Sustainability
May 11, 2017, Sonoma, CA – In 2014, Sonoma wine growers committed to being the first 100 per cent sustainable wine region in the U.S. They are recycling their pomace – white wine grapes get turned into compost, and red wine waste turns out to be a great fertilizer and helps keep weeds down.

But wineries can only use so much. Each year, California wineries produce more than 100,000 tons of pomace. Now, that waste is being turned into everything from cooking oil to cosmetics.

Chris Simmons is a biological systems engineer and assistant professor at University of California, Davis. His lab is studying how food-processing waste products might be used, other than as compost in the vineyards. READ MORE
Published in Research
April 27, 2017, Gloucester, Ont – The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) has developed a training program to help Canadian producers strengthen their workforces through on-the-farm training. The program, called AgriSkills, can be customized and made available to various commodity and sector organizations to help their member producers train workers in an easy-to-use and effective manner that documents results.

Recently released CAHRC research indicates 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. The industry is in need of effective mechanisms to address skills gaps, train farm employees and track training progress.

AgriSkills is a training program that meets this need. It is a program delivered through national and provincial commodity and farm organizations that want to offer their members meaningful workforce training support. It includes structured on-the-farm training courses and employee tracking tools to support effective performance for new and existing workers. Research is currently available to customize the AgriSkills program for: aquaculture; beef; swine; sheep and goats; broiler hens; grains and oilseeds; potatoes; apples; mushrooms; sod; and apiculture industries.

The AgriSkills program includes training resources for both workers and their managers. On-the-job, self-guided activities help workers learn how to do their job safely and efficiently, while e-learning and online videos offer more in-depth information on the theory behind the practice. For managers, AgriSkills provides on-the-job training guides, checklists, tracking tools and other resources to help them support and manage their worker training requirements.

“The purpose of the AgriSkills program is to help producers train their workers in a consistent, efficient and effective manner, that documents all results,” explains Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of CAHRC. “The system recognizes the importance of on-the-farm instruction, and gives employers an effective tool to ensure workers are taught how to perform their jobs successfully and safely.”

The core content of AgriSkills was developed with the help of experts, producers and small-business owners from a wide range of agriculture commodity groups. Their input enabled CAHRC to create a set of National Occupational Standards that reflects the work conducted on farms at various levels. By using training materials based on these standards, employers can ensure their workers have the skills they need to meet national standards of safety, competency and productivity – skills that reduce waste, minimize loss, and support business success.

AgriSkills is one of several tools that CAHRC offers to help modern farm operations manage their workforce. CAHRC also offers the Agri HR Toolkit – an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business; Agri Pathways – promoting careers in agriculture; and Agri Talent – a national database of learning opportunities in agriculture.

The AgriSkills program was funded by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program. For more information on these and other CAHRC offerings visit www.cahrc-ccrha.ca.
Published in Federal
A non-descript building in an industrial park in the Okanagan region of B.C. could be the setting of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  
Published in Insects
The B.C. tree fruit replant program is having a positive affect on the province’s fruit growing industry and has been so popular, the province’s Ministry of Agriculture has provided additional funds.
Published in Provinces
February 21, 2017, Ridgetown, Ont – The Ontario Pesticide Education Program has released a new manual for farm workers.
 
If you work on a farm where pesticides are used, you need to know how to work safely around pesticides. The information in this manual explains how farm workers can work safely on a farm that uses pesticides.

It can be downloaded from their website (5 MB). For those without Internet access or with a need for a print version, you can request the manual from OPEP at 1-800-652-8573 (Ontario only) or 519-674-2230.

A Spanish version will be released very soon.

Please ensure that all your farm workers are familiar with the information in this manual.
Published in Chemicals
February 21, 2017, Boston, MA – According to new findings reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), farmers can invite greater bee diversity in their fields by diversifying their crops.

Researchers looked at 15 farms in central California, some of which grew only strawberries and some of which grew strawberries along with other crops like broccoli, raspberries, and kale. They found that several different bee species buzzed around the diversified farms, whereas only the European honeybee pollinated the strawberry-only ones. READ MORE
Published in Research
February 20, 2017 – A leading Canadian agri-food expert says Canada has an opportunity to significantly boost its gross domestic product and be a key player in the coming agriculture-industrial revolution. But the sector needs investment from the federal government to take advantage of the opportunity.

"Agriculture really is at the cusp of a new industrial revolution...This is Canada's moment to take advantage of a huge opportunity," Evan Fraser, the head of the University of Guelph's Food Institute, told CBC's The House host Chris Hall. READ MORE

 

Published in Business & Policy

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

Published in Fruit

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

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

Published in Fruit

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Published in Fruit

 

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

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

Why am I sharing this?

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

What does this mean for Canadian growers?

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

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

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

Clear as mud, right?

Visit fda.gov/FSMA for more information.

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

 

 

 

Published in Food Safety

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

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

Published in Fruit

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Published in Federal

September 22, 2015, Gainesville, FL – Sanjay Shukla looked out over row upon row of tomato and pepper plants and had an idea: What would happen if he made the compacted soil rows taller and more narrow? Would the plants need less water, fertilizer and fumigation? Would the plants grow as tall? Would the plants produce as many vegetables?

And so, instead of planting rows that were normally six to eight inches high and about three feet across, the University of Florida professor planted them 10 inches to a foot high and 1.5 to two feet across. Instead of needing two drip lines to irrigate each row, they required only one. In addition, they needed fewer square feet in plastic mulch covering. He calls it “compact bed geometry” or “hilling.”

Shukla, who specializes in agricultural and biological engineering, was astounded by the answers.

Not only did the tall narrow rows grow the same amount of vegetables, they retained more fertilizers – reducing what would have leached into groundwater – and they would need half the amount of water. In addition, he cut fumigation rates for pests by as much as 50 per cent.

He estimates the revamped rows could save farmers $100 to $300 an acre, depending on the crop, the setup of their farm and how many drip lines they use per row; with a 1,000-acre farm, that can add up to a $300,000 savings. If used statewide, the potential cost savings for vegetable growers who use plastic mulch, could run into millions per crop per year.

“I’m looking at a business solution – you do this, you save money,” said Shukla, whose primary interest is water quality and supply issues. His location at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s Research and Education Center in Immokalee puts him at the northern edge of one of the most delicately balanced environments in the world – the Everglades. “And oh, by the way, it’s better for the environment.”

By using less water and plastic, he explained, fields will be less flooded and, thus, water contaminated with fertilizer is not being discharged into nearby lakes, streams and rivers.

Several farms have already adopted Shukla’s tall, narrow rows, including a 2,000-acre tomato farm. Chuck Obern, who grows eggplants and peppers at C&B Farms in Clewiston, has switched 140 acres of eggplants and estimates he has saved at least $500 an acre on the cost of drip tape for irrigation, fumigation, and the pumping of water and fertilizer.

“His experiment was in a production field and they were side by side with our crops,” Obern said. “His experiment used half the water and half the fertilizer as our crop, yet you couldn’t see any difference. It told us we were wasting half our water and fertilizer.”

Obern said he is excited to see what Shukla can do for his pepper crop in the fall.

Shukla’s discovery is vital, as Florida is already struggling to provide enough water for an ever-increasing population. The state has seen a 32 per cent increase in population since 2005 and, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state will likely not be able to meet the demands for water – 31 million cubic meters per day – by the year 2030.

Shukla says his next step is to explore if the compact bed geometry will work elsewhere. If it does, it has the potential to help improve agriculture globally.

“I’m hoping to go to California and Georgia to learn about their production systems and see what can be done at a larger scale,” he said.

Published in Irrigating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Provinces

 The land near Hillier, Ont., where Harwood Estates Vineyard is situated had no power when it was purchased. With one of the owners being an electrical engineer and solar power being as efficient as it was, it was natural for the operation to look into an off-grid solution. Photo by Contributed

Running a business of any kind off the grid is an accomplishment in itself. But for the owners of Harwood Estate Vineyards, it’s only one of many they have achieved over the last seven years.

Being off-grid is one of several significant ways that Harwood differs from all or most of the wineries in Ontario and beyond (it’s Canada’s second off-grid winery). The owners – couples Don and Judy Harwood plus Kerry Wicks and John Rode – employ organic cultivation practices, capture substantial amounts of rainwater and use many energy-efficient approaches, which together have recently won the operation a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

The winery was started in 2007 with the first Harwood wines being introduced in 2009. There are currently 10 acres under cultivation and the grape varieties harvested and grown include Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, St. Laurent, Frontenac Gris, Marquette, La Crescent, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay. Harwood Estate offers 13 wines and has won 16 awards so far, with their Friends Rosé 2013 vintage earning a medal at the Intervin International Wine Competition before it was even released.

The land near Hillier, Ont., where the winery is situated had grapevines already planted on it when the couples purchased it, but the property had no power, even though the main building is only about 300 metres from the nearest hydro line. As they looked into getting electricity installed, the Harwood team were floored to find out a connection would cost about $28,000. With Rode being an electrical engineer and solar power being as efficient as it was, it was natural for them to look into an off-grid solution.

“For a few more thousand, we were able to install what amounts to our own solar electricity substation,” Rode says. “We finished it in 2008, and have no ongoing electricity bills other than some backup fuel.”

Part of the system is set up to produce three-phase power, which is required by big machines.

“We could even run a press we used to share with another winery, a big World War Two press that took a lot of power,” Rode recalls. “Now, we have a smaller, more efficient press, but it’s good to know we have that much generation. Overall, however, we have to keep a close watch on electricity use.”

What does this mean in practical terms? Not doing major tasks all at once, especially in the fall.

“For example, if the winemakers are pressing grapes, retail folks are not running the dishwasher,” Wicks explains. “In November, we’re at the point in the year where the winery needs the most electricity, so it’s a matter of having a close eye on using all the power we have stored in our deep-cycle batteries, or can generate at a specific point in time.”

As the days get shorter during the harvest season, a back-up propane generator comes into play.

“It’ll come on for two or three hours if we have to put in a long night of pressing.”

Energy efficiency also matters a great deal at Harwood. All the winery lights are LED, which provide a lot of bright light at a low consumption rate, and all the appliances are Energy Star rated. There are plans to increase the solar panel array and battery storage to eliminate the need for any auxiliary power.

The design of the main building that houses both the Harwood Estate tasting room and winery (there is also a patio that summertime guests can enjoy) is also important to overall energy efficiency. The team looked into insulating the building with spray foam, but their municipality no longer allows it because in a fire, it creates a dense smoke that’s extremely dangerous for firefighters. Rode found Reflectix instead, an insulation product consisting of tin foil sheets and a bubbled interior, and it works very well in conjunction with the building’s two woodstoves.

“It doesn’t hold heat in, but it reflects it very well,” he says. “We use about eighteen cords of firewood a year.”

The stoves are very popular with guests who like mulled wine by the fire. In the wine cellar, where temperature control is critical, another propane heater is used in winter as needed.

To irrigate during dry periods without straining the local groundwater table, Harwood Estate installed a catchment system that captures 85,000 litres of rainwater annually. Wicks describes the system as a natural pond that fills and generally holds water about nine months of the year, from which they pump water into holding tanks. The tanks also accept rainwater straight from the roof.

The owners of Harwood believe strongly in not using chemicals unless absolutely necessary.

“We’ve had excellent help from pest management specialist Margaret Appleby at OMAFRA on grape berry moth control,” says Rode. “To deal with it, normally you have to use a pesticide, but we’ve used pheromone mating disruptors and we’ve had no GBM pressure for three years.”

They also use cover crops for a variety of reasons, including control of pests such as cutworm, which will feed on a canola cover crop instead of attacking the vines. Bird pests are prevented from eating grapes with netting, hawk sound effects and hawk silhouettes.

“We’re not aiming for organic certification as being strapped to that takes a lot of time and effort, and if we have a huge infestation that threatens our crops and our entire operation, we don’t want to be in that kind of vice,” says Rode. “We just want to be as environmentally friendly as possible and be as transparent about it as possible.”

In terms of employees, Harwood only hires locally.

“Grapevines need daily care from March to November and we try our best to hire from this area,” Rode says. “We pay well and provide many concessions for staff that need it, but we still have a lot of trouble maintaining an on-going team. We’ve never used foreign workers except for this year (2014). We just couldn’t get enough people locally.”

The biggest challenge – and onemany Premier Award winners face – is keeping up with demand.

“We are now building another solar-powered building and hoping to divide our retail and production spaces over the next year,” says Wicks. “Winning the Premier’s Award is huge, and very much appreciated. This kind of validation is invaluable. It gives us more courage.”

 

 

 

Published in Profiles

 

When it was “born” in 2007 in Eastern Ontario, Fruit Tracker was a simple CD-based program created to reduce the amount of time apple and berry growers were spending on documenting food safety and traceability for CanadaGap. In 2011, it experienced a growth spurt and now it’s all grown up, a sleek and powerful cloud-based system that tracks all orchard data year round, in one place, at growers’ fingertips when needed. Its graduation to adulthood has nabbed the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers Marketing Board (OTFPMB) a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

The OTFPMB describes Fruit Tracker as a record keeping and orchard management system that helps growers keep accurate records of production, food and worker safety and pest control.

“All Ontario tender fruit producer members are able to have their own private account on Fruit Tracker, accessed with login and passcode,” says OTFPMB manager Sarah Marshall. “The first step to getting started is to sign up to have your orchards GPS mapped by Agricorp. They will then input all that data, and you can get started on working with it immediately after you set up your account.”

Marshall notes that as with any other software program, Fruit Tracker requires a little time to get used to, but once you are familiar with it, it’s simple. Growers are able to generate cost of production reports by block, create production practice modules, integrate WIN weather data, and input/track packing and shipping events. More features are being developed as we speak, and an iPad Fruit Tracker scouting app is being created as well.

In terms of pest management, Fruit Tracker offers a drop-down list that shows existing treatments from Publication 360, including chemical name, formulation, rates and target pest.

“You add the details for your spray event, and Fruit Tracker can send you alerts by email when re-entry intervals have passed or when it’s safe to harvest,” Marshall explains. “An exciting feature is the chemical inventory – you input your current inventory, record purchases and the program keeps track of what’s in your spray shed.”

An All Events tab gives a quick look of all the events that you have recorded from spray application, employee training, harvest, storage to building assessments. The system also uses all this information in completing your CanadaGap required reports.

In terms of the biggest challenges of the developing the system to its present state, Marshall points to the modules.

“In creating them, it was a challenge to ensure we were thinking beyond the immediate and anticipating future needs,” she says. “It’s also been a challenge to get broader grower adoption. To help with this, we used a grower-based focus group to ensure the needs of growers were addressed. Pilot programs were also done to work out the kinks and show growers that the system could save them time and money.”

Marshall says those growers who’ve fully adopted Fruit Tracker are extremely pleased with it and say they cannot function without it now. She’s also heard many say the biggest benefits of the system are the way it cuts report creation time, and the way it increases a grower’s knowledge of his or her operation. The way orchard data is stored, organized and analyzed for handy reference allows growers to increase their operational efficiency and to reduce costs. When asked about the cost savings the system could provide, Marshall says she cannot be sure.

“Time is money and it’s really in the streamlining of reporting where it saves the most and this is difficult to put a number on,” she explains. “Each grower would have a different result.”

The software is owned by Kingston-based DragonFly Information Technology. President Matt Deir says the program is currently available to about 1,000 growers in Ontario, including members of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers, Ontario Apple Growers, and the Grape Growers of Ontario.

“The system is also being piloted in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, and there has been interest from as far away as New Zealand and Australia,” he says. “We are very excited about its potential for these and other regions. The system has been designed to scale automatically in the cloud, and so is capable of supporting potentially millions of growers globally.”

He adds that many regional and national food chains have been on site with growers who use the software and have been very impressed with its focus on traceability, with food safety being a top priority in the grocery businesses.

Regarding the Premier’s Award win, Marshall says it’s wonderful to be recognized for all the hard work and forward thinking.

“Our main task now is expanding grower adoption, and we hope to have the majority of commercial production on the system in the next year or two. We also want to continue to incorporate new modules, which will also help increase number of growers that want to use the system.” Their next project is a ‘Cost of Production’ module that is being jointly developing with the Ontario Apple Growers.

Fruit Tracker features:
PHI/REI Email Notifications per Block – Fruit Tracker can send you emails when your treatment PHI and/or REI has passed, letting you know if it is safe to re-enter or harvest.

Treatments and Tank Mixes – Fruit Tracker comes loaded with more than 100 treatments from OMAFRA’s Publication 360, including tank mixes and rates to treat individual pests during certain growth stages of your production. Find the right treatment is fast and easy, and you can select one while recording a spray to save even more time when entering a record into the system.

Resistance Management – Special reports and warnings let you know if you are reaching the maximum recommended number of treatments for a chemical. It works at the block level, so you always know which blocks you can and can’t treat again with a specific chemical.

Chemical Lists with Product Labels – PHI/REI, maximum recommended treatments per year, chemical family, PCP# and other information is available on over 6500 chemicals in the system - all updated automatically throughout the year.

Reports – Slice and dice all of your data to get a greater understanding of your chemical use, pests and easily generate spray reports of activity by date range, blocks/orchards, target pests, and chemicals. Print or save as a PDF and email.

PHI/REI Calculations per Tank/Spray – Fruit Tracker automatically calculates the PHI/REI of your tank mix, reporting in hours, days, and with a specific date – no need to do all the math yourself.

Manage Spray Equipment – By adding information about your spray equipment once, you can tell the system you used it when recording a spray, and it will automatically fill in the correct sprayer configuration information for you. It’s easy to add your equipment, and saves you time when you are recording sprays.

 

 

 

Published in Marketing

 

Popular across many U.S. states with both field crop and horticulture crop farmers, controlled drainage (CD) is making inroads in Ontario.

Now, a joint study on these innovative systems, being led by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) and McGill University researchers, is aiming to make Canadian horticulture crop growers and well as drainage contractors more familiar with the technology – and therefore more willing to adopt it and its benefits.

Put simply, controlled drainage delivers advantages for farmers and the environment that standard drainage cannot offer. Let’s take a look at how it works. Each controlled drain, placed just before the outlet, consists of a plastic tube 45 cm wide and almost two metres long, integrated with the existing drainage tile. Inside each tube are vertical plastic panels that can be pulled up to let the water flow freely or pushed downward to stop it. The system is meant to be left open in the spring and fall to help drain the field and closed during the summer to retain water from rainstorms (along with the valuable nutrients in that water). Most years, that should have a positive effect on crop yield. However, CD systems only work well on flat topography. With fields that aren’t flat, more controlled drain structures are required to control water flow and having structures located in the field itself (instead of just at the edge) make tasks such as planting and harvesting quite difficult.

The three-year McGill-AAFC study, currently underway in Ontario’s Holland Marsh area, aims to increase the adoption of CD by broadening its applicability.

“CD has primarily been examined in continuous and corn-soybean production systems because these systems generally cover the majority of acres across Eastern Canada,” explains AAFC Senior Water Management Engineer Andrew Jamieson. “While horticultural production covers fewer acres, it’s often located in areas that have good potential for the installation and success of CD – flat land and medium-to-coarse textured soils.”

Jamieson adds that since horticulture crops have higher nitrogen and phosphorus requirements than field crops, they present a greater opportunity for CD to decrease nutrient loss through runoff. It’s estimated that about 80 to 90 per cent of the phosphorous and nitrogen in a field crop field will stay put with controlled drainage compared to what would have been lost into the watershed with conventional drainage tile systems.

“There is also greater potential for profitability with CD use in the hort sector due to the higher value of the crops,” Jamieson notes. “Research has shown that the yield bump from CD systems doesn’t happen every year (for example, in wet years), so we need a better grasp on how often will a producer see the yield bump and how a grower can manage a CD system to optimize yields.”

The CD structures cost approximately $700 apiece plus installation, and when a farmer could expect to break even depends on yearly crop yields and prices, weather patterns, snow melt, soil type and so on.

Jamieson notes the overall goal of the study – which he is co-leading with McGill’s Dr. Chandra Madramootoo – is to address a number of adoption barriers that have been identified by both producers and tile drain contractors. This same goal also applies to a study of CD in field crops near Lucan, Ont., being spearheaded by AAFC and the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.

“We have reams of research results confirming the environmental benefits of CD,” Jamieson says. “But what we hope to accomplish with these projects is a better understanding of how CD works at a farm level and the challenges of managing such a system from producer’s point of view.”

For example, producers need have best management practices on when the water table should be raised, or how long in a wet year the field be left to drain.

Tile drainage contractors have also asked AAFC for guidelines and standards for the installation of CD systems, and Jamieson hopes these studies can provide a foundation for that.

“The contractor is the first point of contact for producers regarding drainage on their farm and if we don’t resolve the contractors concerns with CD, then the adoption of CD will remain slow,” he explains.

One concern stems from the fact that CD systems are known to be more effective with newer tile drainage systems as they feature more pipes in the ground. More pipes with less space between them means a more uniform water table in the field can be achieved with the new drainage systems.

The study is taking place in organic soil as it has been identified by researchers as having good potential for CD. The controlled drains were installed during the fall of 2014 at two sites in the Holland Marsh. The first site is 0.62 hectares under organic carrot production. The second site is just more than four hectares being used for organic celery and onion production. A third site with conventional tile drains (organic onion production) will serve as the study control.

“The fields have been instrumented to sample tile runoff and measure tile flow all year round,” Jamieson says. “We’re using two different methods for that – in case one fails, and also to get a sense of which method costs less. During the growing season, the fields will also be equipped with water table and soil moisture monitoring. We should be able to get a good sense of how CD can be used to maintain a fairly constant water table depth.”

Jamieson notes that while some of the results will not be applicable to non-organic production, others definitely will. On the one hand, results on things like nutrient loading impact or ability of the system to maintain a consistent water table will be difficult to directly translate because organic (muck) soil is inherently different.

“However, there will be takeaways about the challenge of managing a CD system with a traditional irrigation system, which are applicable to many horticultural production systems.”

Study of controlled drains has been going on for more than two decades at the AAFC research station in Harrow, and has included an evaluation of the annual impact of CD on nutrient loading from tile and surface runoff on a plot scale, but Jamieson notes that CD research in Canada has generally had an overall focus on its function and effects only during the growing season. A look at the entire year is more valuable as it provides the entire picture, and that’s why Jamieson and his colleagues are taking on the challenge of monitoring over the winter months, attempting to study the annual impacts of CD on a field scale.

“Some recent research results out of Ohio where CD was used in fields after harvest until the spring time show a 40 to 70 per cent reduction in dissolved phosphorus loads,” Jamieson says. “We are looking forward to seeing what conclusions we can draw from our year-round study.”

The next step after this study is complete, says Jamieson, would be to examine the potential of CD and/or sub-irrigation (SI) on additional horticultural crops.

“As well, we should examine the benefits of retrofitting an existing tile system to CD or installing a new CD system for the purposes of reducing the need for irrigation,” he explains. “This would involve a cost-benefit analysis along with examining the differences in time management between CD and/or SI and traditional irrigation methods.”

 

 

 

Published in Irrigating

October 15, 2014, Vancouver, BC – Farmers from Vancouver Island and Fraser Valley are invited to safely and responsibly dispose of their unwanted or obsolete pesticides and livestock (including equine) medications from October 15-23.

CleanFARMS, an industry-led, national not-for-profit agricultural waste management organization, in partnership with the Canadian Animal Health Institute (CAHI), is offering this program, which comes at no charge to farmers, this fall.

“We are pleased with the past success of our collection programs in this province,” says Barry Friesen, general manager of CleanFARMS. “B.C. farmers’ enthusiasm about this program shows their continual commitment to protecting the environment and making responsible decisions on the farm.”

Farmers in British Columbia have a long history of good stewardship practices. Since 1998, B.C. farmers have turned in more than 207,000 kilograms of obsolete pesticides. This year is the first time in B.C. that livestock and equine medications have been added to the program.

“The British Columbia Agriculture Council (BCAC) appreciates that through an industry led program, B.C. farmers can safely return unused products,” said Stan Vander Waal, BCAC board chair. “A clean and sustainable environment is critical for the long-term future of farming.”

After collection, the pesticides and medications are taken to a licensed waste management facility where they are disposed of through high temperature incineration.

The following locations will be accepting obsolete pesticides and livestock/equine medications from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the dates specified:

  • October 15: Vantreight Farms in Saanich at 8277 Central Saanich Road
  • October 16: Bings Creek Recycling Centre in Duncan at 3900 Drinkwater Road
  • October 17: Comox Valley Waste Management Centre in Cumberland at 2400 Bevan Road
  • October 20-12: Direct Solutions in Delta at 7430 Hopcott Road
  • October 22-23: Univar Canada in Abbotsford at 3256 McCallum Road

The obsolete pesticide and livestock/equine medication collection program is a national program that comes to each province on a three-year rotating basis. In between collections periods, farmers are asked to safely store their unwanted pesticides and livestock medications until they can properly dispose of them through the program.

Published in Provinces

July 22, 2014 – In traditional apple orchards, effective management practices rely on two interrelated components: finding ways to manage competitive vegetation under the trees, and supplying important supplemental nutrition to trees.

These factors are further complicated in organic management systems where limited tools are available, and producers need to meet the stringent soil fertility and crop nutrient management standards of the National Organic Program. University of Arkansas scientists published a study that includes recommendations for the use of various groundcover management systems for apple orchard floors. They say that selected management systems can improve soil quality in organically managed apple orchards.

Curt Rom, corresponding author of the study (published in HortScience), explained that orchards established on the weathered, acidic mineral soils in the Ozark Highlands must be strategically managed in order to meet the trees' nutritional requirements.

"A common characteristic of Ozark Highland soils is a relatively low soil organic matter concentration, a condition that can have detrimental effects on orchard productivity," Rom said.

A cross-disciplinary research team studied the impacts of groundcover management systems and nutrient source on soil characteristics, tree health and productivity, and insect, disease, and weed management. The experiments were performed in an organically managed apple orchard that was established in 2006 and continues today at the University of Arkansas' Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville.

The researchers evaluated several under tree, in-row groundcover management systems, including shredded paper, wood chips, municipal green compost, and mow-blow. They also tested various nutrient sources (non-fertilized control, composted poultry litter, and pelletized organic commercial fertilizer). The groundcover systems and nutrients were analyzed for their respective effects on soil organic matter, carbon, and nitrogen concentration, and soil carbon and nitrogen sequestration.

The results showed that the use of various groundcover management systems as an orchard floor management tool can increase soil organic matter, total soil, and total nitrogen mineral soils, thereby improving soil quality. The greatest increases in these factors were associated with applications of green compost, which the authors say was a result of accelerated formation of carbon- and nitrogen-rich soil organic matter.

"Compared with conventional apple orchards managed with herbicides and fertilizers, green compost, wood chip, and shredded paper treatment may result in improved soil quality," the authors concluded. "However, care should be taken in organic apple production to ensure nutrients are not over applied, thereby protecting soil and water resources and maintaining the health of the orchard ecosystem."

According to Rom, the study has implications for sustainably and conventionally managed orchards as well as organic orchards, and demonstrates the sustainability of organically managed systems.

The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site: hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/49/5/637.

Published in Fruit

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