food.

And Vineland’s rose breeding program made a big splash earlier this year when its Canadian Shield rose – a trademarked low-maintenance and winter hardy variety bred in Canada – was named Flower of the Year at Canada Blooms.

Another significant milestone was the construction of the largest, most modern horticultural research greenhouse in North America with commercial-scale height and growing rooms dedicated to horticulture, which opened in 2016 and was built around the needs of Canada’s greenhouse vegetable and flower growers.“Today, we’re commercializing innovations, from the Canadian Shield rose to new apple and pear varieties,” Brandle says. “We are having the kind of impact that we sought in those early days.”

Natural ways to control greenhouse pests – called biocontrols – are making a real difference to flower growers and a new technology that can identify genetic variants for traits in all plants has just been spun-off into a for-profit company.

“We’re creating a reputation and that alone is an achievement because we’re the new kid on the block,” he says. “We have a ton of good people with and around the organization and on our board who are making this happen.”Vineland is an important partner to the horticulture industry, according to Jan VanderHout, a greenhouse vegetable grower and Chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association.

“They are very good at asking us what we want and taking a whole value chain approach to research and innovation,” VanderHout says. “You need the right facilities and expertise and Vineland fills that need to the benefit of the industry as a whole.”

Looking to the future, both Brandle and VanderHout predict that cap and trade pressure and high energy costs will result in more work around energy use and carbon footprint reduction.And Vineland’s consumer-focused approaches will continue to drive new innovation, from high flavour greenhouse tomatoes to Ontario-grown apple varieties.

“We will further lever consumer-driven plant breeding and work with the intent around pleasing consumers and trying to understand what they want so we can build that into our selection criteria,” Brandle says.
Published in Profiles
July 26, 2017, Ontario - Stemphylium leaf blight (Stemphylium vesicarium) of onion starts as yellow-tan, water-soaked lesions developing into elongated spots. As these spots cover the entire leaves, onions prematurely defoliate thereby reducing the yield and causing the crop to be more susceptible to other pathogens.

Stemphylium was first identified in Ontario in 2008 and has since spread throughout the Holland Marsh and other onion growing areas in southwestern Ontario.

Stemphylium leaf blight can sometimes be misdiagnosed as purple blotch (Alternaria porri), as they both have very similar symptoms initially. Purple blotch has sunken tan to white lesions with purple centers while Stemphylium tends to have tan lesions without the purple centers.

Stemphylium spores are dispersed by wind. Spore sampling at the Muck Crops Research Station using a Burkard seven-day spore sampler detected an average of 33 spores/m3 in 2015 and seven spores/m3 in 2016.

In ideal conditions, leaf spot symptoms occur six days after initial infection. Stemphylium tends to infect dead tissue or wounds, often as a result of herbicide damage, insect feeding or from extreme weather.

Older onion leaves are more susceptible to infection than younger leaves and symptoms are traditionally observed after the plants have reached the three- to four-leaf stage.

Over the last few years, Botrytis leaf blight (Botrytis squamosa) has become less of an issue and has been overtaken by Stemphylium as the most important onion disease — other than maybe downy mildew.

This may be because the fungicides used to target Stemphylium are likely managing Botrytis as well. Since Stemphylium can be so devastating and hard to control, fungicides are now being applied earlier in the season which may be preventing Botrytis to become established.

Botrytis squamosa overwinters as sclerotia in the soil and on crop debris left from the previous year and infects onions in mid-June when temperatures and leaf wetness are favourable for infection. In the Holland Marsh, Stemphylium lesions were first observed on June 29, 2015 and July 7, 2016.

The primary method of management is through foliar fungicides such as Luna Tranquility, Quadris Top and Sercadis. Keep in mind that Sercadis and Luna Tranquility both contain a group 7 fungicide so remember to rotate and do not make sequential applications.

The effectiveness of these fungicides in the future depends on the spray programs you choose today. There are already Stemphylium isolates insensitive to several fungicides in New York so resistance is a real and very serious issue with this disease.

Remember to rotate fungicide groups with different modes of actions to reduce the possibility of resistance. A protective fungicide is best applied when the onion crop has reached the three-leaf stage, however it may not be necessary in dry years.

Research is currently being conducted at the Muck Crops Research Station to improve forecasting models to identify the optimal timing for commercial growers to achieve good control.

BOTCAST disease forecasting model is available in some areas of Ontario to help growers predict the activity of the disease. Warm, wet weather between 18-26°C is most favourable for disease development. Regular field scouting is still the best method to assess disease levels.

Plant spacing that permits better air movement and irrigation schedules that do not extend leaf wetness periods may be helpful in some areas. Recent work at the Muck Crops Research Station has shown that spores increase two to 72 hours after rainfall with eight hours of leaf wetness to be optimal for the pathogen. Irrigate overnight if possible so by morning the leaves can dry out and you don’t prolong that leaf wetness period.

To lower inoculum levels it is crucial to remove or bury cull piles and to bury leaf debris left from the previous year’s crop through deep cultivation. Stemphylium of onion has many hosts including leeks, garlic, asparagus and even European pear.

Take the time to rogue out volunteer onions or other Allium species in other crops nearby and remove unnecessary asparagus or pear trees to lower inoculum levels. As with any other foliar disease of onion, it is beneficial to rotate with non-host crops for three years.

To prevent the development of resistance, it is essential to always rotate between different fungicide groups and/or tank mix with a broad spectrum insecticide. Current products registered for Stemphylium leaf blight of onion are listed by fungicide group below:

Group 7 - Sercadis

Group 7/9 - Luna Tranquility

Group 11/3 - Quadris Top
Published in Diseases
July 25, 2017 – Ottawa, Ont. - A Food Policy for Canada will set a long-term vision for the health, environmental, social, and economic goals related to food, while identifying actions we can take in the short-term.

We have reached out to Canadians to help shape the policy because we know that by working together, we can build a food policy that is a shared vision to address food-related opportunities and challenges in Canada.

A strong response from across the country has prompted Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister, Lawrence MacAulay, to encourage even more citizens to have their say.

With over 22,000 Canadians having completed the online survey launched on May 29, the comment period has been extended to August 31, 2017, to allow even more Canadians to share their views on A Food Policy for Canada.

The online survey is one of a number of consultation activities planned to engage with Canadians on this issue.

The Government of Canada is also encouraging community leaders and organizations to continue having food policy discussions in their own regions across the country. A toolkit is now available online that can help organizers host discussions and gather feedback on what matters most when it comes to food policy.

Following a successful food policy summit held in Ottawa in June, the Government of Canada will be holding regional engagement sessions across Canada throughout August and September. Stakeholders, Indigenous groups, experts, and key policy makers will be invited to attend these sessions and share their views on the development of A Food Policy for Canada.

A Food Policy for Canada, which will be the first-of-its-kind for Canada, will help address food issues and pursue opportunities in areas related to:

· increasing access to affordable food;
· improving health and food safety;
· conserving our soil, water, and air; and
· growing more high-quality food.
Published in Federal
July 24, 2017 - St. John's - The Government of Canada is committed to working with agricultural industry partners and the private sector to develop new risk management tools that help farmers to be resilient and grow their businesses.

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, announced a $365,291 investment for the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture (NLFA) to develop a comprehensive consultation process to identify all the risks associated with farming in the province, potentially including production, financial, labour, market, transportation and climate change risks.

Once completed, the risk assessment will form the basis for future programs and initiatives that will improve the resilience and growth of the Newfoundland and Labrador agriculture sector.
Published in Federal
July 20, 2017, Ontario - Grapes and apples are high-value crops that require adequate water to grow properly. low water conditions such as drought stress have a negative impact on grapes and apples, lowering yields and reducing fruit quality.

The Water Adaption Management and Quality Initiative project is using a suite of technology to determine soil moisture for grapes, apple and tender fruit and improve recording and monitoring of natural and artificial irrigation events to create best management practices and improve water conservation and efficiency while increasing yields. For more, check out the video above!
Published in Irrigating
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