To mitigate climate change and reduce the environmental footprint of fruit and vegetable production, growers need access to affordable and reliable energy sources, crop science tools to fight pests and diseases, and a stable regulatory environment that encourages competitiveness.
The changing climate and a growing desire for a more sustainable world are top of mind with the public and governments around the world. They're also topics that are top of mind with Ontario' s fruit and vegetable growers, who have long made sustainability and environmental stewardship key pillars of growing produce in this province.
Soil mapping is one sustainability tool fruit and vegetable growers are starting to use widely. Mapping the soil before planting new trees in a fruit orchard, for example, identifies the soil’s profile and composition. This means growers can select the best rootstock for the soil conditions, giving them healthy, uniform trees that grow well. In field crop production, soil mapping helps growers identify areas of their fields that may need more or less nutrients in some spots, helping them reduce fertilizer use where it isn't needed.
Fruit growers, for example, are experimenting with growing a cover crop under and between trees in the orchard. Cover crops help reduce the amount of fertilizer and water trees need, as well as naturally controlling weeds and providing pollinator habitats.
In fruit orchards, planting trees more closely together so the same amount of land can sustainably produce more fruit has been – and continues to be – one of the biggest changes. New apple or tender fruit trees are now being planted in what are called high-density systems of 700 to 900 trees on one acre of land, where farmers used to plant 300 trees. The trees are narrow and tall, also making them easier and safer to prune, thin, and harvest.
What growers need:
- government policies and programs that encourage innovation and adoption of new tools and technologies that support environmental stewardship
- a stable, predictable regulatory environment that supports, not stifles a competitive business environment
- a practical approach to regulatory enforcement
Farmers rely on a variety of tools, techniques and technologies to keep pests and diseases at bay and keep fruit and vegetable crops healthy, productive and sustainable.
New produce varieties are bred to be more disease resistant, which means growers may not need to apply crop protection products as often. At the same time, new smart sprayers use imaging systems to precisely apply materials only where needed, reducing both spray use and waste. And robots and drones can independently "scout" a crop to identify patches of disease problems or pest infestations so growers can specifically target those areas early before problems spread.
Many fruit and vegetable farms also follow a system called Integrated Pest Management that uses a variety of methods to control pests and only when they reach damaging levels. Insect pheromones, for example, can be deployed to disrupt the mating cycle of some insect pests, reducing that pest's population, as well as the need for tractor and crop protection product usage.
As well, modern crop protection products are much lower impact than those used in the past, and they all must be reviewed by Health Canada for human health and environmental safety before they can be sold and used.
What growers need:
- a stable, predictable and science-based regulatory system that gives growers access to new products and technologies on par with competing production regions across Canada and internationall
- adequate public funding to support research into new crop protection tools that can help growers address existing and emerging pests and diseases
Energy and carbon
Energy is a critical part of producing fruits and vegetables, from climate controlled greenhouses and packing facilities to cold storage for produce. Growers are actively seeking alternative energy sources and new ways to control temperatures, manage indoor climates and keep produce fresh that will reduce their energy consumption, support the competitiveness of their farm businesses and mitigate the impact of rising energy costs.
This includes infrastructure to access cost-effective natural gas and three-phase electricity in rural areas as well as encouraging the devleopment of on-farm energy production that could, at times, supply the public energy grid. All of these options and more will help growers produce fruits and vegetables more efficiently and help manage their production costs.
What growers need:
- infrastructure investments to give growers more options to powering their critical farm operations, like greenhouse heating, produce storage, and packing facilities.
- access to natural gas and 3-phase electricity
- minimize the impact of carbon pricing on fruit and vegetable production to keep farmers competitive with other growing regions
Ontario fruit and vegetable growers are keen to be part of practical, implementable environmental solutions that help mitigate climate change and address carbon issues.