Specialty Production
What started out as a simple idea to add variety to the prairie diet through the winter months has sprouted into a successful family business.
Published in Profiles
The United States Department of Agriculture, through the National Organic Program, has recently launched the Organic Integrity Learning Center in an effort to support the ongoing development of personnel working in organic certification and compliance and enforcement roles.
Published in News
For the first time, the University of California has hired a Cooperative Extension specialist dedicated to organic agriculture.
Published in News
Bull’s Blood and Chioggia beets, Bright Lights Swiss chard, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, these vegetables, along with thousands of other open-pollinated varieties, were common place in Canada long before my mother planted her first garden. Who knew they would be coveted as precious heirlooms by her grandchildren’s generation?
Published in Organic production
The beloved peanut usually grows in sandy soil where there might not be much moisture. But some varieties of peanut perform better in drought than others. They use less water when there isn’t much to go around, and remain productive as drought deepens. Crop scientists are trying to find the peanut varieties best at it.
Published in Research
To boost both production and quality, some Canadian producers have been using high tunnels in conjunction with container production and a soilless growth medium.
Published in Fruit
The start of a new year is something I tend to look forward to. There is nothing more promising than an untouched calendar with blank days just waiting to be filled with the highs and lows of what is sure to be another eventful chapter.
Published in Profiles
When a new crop takes off, it’s not unusual that specialty equipment is designed and commercialized in order to make things easier. In this case, the crop is garlic, and the equipment is a planter and an add-on under-cutter (both pulled behind a tractor), designed and manufactured by Garlic-EEZ of Dundalk, Ont., owned by garlic grower Ken Hunt.
Published in Planting
Canadians clearly love having fresh local strawberries several times a year and Canada’s day-neutral strawberry industry is growing to meet the demand.
Published in Fruit
St. Catherines, Ont. – The glass is half full when it comes to grape and wine research in Ontario. And it’s only getting fuller thanks to the efforts of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

The research institute, established in 1996 in partnership with the Grape Growers of Ontario, the Wine Council of Ontario, and the Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario, has tackled significant vineyard and winemaking issues, elevating local tipple to world-class status in the process.

It’s done so by taking on the multi-coloured Asian lady beetle, which can taint an entire vintage, and kept many bottles of wine tasting their finest in the process. It has 20 years of research dedicated to icewine production and authentication to ensure integrity for Canadian versions of the sweet nectar.

The effects of climate change on grape growing, sparkling wine production, and resveratrol and the Ontario wine industry also get serious research attention at CCOVI to the benefit of Ontario vintners and grape growers.

Most recently, CCOVI received nearly $2 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund to build its one-of-a-kind Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Sensory Reality Consumer Laboratory. It will be known as R3CL and will be the world’s first mediated-reality wine laboratory, combining sights, smells and sounds to help researchers study the science of consumer choice in the wine industry.

CCOVI’s research is so vital to the industry that an economic impact study pegged its contribution to the Ontario economy at $91 million annually. It also creates the equivalent of more than 300 jobs a year thanks to its research outputs.

Some of the most significant impacts can be credited to its cold hardiness research and flagship VineAlert program, which warns grape growers about cold weather events so they can use their wind machines and other techniques more effectively to protect their vines from cold damage.

VineAlert spared more than $7 million in crop losses in 2014-15, which converted to nearly $74 million in wine sales.

But CCOVI and its team of scientists, led by director Debbie Inglis, aren’t stopping there. Their work is positioning CCOVI to be the Canadian centre of excellence for cool climate viticulture, oenology, wine business, policy and culture with a mandate to advance the industry nationally, not just locally.

CCOVI’s intrepid VineAlert program is being rolled out across Canada thanks to partnerships in Summerland, B.C., and Kemptville, N.S. Equipment and testing methods to determine cold hardiness are being tried on for size in both provinces right now.

“We’re hoping within the next year that we’re going to be able to make the VineAlert program national,” Inglis said.

The Fizz Club, which provides professional development, and shares knowledge and research among sparkling wine producers also went national in 2017. And CCOVI is developing a domestic, certified “clean plant” program for grapevines to supply the industry with plant material that’s free of disease.

“The larger impact has been in Ontario but we’re starting to branch out and see that impact across Canada,” Inglis said.
Published in Research
February 12, 2018, Guelph Ont – A not-for-profit food business incubator in Toronto is helping entrepreneurs get their fledgling food companies off the ground.

Food Starter offers food prep, processing, packaging and storage facilities to industry entrants at a reduced rate, as well as courses to teach entrepreneurs about key aspects of the food industry, like food safety, regulatory compliance, labelling, accounting, marketing, business management and human resources.

The Toronto Food Business Incubator partnered with the City of Toronto to access funding from Growing Forward 2 to develop and launch Food Starter in November 2015.

“A lot of people here are good at recipes but don’t know about all the other things needed to run a food business,” explains Carlos Correia, Food Starter’s facility manager. “We cover all aspects of business development to give them information they didn’t know existed but would be road block to keep them from moving forward.”

Food Starter’s incubator clients are new food entrepreneurs who access shared space by the hour on an as-needed basis to develop or perfect new recipes, scale up production or get ready to launch their first product.

Esther Jiang has been using Food Starter’s training courses and incubator space to launch Gryllies, a line of high protein pasta sauces using cricket flour from Norwood, Ontario’s Entomo Farms.

Food Starter has been paramount to setting us up for success. In food, there are a lot of boxes to check and this is building that foundation to launch us for the market place,” she says. “Without Food Starter, everything would have taken 20 times longer and I don’t know that I would still be doing this if it wasn’t for their help.”

Food Starter’s seven accelerator units are available for longer-term use where clients can bring their own equipment into a dedicated space but still receive support and advice from Food Starter experts and fellow entrepreneurs.

Jaswant’s Kitchen is a family-run Indian spice blend company that co-owner Simi Kular says was ready for its own space to increase production and grow their business.

Food Starter has taught us what a food production facility entails, from food safety to pest control and Good Manufacturing Practices,” explains Simi. “And learning from the experts and the other businesses here is invaluable – the collaborative relationships make it fun to come to work every day.”

Correia says the ultimate goal is to have entrepreneurs outgrow their accelerator space and move into their own facilities – like Rob Fuller of The Duke Brothers. His cold-brew coffee business has taken off after less than a year with Food Starter and he’s ready to spread his wings.

“I had an idea but not a lot of direction or background. I learned a lot from Food Starter’s courses and being able to use the space here,” he explains. “Food Starter encourages you to grow, they understand your business, and I’ve had a quick growth curve from start to running a business thanks to their support.”

According to Correia, Food Starter meets a critical need for early stage training and support for new food businesses in Toronto, and space in the incubator is in demand.

“Our main focus is to develop business. We create jobs and we’ve already seen some of those results as companies here at Food Starter are hiring staff as they grow,” says Correia.

“We couldn’t develop this without the funding we’ve received. Food Starter is an amazing concept that gives a lot of benefit to new start-ups, and this facility wouldn’t be possible without that support,” he adds.
Published in Marketing
February 8, 2018, Lucky Lake, Sask – Some new life is being breathed into a massive potato facility once owned by the Saskatchewan government.

In the 1990s, the provincial government spent millions of dollars trying to develop the provincial potato industry before abandoning the plan completely.

Now, Vancouver-based United Greeneries plans to open a marijuana facility in a massive 60,000 square foot facility once owned by Spudco in Lucky Lake, roughly 130 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon. READ MORE
Published in Vegetables
January 30, 2018, Edmonton, Alta – Sour cherries and haskap (blue honeysuckles) are excellent fruit crops to grow in Alberta, with lots of potential markets for these tasty berries. These are relatively new crops in Alberta, with many changes and developments in the industry over the past five years.

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has organized a full day workshop in Olds, Alta., to provide new or potential sour cherry and haskap producers with information on all aspects of growing these crops, from planting to harvest.

Participants will receive information on varietal selection, establishment, maintenance and harvest of both fruit crops, as well as more detailed information that applies to more advanced growers, in an evening session.

Economic realities and the importance of understanding and identifying target markets will also be covered.

Date: February 21, 2018
  • 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. – Registration
  • 9 a.m. to noon – Dwarf sour cherry sessions
  • Noon to 12:40 p.m. – Lunch (lunch and snacks provided)
  • 12:40 p.m. to 4 p.m. – Economics and introductory haskap sessions
  • 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. – Advanced haskap sessions
Location: Pomeroy Inn and Suites at Olds College, 4601 46 Avenue, Olds, Alta.

Cost: $20 per person (plus GST), full day, includes lunch, snacks and reference materials for each farm operation; $10/person (plus GST) (afternoon/evening advanced haskap sessions only)

Participants are asked to register in advance by calling the Ag-Info Centre Registration line at 1-800-387-6030 before to Feb. 14, 2018, to assist with planning. On-line registration is also available.
Published in Fruit
October 30, 2017, Ames, IA – Organic agriculture practices eschew many synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, putting pressure on crops that conventional farming circumvents. That means an organic farmer who doesn’t use herbicides, for instance, would value crop varieties better suited to withstand weeds.

Enter Thomas Lubbserstedt, a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. Lubberstedt and a team of ISU researchers recently received a four-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance organic corn varieties. By the end of the project, the team aims to have identified elite varieties that will improve the performance of corn under organic growing conditions.

“Our main goal is to figure out whether new genetic mechanisms can benefit organic field and sweet corn varieties,” Lubberstedt said. “We want to develop traits that can do well under organic conditions.”

Lubberstedt said the research could lead to organic corn with better resistance to disease, weeds pests and environmental stress.

Farmers who label their products as organic adhere to standards meant to restrict the use of synthetic inputs that include many fertilizers and pesticides in an effort to maintain environmental sustainability. Demand for organic products is growing as consumers become more concerned about how their food is produced and how it affects the environment, said Kathleen Delate, a professor of agronomy and member of the research team. Delate said the U.S. market for organic products reached $47 billion in 2016.

The ISU research team intends to address limitations imposed by organic practices by finding genetic mechanisms that lead to better-performing corn varieties that can still meet organic standards. Lubberstedt will focus on varieties that carry a genetic mechanism for spontaneous haploid genome doubling. This allows a corn plant to carry only the genes of its mother.

Researchers can use these haploids to create totally inbred genetic lines in two generations, whereas traditional plant breeding takes five or six generations to produce inbred lines, Lubberstedt said. These inbred lines are more reliable for evaluation in an experimental setting because they carry no genetic variation that could influence results. That makes it easier to identify lines with superior traits, he said.
Published in Research
October 25, 2017, Kingsville, Ont – Mucci Farms recently announced the completion of the second phase of its 36 acre strawberry expansion.

The company also announced that Phase Three construction is underway with production to begin in Fall 2018. The full project will be equivalent to more than 1.5 million square feet of high-tech glass exclusively growing strawberries, the largest in North America.

"Our strawberry program is being met with a great deal of enthusiasm from current and potential retail partners because of our emphasis on premium flavour and consistent supply," explained Danny Mucci, vice president of Mucci Farms.

Since partnering with Dutch growers Ton Bastiaansen and Joost van Oers in January 2016, Mucci Farms has seen accelerated growth and a greater demand for greenhouse-grown strawberries.

"Overwhelming, is the best way I can describe how our Smuccies are being received,” said Joe Spano, vice president of sales and marketing. “Super sweet, clean, on the shelf within 24 hours of harvest and grown in an environment that is unaffected by inclement weather. Even better, they are grown locally in Ontario so that consumers can enjoy summer fresh strawberries during the holiday season."

Phase Three of the expansion will include state-of-the-art lit culture technology, allowing Mucci Farms to offer strawberries during the winter months. A technology they are well experienced with, Mucci Farms also owns more than 200 acres of greenhouses, 30 of which are currently growing lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers year-round.

"As with all of our new greenhouses, the new 24 acres of strawberries will also include the use of diffused glass which reduces stress on the plants by providing even sunlight," said Bert Mucci, CEO at Mucci Farms. "We will continue to use high-pressure fogging systems to cool down the greenhouse in the hotter months and also install the swing gutter system which allow for the amount of maximum plants per square meter."
Published in Fruit
October 13, 2017, Plessisville, Que – A Quebec-based organic cranberry processor is now ready to expand production and boost exports, thanks to an investment from the federal government.

The investment, announced Oct. 13, has helped Fruit d’Or commission a new plant just as Canadian food processors are taking advantage of new market opportunities under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, which took effect September 21. Since then, Fruit d’Or has sold around 635,000 pounds of dry fruits in Europe.

The federal government helped build the new plant, and buy and commission new equipment and technologies, thanks to more than $9.3 million in funding under the AgriInnovation Program of the Growing Forward 2 Agreement.

Agriculture and Agri‑Food Canada’s support through the AgriInnovation Program and interest-free financing is very important for Fruit d’Or,” said Martin Le Moine, president and CEO of the company. “Fruit d’Or has invested more than $50 million in its new Plessisville plant over the past two years. Because of this support, Fruit d’Or has an ultra-modern facility, equipped with innovations that enable it to provide its clients in more than 50 countries with innovative products that showcase Quebec cranberries and berries.”

Fruit d'Or produces cranberry juice and dried fruits to meet the growing demand of consumers around the world. As a result of this project, the company has increased its processing capacity by eight million pounds of traditional cranberries and 15 million pounds of organic cranberries over three years.
Published in Fruit
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 28, 2017, Guelph, Ont. – When Josh Whitehead and Caroline Pilon started selling homemade kimchi at the Guelph Farmers’ Market about 12 years ago, they were simply doing something they loved.

Word spread about their Korean-style fermented sauerkraut and their business quickly grew.

“We stumbled into making food for the retail market,” said Whitehead, co-founder of Green Table Foods together with his wife Caroline. “We didn’t set out to try and change trends. I’d been making kimchi since I was about 15 years old, and we just wanted to make something we loved.”

Their first big customer was the Ontario Natural Food Co-op, looking for a private label to manufacture organic sauerkraut. They formulated three recipes that fit the organization’s requirement for 100 per cent organic and 100 per cent Ontario, and started manufacturing in 2009.

Kimchi and the other fermented vegetables may be newer foods for North Americans, but according to Whitehead, it is one of the oldest food categories in existence. No cooking is used to produce their products, retaining more of the vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants of the raw ingredients and Green Table Foods work with a wild fermentation process.

“We use a slower fermentation method that uses the ambient bacteria that are naturally found on vegetables to create our products,” Whitehead said. “The flavours in the finished product reflect where the vegetables came from. It’s like wine that way.”

Fermented products also retain the probiotics and enzymes that occur in the vegetables, often lost in the cooking process.

“When you cook cabbage to make sauerkraut, compared to fermenting it, you cook out all the probiotics, including much of the Vitamin C and enzymes that are vital for digestion,” he said.

From the initial product line of organic kimchi, organic sauerkraut and kale kimchi, Green Table Foods added five new products about a year ago with matching funds through the Bioenterprise Enterprise Seed Fund.

This allowed them to formulate, develop, test, label and launch five new fermented vegetables products in September 2016.

While Green Table Foods started out just making something they love, they’ve built a business that also supports their local suppliers. They’ve consciously set out to source vegetables from local farmers to build a sustainable business that creates economies of scale for their suppliers, and operate a carbon neutral business.

“It’s really important to us to build relationships with our growers, and help incentivize them to be able to provide the products we need all year,” Whitehead said.

Green Table Foods offers eight fermented vegetable products including carrots, cabbage, beets and tomato salsa – manufactured at their Guelph, Ontario federally registered plant – and marketed at 800 retail locations across Canada.

They are now looking at exporting their fermented vegetables to the Asian Pacific region, formulating a product for people living in radioactive zones that require additional dietary iodine, and sending products into space.

“I would love to collaborate to provide living, fermented Canadian food for astronauts that would be a much better nutritional option than dehydrated food,” Whitehead said.
Published in Profiles
July 31, 2017, Milton, Ont. - It’s no secret — the lavender plant provides a bouquet of benefits. The fields are stunning, the blooms aromatic, and it has proven itself to be a versatile remedy for centuries, with oils rich in health benefits.

So it’s really no surprise that the prized plant isn’t so bad for agri-tourism too.

With about 40,000 plants, Terre Bleu Lavender Farm near Milton in Halton Region is now the largest lavender farm in Ontario. Their vast fragrant fields, handmade natural products, and charming open-air events bring heaps of visitors out year after year. And they’re only getting busier. (On some weekends now, they even reach capacity.) READ MORE 
Published in Profiles
July 13, 2017, P.E.I. - This year’s Canadian acreage of J.R. Simplot’s genetically engineered Innate potato will be “very small” to non-existent, according to a company spokesperson.

Kerwin Bradley, director of commercial innovation for Simplot, says the company’s marketing strategy for new varieties is based on customer polls and identification of marketing channels. “We don’t plant potatoes, or give seed to growers, until we know that there is a place for them to sell them, so how quickly that develops depends on how quickly we develop routes to market for those potatoes,” he says.

“That way we ensure we keep the risk really low for everybody, especially the growers.”

The company has been talking to major Canadian retailers to “check the pulse” of their interest in the new potato, says Doug Cole, Simpot’s director of marketing and communications.

First generation lines of the Innate potato, which boast lower bruising and acrylamide, were approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last spring. Second generation lines, which have late blight resistance and lower sugar levels for improved processing, have already been approved in the U.S., and Canadian approvals are expected later this year. READ MORE
Published in Vegetables
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