THE VOICE OF ONTARIO'S FRUIT, VEGETABLE
AND GREENHOUSE PRODUCERS FOROVER 150 YEARS

Year-End Board Briefs

Lobbying government is more important than ever

JASON VERKAIK

In conversation with most Ontario farmers, the 2016 growing season was one that will most likely be a historical benchmark. A phrase heard most often, "I can't remember a summer like this one, ever!"   The drought and the heat became taxing for the majority of farmers.  It was a lot of work to grow a crop this past season, with irrigation being at a premium this summer.  It seems recently there is at least one weather event specific to an area or crop that leaves devastating consequences. This was true in the Holland Marsh with an intense hail storm in July that destroyed or damaged about 1500 acres of crop.

In a juxtaposition of sorts, there are positive stories that come out of the same season.  The taste of some fruit crops were enhanced by the weather, some crops thrived this season. There were multiple requests for media interviews this season mostly related to the weather. Even though they had empathy for the farmer’s challenges, the question that always circled around was "How is this going to affect food prices....?" I will address this at the end of my report.

Our provincial government was and is in full stride in delivering its mandate.  What has become most obvious is the prominence and focus of the environment across all ministries. The consultation process is still on fast forward. Our staff, section chairs and committees have been diligent in preparing thorough and thoughtful submissions. These submissions can be found on the OFVGA website.

The following is a list of the consultations to which we have responded over the past year:

  • Wetland Conservation Strategy for Ontario,
  • Reducing Phosphorous to minimize Algal Blooms in Lake Erie,
  • Conserving our future; proposed Priorities for Renewal,
  • Great Lakes near shore framework,
  • Coordinated Strategy for Northern Agriculture, Aquaculture and food processing,
  • Coordinated Land use Planning Review,
  • Waste Free Ontario: Building the Circular economy,
  • Draft Pollinator Health Action plan,
  • Bill 172: The Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, 2016.
  • A regulation establishing a moratorium on the issuance of new or increasing permits to take water for water bottling
  • Ontario Cap and Trade Program: Offsets Credits Regulatory Proposal

I have noticed some efficiencies in the provincial government. It seems that in just days after consultations are submitted, decisions and a path forward have been cemented and implementations of new policy begins.  

Our new federal government spent a portion of the year working on staffing its majority government and once that happened they moved into a similar theme as Ontario: the environment.   We were able to move the needle forward on the Canadian-made deemed trust file. With a few trips to Ottawa, along with CHC and CPMA, we were able to present, in front of the Senate Committee for Agriculture and the Standing Committee of Agriculture, the need of the trust to protect Canadian produce sellers and the need to restore our preferred status under the PACA trust in the United States.  The accomplishment was having the Standing Committee come to an understanding of how a trust can work under Canadian law, through Professor Cumings’ report, and a letter-writing campaign to the Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.  As of the time of writing this report, the file is at work behind the scenes and the details are being worked out between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.  We are hopeful to have a positive response from the ministries early this year. Let’s trust that patience is a virtue and we see implementation this year, if not we must then ramp up our lobby once again.

We have great opportunity for our sector, the demand for some of our crops is much greater than what we produce, we have many export markets desiring the crops we grow. We actually have people outside our province value our produce more than some here.  The challenge is our competitiveness continues to erode, our minimum wage now sits at $11.43/hour. The costs of a lot of our inputs will be affected by cap and trade. Our energy prices continue to rise with no end in sight. We have spent countless hours bringing our message forward.

We support the vision of protecting the environment, however, it must be delivered in a way that builds up our businesses both in the short term and long term.  We have seen our greenhouse sector being challenged to put new investment into Ontario and some have invested across the border even though their desire was to invest in Ontario.  This is evidence that the path the government is on is not conducive to the premier’s challenge (which we support) of creating 120,000 jobs in the agriculture and food sector and doubling our GDP all by the year 2020. What is missing is real investment into the production side of the horticulture and food sector. I believe if the government supports the expansion of the production side, eliminates growing red tape and eases the regulatory burdens now faced in our industry and invests in horticulture infrastructure and innovation at all farming levels (small, medium and large size farm businesses). This expansion will benefit the food industry up the chain, strengthening our processing sector, creating more jobs  all while increasing our GDP. We can call this sprouting up economics.  We must continue to lobby the government for the investment dollars from cap and trade.

We need to bring this money back to our sector.

We have also strongly lobbied for our labour requirements through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and the Ag Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.  Government has kept a careful eye on these programs, They constantly sing the praises of the SAWP. It is imperative we celebrate and stand up for these programs. I understand that some of the requirements around these programs have tightened but let us not forget farmers have responsibilities too -- let us be diligent in ours. The alternative doesn't bode well for us. There have been multiple reviews for crop protection materials -- we have worked hard to protect these tools and will continue to do so.

Other sectors of agriculture are feeling overwhelmed as well. We have seen examples of collaboration in our lobby with other sectors in agriculture result in positive outcomes. This cooperation was evident in the working of Grow Ontario Together. The main focus of this group, along with government, is to work on the phosphorous issues around Lake Erie.  It is a template for how we must deal with the issues of social licence around agriculture moving forward.

Activists have challenged the business of agriculture more now than ever before. They get paid to misrepresent the truth, change the truth and make up the truth to feed the damaging engine that they have become. We must take back our story, engage with government and consumers like never before to protect our family farms. Unity on this issue is paramount.  We also saw, on the cap and trade file, when one organization tries to speak for all of agriculture without collaborating with and understanding the intricacies of the different sectors in relation to a specific file, our lobby effort becomes undermined and valuable opportunities get lost. I encourage horticulture to be strong in this collaboration yet not to yield on our message that relates to our farmers.

We have continued a strong partnership with the government in our Northern Fruit and Vegetable School Program as well as the Fresh from the Farm Fundraising program. The government announced an expansion for our Northern Fruit and Vegetable School Program moving from 192 schools last year to approximately 330 schools for this season.  This program allows us to bring fruit and vegetable snacks to the students of these schools each week. The deliveries include Ontario apples, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries and dried cherries among others.  Our Fresh from The Farm School fundraiser grew to 371 schools this year. There was close to 900,000 lbs of carrots, onions sweet potatoes, potatoes and apples sold. This resulted in approximately one million dollars in sales with $350,000 going back to the schools. We are honoured to be part of these programs. 

In conclusion, I go back to that one question I have been asked multiple times, “How is this going to affect food prices?”  My answer was always, it really won’t. We work in a global economy, profit margins will be narrowed or eliminated, farmers will absorb the extra expenses and continue to work hard to bring healthy, safe and competitive food to market.  The problem is in the perception of the issue. Weather is the number one factor that affects farming and when it does in a negative way it's tough, especially when the narrative moves away from the farmers and their needs.  This perception has permeated government too, creating a mindset to protect the environment and farmland, values we share and encourage as farmers.  However, those values are incomplete when the business of farming is not included in that protection. These values are also not accomplished through unnecessary overregulation, red tape and uncontrollable input costs.  Society and government have lost focus on the men and women who farm and the sustainability of their businesses.  Too often it is the farmer who is told to innovate, be more efficient and deal with the unintended consequences of policies they had no control in developing and have to be implemented without careful study or heeding farmer’s counsel. Let us not have unbalanced policy trump weather as a number one factor that affects farmers. Time has proven the resiliency of farmers in managing weather and time will tell that if the counsel of farmers continues to be ignored they will be able to continue to manage both. We will have to change the narrative and our answer will be "Yes, be prepared, prices are rising, with the understanding that these dollars get back to the farmers." I believe we are on the precipice of saying that.  Our food security as a nation depends on that.  All farmers need is the ability to make a reasonable profit, that alone will encourage environmental sustainability, create more jobs, encourage the transfer of knowledge and business to the next generation.  Simply put, this is how a nation solidifies food security.

The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association will continue to lobby by maintaining fruitful and engaging relationships with our politicians and policy makers and working alongside other farm organizations to bring the message of the farmer.

It has truly been an honour to serve as your chairman for 2016.

Jason Verkaik is now past-chair of the OFVGA. 

 

Canadian Horticultural Council moving forward  

ADRIAN HUISMAN

This has been a very interesting year filled with challenges and steps taken to move CHC and the horticultural industry forward.  The change in the Federal government created many challenges as it took the Liberal government and its new ministers several months to fill all the staffing positions and then several more months for CHC to attempt to bring the government up-to-date on horticultural issues.  This is an ongoing process. 

CHC Staffing

CHC staffing issues created their own set of challenges with our EVP Anne Fowlie leaving as well as Andre Bourbonniere (Policy Manager) and Trevor Eggleton (Communications Manager).  I am pleased to report that all three positions have been successfully filled as follows:

Rebecca Lee                Executive Director (Previously referred to as Executive Vice-President)

Nancy Baker               Manager, Policy, Research and Development

David Folkerson                     Manager, Communications

Justine Payne was also ratified as permanent staff in the Administrative Assistant position.

Rebecca Lee will be making a presentation during the OFVGA AGM. 

In addition to the above, the Greenhouse Committee hired Julie Paillat as their National Coordinator.  Greenhouse vegetable production continues to grow, and this provides the Greenhouse Committee with the necessary resources to develop a strong national voice on key priorities and deal with its issues in greater depth.  This is currently a half-time position within the CHC office that is using a format similar to that of the potato industry, being fully funded by the greenhouse sector. 

Crop, Plant Protection and the Environment Committee

Charles Stevens is the Chair of the Crop Protection Standing Committee as well as the Crop Protection Advisory Committee (CPAC).  The CPAC Committee has been very active throughout the year responding to Proposed Re-evaluation Decisions for a number of active ingredients including: chlorothalonil (Bravo), captan, ferbam, thiram, iprodione (Rovral) and methomyl (Lannate).  Under the leadership of David Jones and the support of the Canadian Potato Council, CHC consulted with and surveyed its membership on contemporary grower product use information (number of applications, application rates, timing of applications, post-application activities etc.) for chlorothalonil and captan responses.  This information was submitted to the PMRA to be used in the revision of risk assessments that were previously based on inaccurate product use assumptions.  CPAC is currently developing a response to the proposed decision to discontinue all agricultural uses of imidacloprid (Merit/Admire). 

In August, CHC hosted invited representatives of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and AAFC's Pest Management Centre on a farm tour in the Montreal area to provide first-hand examples of safe pesticide application.

Labour Standing Committee

Murray Porteous is the Chair of the Labour Standing Committee and Ken Forth is one of the Co-Vice Chairs along with Denis Hamel (Quebec) and Pinder Dhaliwal (BC).  The Committee has been very active on the labour file, participating in a number of meetings and conference calls related to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) as well as the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (Agricultural Stream).    

Trade and Marketing Committee

Ken Forth chairs the Trade and Marketing Standing Committee. This Committee has been actively dealing with the issue of a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA)-like Trust for several years. The new Liberal government expressed its support, during the election, for implementing such a trust in Canada. The Dispute Resolution Corporation has been leading on informing the government on the advantages of having such a trust, and is hopeful of a positive outcome. Action needed from the federal government: adoption of the draft Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Products Protection Act, written by Dr. Ron C.C. Cuming, an expert in Canada's bankruptcy laws. Implementation of a trust will significantly reduce supply chain disruptions and the vulnerability of small businesses and of rural communities.  It will also improve trade relations with the U.S. - our largest and most important trading partner.    

Industry Standards and Food Safety Committee

Andrew Lovell of New Brunswick chairs this Committee.  Through this Committee, CHC staff closely monitors CFIA regulatory consultations and solicit input as required.  This year, the efforts of the CFIA Greenhouse, Nursery and Floriculture Biosecurity Advisory Committee and the Fruit and Tree Nut Biosecurity Advisory Committee have led to the release of the respective biosecurity standards and producer manuals. Several CHC members participated in these Committees and were instrumental to the success of these initiatives. 

Finance and Business Management Committee

Mark Wales chairs the Finance Committee.  The current Growing Forward 2 (Agricultural Policy Framework) is set to end March 31, 2018.  CHC has submitted its position on the expected “New Agricultural Policy Framework” and has participated in a number of meetings and conference calls organized by AAFC for industry input (topics covered: Science, research and innovation; Public trust; Environmental sustainability and climate change; Regulations, labour and business development). Mark Wales attended the November 1-2 session which dealt with International Markets and Trade Value-Added Agriculture and Agri-Food Processing Risk Management.  The CHC response includes horticulture's positon and recommendations on:

            Markets and Trade

            Science, Research and Innovation

            Business Risk Management

            Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change

            Public Trust

            Labour

            National Food Policy

            Crop Protection

First and foremost under 'Business Risk Management' are recommendations to return Agri-Stability to its previous 85% coverage level (from 70%) and increasing Agri-Invest to a more meaningful level of 4.5% (from 1%).

Planning for Cluster 3 – Development of Research and Innovation Strategies

CHC was approved for additional funding under Cluster 2 to develop Research and Innovation Strategies for the following commodity groups: berry, vegetable, greenhouse vegetable and apple. A number of conference calls have been held and face-to-face meetings are being planned for December and January. The Canadian Potato Council is also updating its research and innovation strategy in a parallel exercise. CHC has developed a timeline for the application process, with the deadline of a complete application package by October 2017. 

CHC & CPMA Fall Harvest

CHC and CPMA Fall Harvest Meetings on the Hill took place November 21-23. More than 40 industry representatives participated in meetings with close to 60 federal members of Parliament, government personnel and the Minister of Agriculture.  The major themes of the event included labour and a national health policy.  The PACA-like Trust was also on the agenda for selected meetings. 

Projects

RPCs - The Reusable Plastic Container (RPCs) project is well underway, with sampling and testing occurring at facilities in BC, ON and QC. An interim report will be available within the next two months.

Product Recall Project – The goal of this project is to determine, based on what is done in other jurisdictions, whether it is feasible to provide protection (coverage) in case of a product recall.  The project was approved in the spring, but has been postponed to start in January 2017 allowing new staff to be briefed and subsequently manage the project. 

Adrian Huisman is one of two OFVGA representatives to the CHC board of directors.

 

Re-evaluations are top issue  

CHARLES STEVENS  and CRAIG HUNTER

Perhaps 2016 will go down as the year of the re-evaluations. Certainly the number and the potential impact of these will be felt for some time to come. The OFVGA Crop Protection Section either alone or in conjunction with the Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC) prepared and made comments on the following actives/products:

1. Captan
2. Chlorothalonil (Bravo)
3. Mancozeb
4. Polyram
5. Thiram
6. Ziram
7. Ferbam
8. Rovral

In addition we had previously made our inputs on Linuron, Carbaryl (Sevin), and Thimet.

During the year the PMRA also announced the final cancellation of the uses of Diazinon, and Thimet 15G.

The only ‘good’ news was the registration of a ‘new’ formulation of Thimet-20G, and for the retention of thinning uses of carbaryl, albeit with severe restrictions. On the surface things looked pretty bleak.

Grower groups across the country did an excellent job of telling PMRA the importance of these products to their bottom line. Resistance management, broad spectrums of activity, and IPM fit were all well documented. The PMRA however insisted that their concern was mostly about post-application worker exposure and protection. As a result Charles and Craig went to PMRA to present their concerns about how the ‘exposure’ calculations had been based on out-of-date production systems data. Furthermore, they invited PMRA staff to actually visit an orchard last year to see how much (little) actual exposure ensued from activities such as thinning and pruning in the architecture of today.

PMRA has started to look at our depositions on their data sources, and especially on how post- application workers can be further protected. Its concerns, that must be allayed, include: How does a label instruction to the applicator get transmitted to workers later on? How can this communication be recorded, and be available for auditing later? What kinds of legislation exist in each province to protect workers? What other vehicles exist to ensure labels are indeed followed?

It will become our job to provide what they need before any changes are made to their restrictive label proposals. Their final decisions are due in 2018, so 2017 is our time frame to get it done.

Even though re-evaluations were the big story this year, there were other items on our plate. The PMRA has proposed to change its whole re-evaluation process after many concerns had been lodged. Not surprisingly, in spite of its stated wish to get earlier input from growers in the future re-evaluations, staff did NOT ask early input into this proposal! Our response was faintly supportive, but asking for even earlier input timing than they proposed. Three-way meetings with growers, PMRA and registrants was also asked for to ensure transparency, common understandings, and an agreed-upon work plan to ensure data needs could be dealt with using up- to-date knowledge such as actual use patterns, crop needs, and proposed maximum seasonal doses. Time will tell if our ‘ask’ transpires into actuality.

The annual Minor Use Priority Meetings were again a success with more than 40 new projects approved, and likely a further 15-20 joint projects with IR-4 coming about as well. Grower input remains the key to getting solid candidate projects. There was also an excellent seminar held on bacterial diseases which are becoming a bigger threat yearly. Our arsenal to fight them is still much smaller than in the U.S. and resistance is a perennial concern.

Our annual fall committee meeting attracted most of the OFVGA commodity groups, and we were informed of the crop protection issues in each. Invasive species continue to be a threat. The total number of emergency registration requests was at an all-time low this year. This reflects on the continual registration of new uses which this year was more than 80 including some that are for entire crop groups, in addition to many more minor uses included by registrants in new active ingredient products.

This year’s NAFTA technical working group on pesticides was quite subdued. It was just prior to the U.S. elections, so participants had little to say. The Mexican delegation was also lower in numbers than normal. The most important issue continues to be around harmonization of MRLs. All parties recognize that while we are close, we all have a growing problem with international trade beyond North America. The number of actual growers attending these meetings has really declined. This needs to be reversed if anyone expects the meeting to be a focus for change in the future.

The Canadian MRL working group of which OFVGA is a member continues to develop data to support our MRL paradox with CODEX. In addition, at least five additional countries are now trying to set up their own MRL schemes, but not in a coordinated or timely process. One key factor we have been asking for from AAFC is that the government should buy access for Canadians to an international MRL data base. This will greatly help shippers, and growers to ‘do the right thing’ based on prior informed knowledge of the MRLs at market destination BEFORE the growing season starts. Progress has been slow, but will ramp up in 2017.

The final issue has been ongoing for some time. Bee survival was excellent this year at an estimate of only 18 per cent over-winter loss. This was achieved BEFORE the provincial restrictions on neonicotinoid insecticide seed treatments came into effect! Obviously the mild winter was a major factor. Perhaps ‘other things’ are at play, and the black image of the seed treatments will soften. Our members again had no documented problems with availability of pollinators. That is our bottom line after all!

A late-breaking issue arose just as this report was headed to the printer. PMRA has proposed to cancel ALL outdoor uses of imidacloprid (Admire) and to commence review of both thiamethoxam and chlothianidin. This will evolve over the next 90 days until mid-February 2017 when our comments are due.  No doubt much work will be needed on this re-evaluation!

We will continue to work on behalf of our members, and expect they will continue to share their issues and concerns for crop protection to keep us focused.

Charles Stevens is OFVGA chair of crop protection.  

Craig Hunter is OFVGA advisor.

 

Energy and water remain the most active files

BRIAN GILROY

The property file has been extremely active this year. The number of Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) postings in 2016 has been challenging, as we at the OFVGA work to provide meaningful input on proposed regulatory changes. 2016 was also the year when farmland and farm building values were updated and most of us have received our new property assessments. The increases in property values, in most cases, are significant with a five-year phase-in period. People are encouraged to challenge the assessments and MPAC has a straight forward appeal process. A detailed MPAC assessment methodology guide for agriculture was promised but to date I have not seen it.

Energy has been a very active file this past year with numerous consultations taking place with cap and trade about to be introduced in Ontario, early in 2017. From all reports we will see a 4.5 cent a litre increase in the cost of all fossil fuels. Of note: one year ago that projected increase was 3.6 cents a litre. The finishing touches are being applied to the OFVGA submission. The need to help agriculture transition to a low-carbon economy is imperative if we wish to maintain and improve our food security and the economic benefits we provide. Leakage from the food production system has already started due to the rapidly increasing input costs that we in Ontario have to deal with. Natural gas availability is critical for some sectors to remain competitive and we are optimistic that this is close to the top of Ontario’s infrastructure to-do list. Cap and trade offsets for agriculture have been discussed and from initial discussions it is unlikely that there will be anything for us in this income-generating opportunity. Interestingly it is estimated that one acre of apple orchard sequesters 20 tonnes of carbon and generates 15 tonnes of oxygen, annually.

There are few topics discussed more than the ever increasing cost of electricity here in Ontario. The Green Energy Act has had a significant impact on our electricity costs but there are a number of factors that have brought the province to this point. There are a lot of questions and it is a very complex issue but something needs to be done.

The Great Lakes Protection Act activity has been relatively calm throughout the year but activity related to water has been ongoing. The Smart Water project led by Charles Lalonde has been working with the Holland Marsh Growers, and the potato and apple sectors to help them prepare for increased government regulations. This is a positive first step but the need to define requirements and help farmers meet the requirements should be how we move forward. It is much more efficient than using an enforcement approach. The greenhouse sector continues to work with ministry officials on how best to regulate storm water and the water that comes off their roofs.

Phosphorus and the Great Lakes

There continues to be lots of attention paid to phosphorus issues especially in Lake Erie. There is currently a joint Ontario-Ohio-Michigan agreement to reduce the phosphorus loadings into the west basin of Lake Erie by 40 per cent by 2025. The Domestic Action Plan was due to be released before Christmas and it will focus on reducing winter spreading of nutrients and supporting greater use of the 4-R principles when applying nutrients. There is a project being done jointly by the OFA and the Great Lakes Mayors group to measure phosphorus entering the streams and encourage new ways of treating phosphorus once it enters the municipal drainage system. There is no data to show just how much actually comes out of drainage tiles. This will be a multi-year project and has many funding supporters.

We were fortunate in 2016 that due to the drought there was not much algal bloom. The problem however is far from being solved. Ninety-four per cent of the phosphorus entering the west basin of Lake Erie is known to be coming from the U.S. side. This issue will be on our radar for many years to come. As a result of proposed regulations a working group called Grow Ontario Together was established with a number of farm organizations participating including the OFVGA. Another challenge may be the new administration in the U.S. taking office on January 20. It would seem that the climate change deniers are in charge.

Currently we are responding to the EBR posting on a moratorium on new or expansion PTTWs for water bottling operations. On the surface this appears to not be a problem for Ontario horticulture as it freezes the process for water bottlers until 2019. However the ministry has indicated that during that period they will review the public’s involvement in the permit process. We cannot support any involvement by an uninformed public in the review of agricultural permits to take water. This response will be submitted shortly and we will follow this matter throughout 2017. The dry weather during the 2016 growing season was a strong reminder about how important it is for our growers to have access to irrigation water. 

The research project to field test tools to prevent bird damage in horticulture crops continued this year. I have a brief slide show that will give you the details of the project for this year. A special thanks to Susan Fitzgerald and the rest of the committee for their work on this project. Partial funding remains in place for the project with the kestrel nesting boxes being made available for those who would like to purchase them.

Activity regarding soil health has been ramped up this year with a dedicated working group delving in to plans on how to improve the health of our soils in Ontario. Harold Schooley, our Research Chair, is participating in this group.

The Horticulture Value Chain Roundtable has been struggling with the withdrawal of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) from future participation and the request that edible and ornamental be given their own Roundtables. Work continues and I will have an update on activities as there was a meeting held on December 19th and 20th, after this report was written.

Sustainability and future demands for some type of sustainability audit has been the topics of a lot of discussion and work in a number of groups. One of the activities here in Ontario is the work called Farm Food and Beyond led by Dr. Gordon Surgeoner where the sustainability components will be added to the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). Interestingly there is also an effort to take the EFP national. It remains my hope that governments will revisit EFP funding in the next Agriculture Policy Framework and dedicate significant funding to help farmers complete projects to improve our environmental stewardship. 

Social license is a relatively new term but one that our governments have seized and seem to want to help agriculture achieve. The need for people and policy makers, who have limited farming experience, to walk a mile in our shoes, has never been greater. In my opinion Farm and Food Care is the organization to lead this important initiative. With the launch of Farm and Food Care Canada and the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity this year, we have experienced some growing pains. The Presidents Council and Farm and Food Care with the help of Michael Keegan are working together to help agriculture engage policy makers and other influential people. I remain confident in the organization and the people involved, to help lead this difficult issue.

Many thanks to all of those who have worked on the many EBR submissions that we were involved with this year. To the hard working staff at OFVGA, thanks!

Brian Gilroy is OFVGA chair of the property section.

 

Pests, disease and weeds remain top priority for research

HAROLD SCHOOLEY

This report highlights the main areas of focus for your research chair for the past year.

Access to Innovation and Research

The Federal Survey on Access to Innovation and Research for Horticultural Associations in Canada was released in the fall of 2016. The survey solicited responses from more than 90 horticulture associations across the country (including OFVGA) and is representative of most sectors within horticulture.

It reported:

  • Most associations are regularly involved in developing, funding and conducting research
  • They operate with a research priority list
  • Their funds originate from general revenue as opposed to a research levy system
  • Their funds are matched with funds from provincial or federal governments
  • Most think they should not match funding more than 25%, or find it difficult to do so
  • Most find the grant writing and reporting process onerous but would still use a ‘GF3’
  • Most had experienced GF1 and GF2 through the DIAP and Science Cluster programs
  • 100% believed research contributes to the ongoing success of their commodity

The research priorities for horticultural associations are considered to be:

1. pest, disease, and weed management issues
2. labour saving devices
3. product quality issues
4. marketing challenges
5. sustainability

climate change

The survey divulges no surprises. Industry does see the value of research, considers grant reporting procedures to be onerous, and has difficulty contributing more than 25% matching funds.

Pest management as the top priority is not new. Managing pest dynamics is always a problem, one that’s never done. And, as your scribe has been reporting for years, if you don’t look after the pest management fires first, the rest of it doesn’t matter.

The survey does highlight some opportunities for innovation:

  • solve pest management problems in innovative ways (ways that consumers like to hear about)
  • create labour-saving technologies to counteract rising wage costs
  • improve product quality for better market acceptance

The fruit and vegetable sector contributes to a vibrant economy and the health of society. Cost control is the biggest factor that impedes its economic sustainability. Any activities, programs or policies that contribute to lowering production and marketing costs will be critical to achieving sustainability.

Production Systems Research Priority Setting

The priority setting process continued to evolve in 2016.

At a meeting last spring the “Field Vegetables” category was divided into three crop areas to increase the number of priorities given to this large sector. An attempt was made to do this in a way that grouped together crops with similar production practices. They are:

  • Bulb and Root Vegetables: Carrots, onions, leeks, shallots, beets, rutabaga/turnip, radishes, sugar beets, parsnips, garlic, horseradish, sweet potatoes.
  • Leafy Vegetables & Crucifers: Asparagus, spinach, celery, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, salad greens, leafy herbs, rhubarb, Brussel sprouts.
  • Fruiting Vegetables: Peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, squash, green/wax beans, green peas, sweet corn, eggplant, melons, zucchini

Priority areas have become quite broad in recent years. The reason for that is so they can be more inclusive. You still need to work with a researcher to develop a project and make your case for funding. That’s the time to get specific. This is still a competitive process, one that requires well-written applications to win funding.

Environmental Sustainability Research Priorities

ORAN’s Environmental Sustainability Theme updated its research priorities in 2016. The ES theme studies soil, water, air and biodiversity in ag production ecosystems.

It focuses on these priority areas:

  • Understanding the drivers and stressors ag systems place on the environment
  • Managing the effects of these drivers and stressors with Best Management Practices
  • Developing the metrics and tools to measure the effectiveness of these BMPs for fine tuning

OFVGA was asked to contribute our concerns and issues to this area of study to better direct research for the next three to five years. -The following topics were presented with a horticulture perspective:

1. Water issues – quantity (too much, too little) and quality (preserving it)
2. Climate change and its effect on production practices
3. Economic sustainability and our ability to deal with environmental issues
4. Production sustainability and soil health

5. Ag Policy and Regulations and their effect on production and economic sustainability

Agricultural Soils Health and Conservation Strategy

The Ontario Soil Health and Conservation Working Group led by OMAFRA is continuing its stakeholder engagement and strategy development process. A soil health strategy is expected to be in place by summer of 2017. The draft strategy will centre around:

  • soil management
  • soil monitoring and modelling
  • soil knowledge and innovation.

Some of the expected deliverables of this process are:

1. updated soil information and maps for Ontario farmers, municipalities, conservation authorities and government policy and program staff
2. benchmarks for soil health
3. a soil health test
4. BMPs for soil health and conservation
5. improved understanding of soil GHG emissions and the cost effectiveness of mitigating GHG emissions in soils and production systems with BMP

6. education and training of all involved - farmers, researchers, extension, etc.

Ontario Precision Agri-Food (OPAF)

In 2016 OAFT completed its Precision Ag Technologies Phase 1 study and presented at a symposium in June. OFVGA was one of the contributors to this study to get the project initiated and serves on its advisory committee.

The premise of this project is that our ability to harness and use vast quantities of data effectively will have a profound bearing on the competitiveness of our agricultural and food sector.

The project has now moved on to Phase 2.

The name Ontario Precision Agri-Food was coined for the process as it moves forward.

A funding application has been submitted to AAC to develop Ontario’s first comprehensive, open, agri-food data collection and innovation platform to advance precision agri-food technology applications across multiple sectors. This involves conducting a number of pilot projects to see what synergies can be gained across multiple projects so that each sector does not have to develop its own solutions and tools for precision agriculture. At present four projects are being considered as pilots for Phase 2.

These pilot projects will contribute to the development of an open platform to facilitate collaboration and innovation for agri-food data across all commodities and stakeholders.

They will be used to develop the organizational, process, security and ICT aspects of the agri-food data collaboration and innovation platform.

Access to proven solutions and tools should accelerate the development and adoption of new technologies and increase the quality and quantity of precision agri-food applications implemented in Ontario.

The over-arching goal of this project is to equip Ontario farmers with innovative decision support tools that enable them to use data generated on the farm for decision-making that leads to a more competitive cost structure, higher levels of revenue, and a reduced environmental footprint. In addition to the farmer-specific benefits, there will be a substantive collective benefit for researchers, ag organizations, and government staff who will be empowered by the data to also make better decisions regarding the allocation of resources.

Precision agriculture holds many exciting possibilities for our sector. We collect and use data for a large number of purposes at present, but new purposes will balloon exponentially as time progresses. Visualize all the areas that can or will change with the advent of monitoring and delivery systems for data. These may include systems for monitoring and spraying pests, for fine tuning nutrient usage and application, monitoring water requirements and irrigation scheduling, for weather monitoring, for mechanization wherever it can be applied, storage atmosphere monitoring, electronic grading, data storage and reporting for audits, for traceability, cost analysis, benchmarking, crop insurance.  The list will be endless.

It has been a pleasure to serve as your Research Chair for the past year.

Harold Schooley is OFVGA chair of the research section.