By Tom Collins
VINELAND — Okra can be a profitable crop for vegetable growers, but the sub-tropical plant involves plenty of intensive labour, warns Viliam Zvalo, research scientist of vegetable production at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in the Niagara region.
A cross-Canada okra research project last year showed some promising numbers. Zvalo estimates a farmer can earn about $24,300 to $33,400 per acre in revenue with a net profit of roughly $7,300 per acre. A farmer can get $2 to $2.50 per pound wholesale, but $5 a pound at some markets.
The biggest challenge for Ontario farmers is the fact okra needs to be harvested by hand every day from the end of June to the end of September. It takes one person a full day to harvest one acre. Zvalo recommends farmers start with a couple of rows as a test project.
“You have to plan labour force around this crop,” says Zvalo. “Look at the crop and see how it fits into your overall operation. You need to start small. This is not a crop you can rush into and make a lot of money.”
Okra is becoming more popular as a healthy food, often added to soups as it is high in fibre, vitamin C and folate. The amount of okra imported into Canada has grown by 52 per cent over the last five years, with more than six million kilograms imported last year. Much of the okra comes from countries like Honduras and Nicaragua. But okra has a seven-to-10-day shelf life, meaning the crop has almost expired by the time it arrives in Canada.
The study showed that okra grown in a greenhouse before being planted in a field has 12 per cent higher yields than direct-seeded okra. The study also showed further-spaced okra gave higher yields, with the highest yield coming with okra planted at 25 cm on a double row.
Zvalo knows of only about a dozen Ontario farmers growing okra, ranging from a few rows to 10 to 15 acres.