Best of the west
GUELPH Letting their imaginations run a little wild with some not-so harebrained ideas has secured 29 Western and Southern Ontario farmers and agribusinesses a round of applause and a hefty chunk of change from the premier.
Province-wide, 50 winners of premiers awards for agri-food innovation excellence each take home $5,000. The best idea also earns a $75,000 award, which this year went to Kaleys Acres in Castleton, near Peterborough, for converting former tobacco fields into kale production to make snack chips.
Here are the cutting-edge brainwaves that earned 29 western businesses $5,000.
The Mustard Seed Co-operative Grocery: The Hamilton grocery store boasts a 60 per cent local lineup and labels each product with the distance its travelled to the store, which has attracted 1,400 members since its January launch, putting sales on track to top $1.4 million.
Ontario Tender Fruit Producers Marketing Board: Partnering with an IT company, the provincial fruit board developed web-based traceability software that uses GPS mapping to tie online recordkeeping, inventory, and pest management tracking to individual fields.
Ramblin Road Brewery Farm: At his La Salette farm in Norfolk County, John Picard soaks sliced potatoes in beer stock to make kettle chips and ferments potato wash water into beer.
Singh Greenhouses: To grow hydroponic cucumbers with groundwater north of Hamilton, Dr. Ghulam Mustafa has to use a reverse osmosis system that produces 160,000 litres of wastewater daily, which prompted him to develop a filtering process to cut water use in half and recycle fertilizer.
Zurbuchen Farm: Adopting leading-edge European technology, the Waterford orchard uses a mechanical thinner, a platform aid for pruning, a belt system and bin trailer to replace heavy bags, and a specialized picker to retrieve windfall apples for processing markets.
A. Driedger Farms Inc.: Developing a self-propelled machine with a disc head assembly in front of the chassis, the Wheatley farm can lift and transfer entire rows of tomato plants to neighbouring rows without damage, which speeds up harvesting by 19 per cent. The invention earned the farm a $50,000 ministers award.
Bosco and Roxys Inc.: Sourcing 90 per cent of their ingredients in Ontario, London duo Michelle and Jaymie Crook make premium dog treats, such as frozen yogurt cones and bones stuffed with “German shepherd pie,” doubling their sales in one year to $1.3 million.
Carther Plants: Adapting a strawberry plug plant for hydroponic greenhouse production all year round, Sandra Carthers Thamesville nursery uses a time-controlled mist system to ensure rooting and a European-style gutter system to maximize production.
Great Northern Hydroponics: Using preprogrammed routes, robots move carts to and from 65 acres of greenhouses and the Kingsville tomato producers packaging warehouse, automatically logging where and when tomatoes were picked.
Heeman Strawberry Farm: Customers at the Thorndale berry farm can go online to rate their berries by typing in a 16-digit code, which also tracks berries to a specific farm, field, picker, and harvest time, generates crew efficiency reports, and streamlines payroll.
Kinglake Farms Inc.: By educating growers, selling starter plants, processing pelletized hops for producers, and reducing labour costs with a German-made harvester, the Straffordville hops yard has boosted Ontario hops acreage.
Randy Lambrecht: Designing a semi-automated dirt filler with a conveyer belt to replace packing trays by hand in his two 300-ft. greenhouses in Bothwell, Randy Lambrecht can now fill 800 to 1,000 trays an hour.
Sheldon Berries: Covering individual rows with long-lasting plastic mesh made by Gintec Shade Technologies has prevented birds from gobbling up the Lakeside farms berries while protecting them from hail.
Truly Green Farms: Using waste heat and carbon dioxide from the Greenfield Ethanol plant next door to promote tomato growth and keep energy use down, the Dresden greenhouse sequesters 15,000 metric tonnes of gas per year. Its green thinking earned the farm a $25,000 leader in innovation award.
Barrie Hill Farms: Freezing surplus asparagus from his Barrie-area farm has created a year-round market for Morris Gervais, who uses longer spears to reduce trim waste and a variety that maintains a tight tip longer.
Carron Farms Ltd.: Modifying European equipment, the Bradford farm uses a stainless steel system with computerized scales and sensors to ensure each retail bag contains the right weight and colour combination of its heirloom carrots.
Dornoch Hops Ltd.: Producing low-cost living hops plants for growers with cloning and root-cutting techniques, the Durham business co-founder, Cherie Swift, generates hundreds of plants from a single parent year-round a step up from the 60 to 75 per cent success rate for starting with a rhizome, which adults plants produce in limited supply.
Hoity Toity Cellars Inc.: Mildmay vintners Gary and Diane Fischer turn the grapes that fall short of wine production standards into grape cider, made from frozen grape juice year round.
Peace Naturals Project Inc.: Working with a team of experts, the Stayner medical marijuana producer created industry-standard operating procedures, security guidelines, and safe production practices.
Summitview Farm: With a mishmash of apple varieties preventing cider consistency, Clarksburg orchard owner Lance Burnham gave each batch its own name and label, which propelled the seasonal ciders into more than 40 markets in just four months.
T&K Ferri Orchards: Far outstripping the Ontario norm of 1,200 trees per acre, the Clarksburg orchard planted 3,000 trees per acre using a super spindle system with uniform, hedge-like rows that enable labour-saving mechanical pruning and harvesting, and cut pesticide use.
Erbcroft Farms: Convincing their butcher to make lamb bacon, burgers, curry pies, and summer sausages, Sebringville sheep farmers Luann and Tim Erb have made lamb a year-round bestseller, even selling tanned sheepskins to consumers as yoga mats. See story on page 22.
Everdale Farm: The Hillsburgh environmental learning centre converted eight acres of unused conservation land into commercial-scale vegetable production to create Torontos largest urban farm in 2013.
FarmStart: Running dozens of workshops, tours, and courses each year, the Guelph-based organization has given 56 would-be farmers from 20 countries tools and access to affordable land at their two incubator farms.
The Garlic Box: Using Ontario garlic to make oils, salts, condiments, and seasonings as well as flash-freezing whole, peeled cloves, the Hensall processor has boosted commercial production in the face of low-cost imports. Its local commitment earned the processor a $25,000 leader in innovation award.
Heeg Dairy: With an on-farm, automated milk sampling system, New Hamburg dairy farmers Sytse and Anita Heeg can identify potential udder infections, metabolic problems, and reproductive disorders, and determine the best time for artificial insemination, which saved them $36,000 in vet bills, medications, and insemination costs in the first year.
Ontario Independent Meat Processors: The group runs recurring giveaways in conjunction with the Ontario Association of Food Banks to provide protein-rich food for those who cant afford it.
Shady Grove Maple Co. Ltd.: The Guelph maple syrup producer teams up with woodlot owners to install pipelines to transport sap to its state-of-the-art facility, splitting the finished product 50/50.
Troll Bridge Creek Inc.: Experimenting with harvest timing, pasteurization, and natural shelf-life boosters, Arthur couple Lorraine and Keith Harris created KiKi Maple Sweet Water, a nutrient-rich maple sap drink which now sells across Canada.