Nine Mile Farms, Environmental Farm Plan
Food Safety and Traceability Initiative, Bella Hill Maple
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DNA barcoding provides quicker, more accurate results
Ontario's flower growers are one step closer to having barcode technology at their fingertips to identify unwanted pests in their greenhouses, thanks to a new tool being developed by Flowers Canada (Ontario).
"This project will help identify pests quickly and accurately so we can improve bio-security in the floriculture sector in Ontario," says Jamie Aalbers, research director for Flowers Canada (Ontario), which represents 240 greenhouse flower growers.
Aalbers explains that Ontario producers often source plant materials internationally, which could potentially open the door to alien invasive species that are not easily identified. These unwanted visitors can go undetected until too widespread to eradicate, which can put the entire sector at risk. Barcoding technology is one way to quickly identify the intruders and improve response protocols to eradicate them.
Light years ahead
Having an actual handheld barcode unit still lies ahead, but the Flowers Canada project is laying the foundation for it. Pest samples are sent to the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding at the University of Guelph to identify the DNA barcode. These are then matched in the Barcode of Life Data System (BOLD) database to determine the species.
"An important part of the project is developing a database with all of the known pests in greenhouse production," says Aalbers.
To date, a list of more than 1,000 pests recognized by national and international regulatory bodies, and identified pest species not yet genetically profiled on BOLD has been compiled. This technology is light years ahead of what happens in most greenhouses today.
Currently, most pests in greenhouses are identified the old-fashioned way by just looking at it. A trained entomologist can typically identify a pest by looking at the legs or antennae. But there are limitations to this system, which relies heavily on entomologists' knowledge of uncommon pests and whether or not the expert is available. DNA barcoding significantly speeds up the process and eliminates the potential of mistaken identity.
In this project, a protocol was developed in which growers sent the cards to the University of Guelph's barcoding lab, which provided positive identifications in as little as four hours.
Export market potential
Aalbers looks forward to having the technology provide a marketable advantage for the Ontario greenhouse industry.
"From a research perspective, we're working towards having a handheld DNA barcoding unit growers can use right in the greenhouse," he says. In simple terms, they would put a pest in the unit and it would instantly kick out the name of the species.
The handheld unit also has great potential at the Canada/U.S. border. Ontario growers annually export approximately $300 million worth of flowering plants into the U.S. Currently, if border security guards spot a pest they don't recognize, they must send it to an entomologist in New York City for identification.
"Essentially, the shipment is sent back to the grower. You can't afford to have a truck sit for four days with flowers in the back and wait for an answer," says Aalbers.
With the handheld unit, the response time would be shortened to four or five hours. Quicker pest identification will mean shipments can pass through without delay and potentially increase revenues for Ontario growers.
Aalbers says it will be a few more years before the handheld units become reality. He recognizes the industry has come a long way thanks to this project. "We're getting there, it's just a matter of keeping the work going."
This project received support from Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
New program has food and beverage manufacturers "Managing for Success"
Ontario's food and beverage manufacturing sector is a crucial component in the province's agricultural industry. The sector employed more than 94,000 people at more than 3,000 companies and contributed $9.9 billion to the province's Gross Domestic Product in 2011.
Despite its size and breadth, approximately 70 per cent of the sector consists of small to medium-sized enterprises - individual companies with fewer than 50 employees. Many successful businesses start small and develop over time, so they do not always think about planning and training for long-term business success.
That's where Managing for Success comes in. This business development program from the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors (AOFP) is designed to increase the use of best management practices in the sector, and is funded through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The AOFP is a non-profit association of food and beverage processing companies and industry organizations.
"Managing for Success has been extremely valuable for Ontario's food and beverage industry," says John Cruickshank, project manager at AOFP. "The program is a cost effective way to help sharpen the business skills that manufacturers need to take their businesses to the next level."
Identifying knowledge gaps
The program, now in its third year, began with confidential, in-depth reviews of 40 Ontario food and beverage processors. These assessments were conducted by experienced business advisors who examined best management practices in eight different areas, from strategy and leadership to marketing, sales, human resources and operations.
We were able to gain a cross section of the industry, says Cruickshank. The business assessments revealed some significant strengths and some real weaknesses across the board.
For example, when the advisors delved into financial management, they discovered that more than two thirds of the businesses interviewed had basic financial tools such as a budget only because they were required by their financial institution.
Resources tailored to food and beverage processors
Armed with data, the program team was able to develop resources for addressing key challenges. But business advisors also identified a universal challenge: owners and managers are so busy with day-to-day plant operations that its difficult for them to undertake long-term planning or outside training.
To address the need for training, the team developed a series of educational opportunities for both managers and employees. Owners and senior managers were invited to attend an executive series of full-day sessions on areas such as strategic planning. Employees were invited to participate in partial day in-person workshops on subjects like branding and marketing, or webinars on specific topics such as point-of-sale marketing.
We know that food and beverage manufacturers dont have a lot of time to devote to training exercises and education so we tried to make each one relevant to their day-to-day business, says Cruickshank. We learned along the way that the more tangible we can make the items we offer, the better theyll be received.
While the strengths and weaknesses of businesses varied, interest in innovation was universal, says Cruickshank. And analysis revealed that entrepreneurial companies are particularly strong in innovation.
Innovation doesnt have to be a new product, Cruickshank says. It could be a new package, a process, or any way to drive costs out of the system. Thats what food and beverage processors seek most, and its what will keep them competitive.
The way forward
Following the initial 40 confidential in-depth business assessments, an additional 20 Managing for Success assessments will be finalized under the program by March 30, 2013. All 60 slots were filled in a matter of weeks, which Cruickshank says speaks to the demand for programs like this. Now that the Managing for Success brand has gained some traction within the sector, there is a growing interest in the resources available.
The program has also led to the creation of an industry working group, comprising representatives from academia, industry and government, to look at next steps. Cruickshank says partnerships will be key for any new initiatives developed in the future.
This program has been a success for the sector and I think it gives it an edge and some resources that directly impact the bottom line, Cruickshank says.
For more information about Managing for Success visit www.managingforsuccess.ca.
Entire value chain benefits from processing vegetable trials
All vegetables are not destined for the fresh food market. There is a strong industry in Ontario for processing vegetables - those grown specifically for the canned or frozen market. And ongoing research to determine if new vegetable varieties are suitable for this market is benefitting everyone involved in Ontario's processing vegetables value chain - from seed companies through to consumers.
For the past four years, researchers have been identifying and evaluating different varieties of peas, snap beans and sweet corn to determine the crops' suitability for processing, based on the growing conditions in Ontario. These trials are coordinated by the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers (OPVG).
"We are essentially looking for how various varieties of these crops work in the field," says Al Krueger, executive assistant for OPVG and trial coordinator. In 2011, the agronomic performance (including yield, crop quality, ease of harvest, heat tolerance and disease resistance) of more than 173 different varieties of peas, snap beans and sweet corn was tested by researchers at the University of Guelph's Ridgetown Campus and at Cornell University in Geneva, New York.
Third-party trials provide useful knowledge for the entire value chain. Seed companies can see how their varieties stack up; processors can confidently select new varieties to pack, and growers gain valuable production information. In the end, consumers benefit too - with access to high-quality local vegetables in step with food trends.
"Growing everything on the same spot allows us to assess how the varieties do when you take out some of the variables such as weather," says Krueger. "It's a means by which the industry is able to look at agronomic characteristics such as size or growing habit, the way the plant looks, which has an impact on ease of harvesting and, of course, yield."
Without the trials, there would be a huge information void about the growing characteristics of new varieties, which are constantly evolving to provide agronomic benefits (e.g. disease resistance, heat tolerance, higher yield) or end-user benefits (e.g. flavour, colour, shape or size).
"There is always something new out there," says Ridgetown's John Zandstra, the research horticulturist who coordinates the pea trials. "There are two or three varieties that we always use as industry standards. But I would say that at least 60 per cent of the varieties we test on any given year are vegetable varieties we've never seen."
Quality and yield potential
In 2012, Zandstra and his team tested 50 pea varieties sourced from six different seed companies. It's labour intensive yet important work for the cool climate crop that now exceeds 15,000 planted acres in the province - one of Ontario's largest processing vegetable crops.
"We take extensive notes on what time of season they come on; how they do under hotter conditions; and the size of the pea at maturity. Growers are particularly interested in knowing if varieties 'flare,'" says Zandstra referring to how quickly the pea matures. "If these varieties are mature at 10 a.m. then are over mature at 2 p.m. - it's a really tricky window that producers have to find."
This type of insight for growers is invaluable. "We can give them an idea of how the season will go and what the quality and yield potential is for them," says Zandstra.
It's ultimately the processors who decide what to grow, but growers also benefit from these trials, says Krueger. "Growers want information about what a third-party thinks a variety will do," he says.
An added benefit is that OPVG can use the information as a contract tool. "If we know from the trials that a particular variety has a characteristic that may impact on grower returns, then we can put something in the contract to address that issue."
Similar production notes for snap beans and sweet corn are collected in a well-established research program south of the border. There the OPVG taps into the expertise of researcher Jim Ballerstein at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station based at Cornell University.
"Geneva, New York has very similar growing conditions to Ontario," explains Krueger. "We wanted access to those results and the ability to put certain varieties in the trial."
The fact that cultivars grow well in the field doesn't guarantee they will also process well. However, the New York State trials are a little more extensive than those for peas because they follow through to the processing end, notes Krueger.
All of this testing and evaluation ultimately adds value for each member of the processing vegetables value chain.
"These trials will certainly play a key role in taking these new varieties from the field to the table," says Zandstra.
This project is supported by the Farm Innovation Program (FIP), a federal-provincial-territorial program under Growing Forward.
New resource provides training opportunity for multicultural workforce
Ontario's food processing sector provides meaningful employment opportunities for many Canadians - including those who are new to the country. Having a large and diverse employee population means making sure everyone knows and follows important safety and training procedures, no matter what language they speak.
A new project for Ontario's food and beverage processing partners led by the Ontario Independent Meat Processors (OIMP) promises to break down communication barriers in employee training. The project has led to the translation of key food handler training materials into nine languages - those most commonly spoken among food and beverage manufacturing employees across the province.
"Our businesses rely on the hard work of a large workforce that is sometimes not traditionally English-speaking," says Laurie Nicol, executive director of OIMP. "We saw the need to provide our standard training materials in a variety of languages to ensure the high standards in Ontario food and beverage processing facilities never suffer from a language barrier."
OIMP began the process by updating and translating Food Handler Training materials into French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Spanish, and traditional and simplified Chinese. The translated materials include an extensive range of resources, including a food safety pre- and post-test, workshop slides, student workbooks and examinations.
"The industry is currently experiencing a higher than average employee turnover rate, which means that continuous training must be available in an easily accessed self-directed learning course," says Nicol. "These multilingual materials and flexible delivery options will help keep Ontario's food processing workforce informed and up to date. This in turn will ensure a steady supply of safe and healthy food for Ontario consumers."
OIMP tested the materials within the meat industry by hosting a pilot workshop. In the post-test conducted by the 12 participants, food safety knowledge increased more than 50 per cent from the pre-test exercise. All participants performed very well on the course's final exam, with scores in the high 80s.
After the pilot training, workshops and webinars were offered to the broader food processing industry. To date, 279 food handlers (including workshop supervisors and Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs meat inspectors) have completed the food handling training. "On every single workshop, there is a noticeable improvement on pre- and post-tests," says Nicol.
She notes that improved awareness and knowledge of food safety is vital for reducing food safety risk. "This project has made it easier for us to communicate our high food safety standards with our highly diverse workforce, and that's great news for everyone."
Among the lessons learned, the industry discovered that webinars were not an effective way to deliver this type of training - and that in-person workshops provide the best training environment. The industry also worked with Toronto Public Health, and made some modifications to material to ensure the information was consistent and recognized by that organization.
OIMP is committed to enhancing the accessibility of food handler training to Ontario's food processing industry, and will continue to promote the program.
"Whatever the language, the message is the same - following established food handling practices ensures a healthy and safe food supply for Canadian consumers," Nicol says.
This project is funded through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, as part of the Food Safety and Traceability Education program.
Biosecurity and traceability technology advance a third-generation farm
Turkey production practices may change and evolve but a strong commitment to bird health and product quality remains unchanged. This is especially true at Hayters Farm a family-owned turkey operation in Dashwood, Ontario founded by patriarch Harry Hayter in 1948.
Today, Hayters grandchildren play a key role in making sure the 60-year-old operation maintains the highest standards and the farms technology keeps pace with business growth and consumer demands.
Its always evolving. As we grow, we find different areas where we can improve our processes, says grandson Sean Maguire, operations manager for Hayters Turkey Products. From one location and with 65 full-time employees, Hayters Farm operates a full value chain from the arrival of one-day-old poults to the finished consumer-ready product.
Maguires cousin Justin Hayter, who is a production lead for the livestock aspect of the business, explains the logistics involved.We are currently running 24 flocks through our barns, says Hayter. We have nine grow-out barns on location and three brooder barns. We get our poults at one day of age. We raise them until four weeks in our brooder barns and then we move them to our grow-out barns and they stay there until theyre 16 weeks old and ready to market.
Proactive approach to bird health
Thats a lot of turkeys to keep track of 162,000 birds annually to be exact. One tool that has helped Hayter keep a close eye on bird health over the past three years is the use of water meters hooked up to Platinums (essentially, special computers for the barn).When something goes wrong with the birds, they go off water right away, he explains.Every morning we check the daily consumption. If we see that water intake has dropped, it can be an early sign of a health problem. So we can be proactive and catch it before there is a big issue, says Justin.
Funding through Growing Forwards biosecurity initiative allowed for the purchase of this technology. We are very fortunate for these grants because this equipment is very expensive, says Hayter.We appreciate the government being proactive and making sure that animal health and food safety are top priorities.
The monitoring system also has the capability to electronically weigh the feed tanks something Hayter hopes to include in his knowledge arsenal in the future. If the birds ever went off feed, that would be another flag that something was wrong, he says.
Sophisticated traceability system
Knowledge is equally important on the processing side, which has evolved considerably since the plant started in 1984 as a whole-bird processing facility and became federally inspected in 1990.
In the last five to 10 years, we have really grown into the further processed side of the business, says Maguire. We are now making burgers, sausages and filets for the retail market. And thats what spurred the need to have sophistication in our traceability. Hayters Turkey products supply major food service distributors and also private label products for a regional supermarket chain.
Through the help of another Growing Forward project, Hayters developed their electronic food safety and traceability programs, including the purchase of a scale and scanners to help label and track the inventory. When they carried out a mock recall under the new system, they found the process to be streamlined and a whole lot easier.
We always had a recall system in place, but it required running multiple reports from different databases and then having to manually corroborate all that information. Now its all done at the click of a mouse, says Maguire.
Since implementing the digital system, he has witnessed other benefits, too.It gives us a better handle on our day-today production. We can track product flow and we can better cost analyze our process, he says. The driver for this project was food safety, but we have also benefited from the knowledge it provides. The more information we can have to look at our processes, the better.
Continuous improvements will help carry this 60-year family business of caring for turkeys and creating top-quality products well into the future.
Commitment to continuous learning puts Sunholm Farms at the top of the class
Owning and operating a busy farm that produces milk, beef, poultry, pork and eggs doesnt stop Grant and Pam Martin from taking the time to learn something new.
We strive to produce the best food possible and are constantly learning and improving our skills, says Grant.
The pair met while earning their honours degrees in agriculture at the University of Guelph in the late 1990s. Today, they own Sunholm Farms a certified organic dairy farm in Ethel, Ontario. The operation includes 65 dairy cows, as well as beef cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs and nearly 600 acres of crop, pasture and woodlots. Their meat and eggs are sold directly to consumers while their milk is processed and marketed through Harmony Organic.
In all that we do, we always strive to do a good job, says Grant, a recipient of two industry awards in the past year (see sidebar). The farms success is a combination of hard work and a commitment to continuing education. After we received our degrees, we wanted to keep learning.
After buying their farm in 2003, the Martins learned what it would take to become certified organic and received the designation in 2006. Transitioning the farm to organic wasnt difficult because it had been managed sustainably since the 1970s, says Grant. His late father, Lyle, was one of the founders of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario.
Growing Your Farm Profits
In 2008, the Martins continuing education took the shape of a Growing Your Farm Profits workshop funded by Growing Forward. The two-day session delivered by the local Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association helped the Martins assess their farm management practices and prioritize their business goals.
After completing the workshop, we were able to access cost-share funding for advisory services to help develop an action plan, says Grant. The couple worked with Carl Moore, a farm advisor from Woodstock, Ontario, and appreciated the combination of agriculture knowledge and business savvy that he brought to the table.
Grant praises Moore for bringing a fresh perspective to the farm business. He gave us many new ideas as well as information that helped us in the decision-making process, says Grant, who worked with Pam to weigh each option. Marketing organic livestock and diversifying some of their farming enterprises were two changes suggested by Moore that have had positive impacts.
Crunching numbers was also part of Moores job, including farm financial ratios such as solvency, profitability and debt. He now follows up on an annual basis to help the Martins gauge their progress and often offers new ideas that sometimes spark the need for more skill development.
Developing skills off the farm
With additional cost-share funding through Growing Forward, Grant has been able to pursue other educational opportunities, including a cheese-making course in British Columbia.
I learned a lot about cheese making during those three days, he says. But I also learned that I dont want to be a cheese maker. While some of the milk produced on the Martin farm is destined to become cheese, Grant leaves that job up to established organic cheese makers.
Grant also participated in a pasture management course in Alberta, bringing home valuable tips and techniques that he has put to use on the farm. It was a good seminar with a really good teacher, he recalls. Pasturing plays an important role at Sunholm Farms. We not only want to protect our environment, but to improve it. Grass farming and pasturing is the best way to achieve this goal, says Grant.
The Martins believe that organic and pastured agriculture must play an important role in the future of the planet. We strive to create a farm that is sustainable. This means providing for and nurturing the next generation of our family, our crops and our animals, he says.
Pam and Grants four young sons already play active roles on the farm. The Martins are currently in the process of succession planning yet another new knowledge area for the couple. With a succession plan in place, they can be assured that opportunities will be available for their boys and that passion for learning will undoubtedly be passed on.
Veterinary technician students put biosecurity knowledge to work
Biosecurity is fast becoming a household word. Ensuring that best practices for biosecurity are followed is a shared responsibility among all participants in any value chain. A group of second-year college students working towards becoming Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) have been given a unique opportunity for hands-on learning about the role they can play.
In Ontario, RVTs are governed by the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). It was the forward-looking approach of this association with the collaboration of Growing Forward, a federal-provincialterritorial initiative that started the process of offering interested student veterinary technicians a hands-on biosecurity experience with large animal veterinarians.
After a successful pilot project with 10 Georgian College veterinary technician (VT) students about three years ago, the OAVT applied for Growing Forward funding to offer a large animal externship in the 11 accredited VT colleges across Ontario.
The goal of the new program was simple: connect VT students with large animal veterinarians for a 10-day externship (practical training opportunity) where students would learn basic knowledge and best practices about biosecurity. The program was offered over two years, to two groups of applicants. Judging by the number of students successfully completing their field study, the new learning opportunity offered valuable professional development with 25 students in the first year and 28 in the second.
The externship provided an excellent opportunity for mutual learning between the students and the practitioners, says Rory Demetrioff, executive director and registrar with OAVT. Large animal veterinarians had the opportunity to work with potential hires, and have an extra set of hands. Students gained large animal field experience while testing out the biosecurity information they learned through a best practices manual we provided to participants.
The idea for the program evolved from discussions among biosecurity stakeholders government, veterinary profession and producer organizations. For large animal veterinarians, there are two distinct pools of biosecurity risks on farm and between farms that must be minimized with all available precautions. As increased biosecurity measures are required, RVTs were identified as a group of professionals that could play an important role, with proper training. Enter the externship approach.
The externship focused specifically on biosecurity a topic that is generally recognized as becoming increasingly vital for agriculture. It was important to focus the externship on a specific area to help set up expectations about what the students were there to learn more about, says Demetrioff.
A manual of biosecurity best practices gave students some theoretical background that they could discuss with the veterinarian and experience in practice during their 10 days in the field.
OAVT coordinated the two-year program, available to any final year VT student attending an accredited college in Ontario.
Interested students completed a formal application to participate in the program and, if accepted, were provided with an overview of basic biosecurity principles and best practices.
OAVT compiled a list of large animal veterinarians across the province who had expressed interest in taking part in the externship program. Selected students were provided with the list and encouraged to make their own connections directly with potential placements. Program funding was provided to participating students to cover the costs of relocating for their 10-day externship.A daily stipend was provided to the veterinarians.
Interest was quite high in the program, says Demetrioff. This program was just one spoke in a big wheel that is animal health care delivery. We felt it was extremely important to demonstrate the role that RVTs can play in biosecurity in large animal practices, and were committed to finding a way to keep this program running.
As a provincial association and regulatory body for Registered Veterinary Technicians in Ontario, OAVT must continually find new ways for RVTs to contribute to veterinary medicine delivery. As food production needs change, there is expected to be an ongoing need for high quality veterinary care professionals. And 10 days spent in the field is helping Ontario graduates become better qualified veterinary technicians with these additional skills in biosecurity.
In the past six years, a total of $310 million was invested in the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) in Ontario, including 22,000 completed on-farm projects and 13,000 farm businesses that participated in an EFP workshop and completed peer-reviewed action plans. What is most notable is that 66 per cent of investments in these environmental improvement projects were contributed directly by farmers (Source: OSCIA, from April 2005 through December 2011).
For Stan and Barb Van Deuren, who co-own (with their son, Jeff) a mixed livestock farm in Coldstream, Ontario, the EFP and its associated cost-share programs enabled them to undertake projects that improved not only their farm but the environment also. The Van Deurens own Bowood Farms an operation with 2,200 finishing hogs,150 red veal calves and 850 acres in corn, soybeans and wheat.
In early 2009, when the Van Deurens signed up for an EFP workshop, they were looking for ways to improve their on-farm fuel storage system and address soil erosion concerns on their farm. But what they got was a whole lot more. The two days they spent at the formal EFP workshop sessions were just the beginning of an extensive process that would see them examine and improve other environmental and business practices on their farm.
The EFP workshop gave us a better understanding of the environmental concerns on our farm, and the need to find the best solution to address these risks, says Barb Van Deuren.
Over the course of the workshop they completed a farm review, identified areas of concern, developed an action plan and prepared emergency plans for their operation. We discovered other areas that needed to be addressed, including decommissioning an old dug well and improving our two current wells, says Barb.
Improvements identified through the EFP process may be eligible for cost-share funding through the associated Canada- Ontario Farm Stewardship Program (COFSP). Both EFP and COFSP are supported by
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through Growing Forward,a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
In early 2010, the Van Deurens received COFSP funding to complete the following key projects they had identified through the EFP process. They also applied for additional funding from the Upper Thames River Conservation Authoritys Clean Water Program.
A natural depression in the landscape was carrying off valuable soil when heavy rains hit the Van Deurens crop land. Cost-share funding from COFSP helped them hire a professional contractor to reshape, grade and seed a new grassed waterway for effective erosion control. Improving the slope of the waterway, adding a berm to reduce flow speed and the addition of grass all help slow the water flow, allowing excess water to be absorbed into the ground.
New farm well
The Van Deurens identified concerns with sand and silt leaking through their well casing into their tap water, so they were able to access funding support to drill a new well, and seal and cap off their old well. These improvements have delivered a well that operates much more efficiently and an improved, consistent water source for the farm family.
Fuel storage system
Through the EFP workshop, the Van Deurens identified a number of improvements to be made to their fuel storage system including the distance the tanks were located from buildings and waterways. They turned to their fuel supplier, Hensall District Co-operative, for advice and assistance to construct a coverage storage unit that now houses three new fuel tanks and adheres to current regulations. The new permanent structure is conveniently located close to their equipment shop and provides easy access for their supplier for refilling.
A helping hand
There is no question that the EFP workshop and opportunity to access cost-share funding from COFSP provided a great jumpstart for our on-farm improvements, says Barb. Like any business manager, investments must be weighed for cost-benefit and compared to other priorities. We tend to complete projects first that will generate more farm income or lower farm expenses, but with the support of COFSP we were able to address other priorities which benefit the farm and the environment.
With EFP and the associated COFSP, the Van Deurens also benefited from using professional services people with expertise in specific project areas to get the job done faster than if they had to find the time themselves.
Keeping grass healthy, green and chemical-free is an ongoing challenge for Ontario landscapers and homeowners who are dealing with increases in common grass-destroying weeds and pests in many parts of the province.
New research from Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is taking a holistic approach to turfgrass health by developing a better understanding of what lawns need to be healthy, including tools that use natural organisms to fight natural predators.
A lawn is a functioning, living breathing organism, and has specific requirements to be at its healthiest, says Michael Brownbridge, a researcher at the centre.
When weeds move in, theyre taking advantage of a weakness that already exists. Our work on biopesticides and other turf management practices allow us to take a preventative rather than curative approach.
Brownbridge is working with Pam Charbonneau from OMAFRA to test biopesticides which are based on naturally occurring microorganisms, nematodes and plant-derived products to assess how effective they can be in fighting common turfgrass problems such as white grubs, chinch bugs and various weeds. The researchers have seen variable success with a number of products that are already on the market, and through their research have produced some tangible results the lawn care industry and homeowners can use today.
Were looking at existing bio-control agents because the industry needs tools for the very near term, Brownbridge says. There is good information to suggest combining bio-control agents is better, and now were experimenting with different delivery techniques and treatments.
Living organisms and products require more user management than traditional broad-spectrum pesticides, Brownbridge says. Nematodes, for example, are living organisms that lawn care providers spray onto grass. To ensure good performance, applications should be preceded and followed by irrigation to help move the beneficial control down into the soil where pests such as white grubs live. Similarly, applications of nematodes can effectively control chinch bugs, and also require irrigation before and after treatment, especially during the hot, dry months when chinch damage is rapidly evident.
Other products, including a corn gluten/ neem tree seed product have worked as an effective pre-emergent herbicide and fertilizer. Now the researchers are learning what they can about the best time to apply biopesticides, and how these natural products can impact common pests at various stages in their life cycle.
The research really requires a better understanding of the insects physiology, behaviour and lifecycle, Brownbridge says. They behave differently and respond differently at various ages.
Getting all of these parameters lined up is tricky, but necessary if these products are going to work. White grubs, for example feed on the fibrous roots of turf grasses. Young white grubs tend to live closer to the soil surface, whereas the older grubs go deeper and are more difficult to reach with any surface-applied treatment. Soil temperature is also important. Nematodes work best at soil temperatures over 12°C. This means that applications of nematodes should (ideally) be made in the late summer/ early fall, when grubs are more susceptible, easier to reach and soil temperatures are conducive to infection.
Other pests, such as the hairy chinch bug, feed at the base of the grass stem primarily, when grasses are water-stressed and summer temperatures are highest. But they can be dealt with; its a matter of selecting the right nematode or other product, or combination of the two, says Brownbridge, whose work this year will include testing a range of new biopesticides that may fit within a chinch management program.
In many cases, the sooner biopesticides are applied to a lawn, the more effective they can be at preventing common pests from thriving and weakening grass, Brownbridge says. Our immediate focus is on getting effective lawn care solutions into the hands of lawn care providers, and we have the cooperation of companies and individuals as we work toward that goal.
The work is supported in part by organizations such as the Ontario Turfgrass Research Foundation, Landscape Ontario, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through its AgriScience Research Cluster Program, the Cosmetic Use Pesticide Research and Innovation Program and Growing Forward.
Through Growing Forward, the governments of Canada and Ontario invested $15.6 million over five years in Vineland Research and Innovation Centre to coordinate and deliver commercialization opportunities to the horticulture sector, including faster access to new plant varieties that will help producers remain innovative and competitive.
He may have reached an age when most Canadians are considering retirement, but at 65, Lambton County grain farmer Bryon Sparling is just hitting his stride. His father farmed until he was in his 90s, and Bryon suggests as long as he remains in good health, he wouldnt mind doing the same.
But Bryon also knows the value of planning ahead for the day when he will be ready to move away from the day-to-day business of the farm, and put it into good, capable hands. He and his family have already taken some initial steps to prepare for that time.
Bryon and his wife Dorothy farm 740 acres of corn, seed soybeans and seed wheat. Until 2006, they also raised turkeys and had a beef feedlot. As a young child, Bryons first chore with his father was collecting turkey eggs on the farm. With his uncle and cousins farming across the road, there was always an extra hand to help on either farm when it was needed.
For the Sparlings, the farm is very much a family affair with a proud history of four generations working the land. Their two daughters, Dorinda and Bonita, began helping on the farm when they were young, made possible by the familys decision to home school. The girls accompanied Dorothy when meals were brought out to the fields, and would often join their father or grandfather in the tractor and combine.
The girls got to know the sounds of the equipment at an early age, Bryon says. They would sit beside my dad on the buddy seat while he worked, and later when his vision started failing they were able to help by taking over at the wheel.
Dorinda remains Bryons go-to employee for helping to operate the farms combine and payloader. She recently returned to the home farm after her grandfathers passing. In 2010 she married her husband Mike, who has taken a major role in maintenance, crop storage and grain shipping. Although Mike and Dorinda have full-time, off-farm jobs hes a mechanic and she works with special needs children their goal is to make the family farm their main Bryon Sparling and his young grandchildren occupation, supplemented by their current professions.
In November 2010, Bryon participated in a Growing Your Farm Profits workshop. This two-day event focusing on the business side of farm operations provided valuable information about farm succession planning.
The program came along at a very appropriate time for us, Bryon says. The facilitators gave us different scenarios around transitioning our farm to the next generation. Some of the scenarios will work for us, and some wont, but it gave us a much broader picture and initiated the transitioning process.
Many farmers have found the Growing Your Farm Profits program useful in helping to establish transition plans that outline a schedule for transferring farm ownership and workload to a family member. For the Sparlings, there is no specific timeline for those milestones. We have a direction, but not a detailed plan, Bryon says, noting the couples have reviewed and agreed to the goals for their farm, including a commitment to financial support for their other daughter, Bonita, who is involved in church missions overseas.
I found real value in having experts walk us through different situations, such as estate freeze and transfer, he says. They did a great job of presenting the options in a variety of ways so we could think it through clearly and complete our estate freeze by year end 2011.
For now, Bryon is establishing a flow that works his daughter and son-in-law into the family business while they also focus on their infant twins at home. Mikes contributing mechanical and methodical strengths, and Dorinda functions in a support role during the busy planting and harvesting seasons. Bryon continues to manage the wellestablished sales and supply relationships within his agri-business community. Bryon is mindful that asking Mike and Dorinda to absorb four generations of farm knowledge can get overwhelming. They will continue to maintain their off-farm careers, with the flexibility to step in to help on the farm when necessary.
Mike and Dorinda are being incorporated into the business as it fits, and I have peace of mind knowing theyll step up when theyre needed, says Bryon. Were a team working together, and its working for us.
Food Safety and Traceability: On the Farm
Environmental Farm Plan
Business Development Workshops Help Families Evaluate Their Farm Businesses
Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre Delivers Expertise and Connections to Growing Ag-based Businesses
Food safety and traceability are the latest best practices on many Ontario farms. Everyone shares responsibility for the food produced in Ontario, and a current Growing Forward federal-provincial-territorial initiative makes it clear that primary producers are ready and eager to participate.
When the Food Safety and Traceability Initiative was introduced to encourage safe food practices on-farm and at the food processor level, the interest was overwhelming in Ontario. Designed to encourage adoption of voluntary food safety programs and traceability practices, these two producers saw instant benefits for their farm businesses.
Better Bins Keep Market Options Open
For John Hordyk, improving food safety practices is a way of securing markets for his apple and pear crops. He sells his crops through two local packers, who in turn sell exclusively to the Loblaw grocery chain.
"We are competing on a global market as orchard growers, and I'm always upgrading my farm to meet global demands," says Hordyk, whose GraceView Orchards in Port Burwell, Ontario is home to 40 acres of apples and 20 acres of pears. "And if I want to ship to Loblaw, I have to store my apples and pears in plastic bins."
Hordyk knew the container change was coming, and would require replacing his existing wooden bins with easier to clean plastic ones. Food safety was not a new concept for him, so it was an easy decision when he signed up for a food safety workshop last year as part of the Food Safety and Traceability Initiative (FSTI) under Growing Forward.
Through the workshop and resulting action plan, Hordyk focused on the new container requirements for his apples and pears, and was able to access cost-share funding to help him purchase 200 of the estimated 500 bins he'll require for his annual crop.
"I strongly believe Canada is on top of food safety and traceability, and the products we grow are world-class quality," says John Hordyk.
Food safety has always been a practice on the farm, and now we have the documentation to improve accountability, says John Hordyk, whose product appears on Loblaws shelves.
Alana Zadow also knows that food safety starts at the farm level. So when she learned about the Food Safety and Traceability Initiative, she jumped at the chance to improve some aspects of the 35-acre sheep farm she operates with her husband Paul in Eganville, Ontario.
After reviewing the application and guidebook, the Zadows decided to concentrate on traceability of their growing flock.
For us, the timing couldnt have been better, says Alana. We are not a large operation 51 ewes right now but were growing and feel its important to keep current on new practices, she says. One of those practices is the RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tagging system coming into effect in 2012.
Were still at a scale that allows us to learn as we go, rather than jumping into new practices with a large flock, says Alana. Resources are at a premium for this farm couple. They both have full-time, off-farm jobs and work hard to maintain their growing herd. As part of the traceability plan, the Zadows purchased a RFID-compatible sheep management software program, an RFID wand to read electronic tags and carry information back to computer, and a handling chute and tilt table to improve sorting for tagging and shipping as part of the cost-share element of FSTI.
The computerized records make life much easier as our flock grows, producing reports in a moments notice, rather than it being an all-day job, she says. The purchase of these items has made a huge difference in the amount of time we have to deal with other farm-related issues.
Traceability wasnt a new idea for the Zadows. They already had biosecurity measures in place including a tagging system, signage and clean footwear. And the health and welfare of their animals has always been a top priority. The cost-share element with the food safety and traceability program allowed the Zadows to invest in larger items they may have otherwise foregone because of budget constraints. For a relatively small investment (just over $3,000 through the program), the Zadows were also able to reduce the overall time required to maintain the flocks health.
This project has made our farm operation easier to manage and easier to grow, says Alana and Paul Zadow, who operate a 35-acre sheep farm near Eganville, Ontario.
The 228 companies interviewed for a recent evaluation of the impact and value of food safety and traceability programs reported dual benefits - improved food safety practices (expected) and a boost to the business bottom line (unexpected).
Food safety benefits:
When a major Canadian grocery retailer announced in 2009 that all shippers, packers and producers needed an audited food safety program, Adrian Huisman, Manager of the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers' Marketing Board, knew many of his producers were going to need some support to meet this requirement.
"Approximately 100 tender fruit and grape growers had implemented the CanadaGAP program and been successfully audited," says Huisman. "When we surveyed the other 300 tender fruit growers, who had yet to complete the instruction and audit process, we found that they needed help."
The CanadaGAP Program is an on-farm food safety program developed by the horticultural industry. The program is administered and maintained by the Canadian Horticultural Council. Audit and certification services are delivered by accredited third parties. The program was built around the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), the internationally-recognized food safety management system.
The Ontario Tender Fruit Producers' Marketing Board applied to the Food Safety and Traceability Education (FSTE) Program for support in developing member education and outreach initiatives. The FSTE Program is one of the Best Practices suite of programs under Growing Forward, a federal, provincial, territorial initiative.
"Increasingly having an audited food safety program is just part of doing business," says Huisman. "Without it, you lose market access. We have the programs and the materials, now we need to help get everyone to the same level. It's the right thing to do."
The Ontario Asparagus Grower's Marketing Board is the oldest board in the province. Ontario's 120 asparagus growers want to make sure they have a certified food safety and traceability program that meets the needs of their retail and food service customers as they develop alternatives to the fresh market.
With support from the Food Safety and Traceability Education Program, the board is doing the necessary research for a gap analysis. The information will then be used to develop a comprehensive traceability template, as well as standard operating procedures and protocols, which the entire value chain can use, from grower to grading station to processor.
"The system must be affordable, scalable to the size of grower and complements other on-farm operations and products. It also has to be simple to implement for it to be adopted", says Marvin Karges, Executive Director for the Board.
The Producer to Processors Readiness Program will also support the development of training and implementation resources for food safety and traceability.
The Ontario Independent Meat Processors (OIMP) applied to the Food Safety and Traceability Education Program for support to redevelop its Food Handler Training Manual as a workshop or as a webinar.
"Attending a full-day workshop or webinar requires a bit more commitment," says Laurie Nicol, OIMP Executive Director, "but participant interaction reinforces and intensifies learning."
The food industry is a multi-ethnic industry. The OIMP is translating the workshop training resources and examinations into eight languages - French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Polish, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese. "There is a critical need to make training accessible to non-English-speaking workers," she says. "We can improve overall food safety if we provide the information to workers in the language in which they are most comfortable."
A Sound Investment
EFP Drives Continuous Improvements
Allan Beehler's first step to improving environmental practices on his farm was easy. He opened his mailbox.
About 10 years ago, this Crysler, Ontario dairy farmer responded to an invitation in the mail to attend a meeting about a grant program for manure storage. And what started as manure management improvements grew over the years to include energy conservation practices, erosion control measures and fuel storage upgrades.
Beehler is a big advocate for the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) program. He participated in some of the earliest EFP workshops in the province, designed to help farmers identify the potential impacts of their current farming practices.
"You don't realize your practices could have an environmental impact before going through the workshop," says Beehler, who operates Nine Mile Farms with his wife Angela, their three children and his father. They milk 220 cows, farm about 750 acres and employ two full-time employees.
After completing the initial EFP workshop, Beehler quickly identified key areas for improvement on his farm. "There were a lot of things that I learned through the EFP process that I could be doing better," he says. "And as soon as you are made aware of them - and there is a financial support - you get it done."
Improvements identified through the EFP process may be eligible for a cost-share funding through the associated Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program (COFSP). Records for COFSP show that for every $1 invested by the program, producers spend an average of $2 of their own money.
High-efficiency Lighting, Better Barn Fans
More efficient lighting has translated into improved efficiencies in Beehler's herd and a significant reduction in energy consumption. "We're using 50 per cent less power for lighting."
Installing bigger, more efficient fans in his dairy barn has also brought big energy savings and improved the efficiency of the herd in the heat stress of summer. "The cows aren't losing any productivity or fat from heat stress, and the new fans use 75 per cent less power than our older box fans to do the same job."
Manure Storage, Improved Nutrient Management
Managing manure storage can be an expensive proposition, but one that can represent one of the biggest potential liabilities on a farm from the standpoint of environmental impact. Through the EFP process, Beehler recognized the potential environmental risks his manure storage practices posed. He received cost-share funding support to build a concrete manure storage and has reduced the farm's use of earthen lagoons from three to one. "Manure storage is a big concern and the environmental risk is much less now."
The plan never ends for Beehler. He regularly consults his EFP workbook and can't say enough good things about the opportunities the program has made possible on his farm.
The EFP is a risk assessment tool that encourages farmers to incorporate best environmental practices in all their farming activities. They develop an individualized plan of action to address potential concerns identified through the EFP process, and may elect to have their plan reviewed confidentially by a peer review committee. Farmers with peer-reviewed plans that are deemed appropriate may be eligible to apply for cost-share funding from the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program (COFSP). Funding helps support the adoption of best management practices that are new to the farm business, and contribute to water and air quality, improved soil productivity, enhanced wildlife habitat or result in energy conservation.
Safe, clean water is a priority in any livestock operation, says Stan Osawamick (right) pictured here with Margaret Manitowabi and OSCIA representative Mary Scott (left). The EFP workshop was an excellent opportunity to look at the water sources on the farm to make sure they were managed properly.
Although Ron Downey was involved in developing the national biosecurity standard for poultry operations in Canada - and has implemented a comprehensive program at his family's King Cole Ducks in Aurora, Ontario - he knows biosecurity is a tough sell to non-regulated producers and backyard enthusiasts.
"It's easy to get the regulated producers involved because they are organized and identifiable," he says. But the non-regulated group is as diverse as the types of birds they raise, including commercial operations like King Cole Ducks, pheasants, racing pigeons and bird fanciers.
Making biosecurity matter may be the biggest hurdle. But Downey has some ideas about where to start. There's the obvious economic angle. "Contagious, infectious disease is a real threat to our economy," says Downey. And that disease threat can be spread just as easily from large supply managed operations as from a small hobby flock. "You shouldn't be raising birds outside, it's a risk and they may be vulnerable to contagious disease from wild birds."
According to Downey, adding some simple and basic measures to help smaller operations and hobbyists implement biosecurity measures doesn't have to be complicated. "Keeping flocks under cover in a wire enclosure, isolated from the outside, is an easy start. And limiting direct access to birds will reduce the chance of disease spread," says Downey.
If backyard operations need extra incentive to adopt even the simplest of biosecurity measures, Ron Downey has some ideas for what might help make it matter. "We've all chosen to be involved with birds because of what they do for us", says Downey. "Whether it's an emotional connection as a fancier or a business operation, we are responsible for the welfare and well being of the creatures we raise, and I believe that the national standards is in the best interests of the animal."
Biosecurity Without Borders: The case for implementing standards on all poultry operations across Canada
From Bill Woods' perspective, the appeal of biosecurity measures for non supply managed operations also comes down to economics. Woods is a broiler producer from Belwood, Ontario, past chair of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario and was an active participant on the avian biosecurity advisory council in the early days of developing biosecurity standards.
"There is an economic return to biosecurity for non supply managed operations too, it just may be on a smaller scale. It comes down to the amount of time and energy operators are willing to spend on biosecurity," he says.
Even so, Woods cites simple biosecurity procedures, like changing boots and coveralls before going into barns, are almost as effective as showering in and out. "For non supply managed flocks, there are a lot of low cost or no cost procedural changes that have a huge benefit that may affect the economics of their operation."
Through Growing Forward, poultry producers in Ontario (large, small supply managed and non) can attend a farm biosecurity workshop to help identify on-farm risks, develop an action plan and may be eligible for cost-share opportunities. More information is available at www.omafra.gov.on.ca under Growing Forward programs.
Business Development Workshops Help Families Evaluate Their Farm Businesses
Sue and Ken McLarty are like many other baby boomer farmers. Retirement is coming closer, and their 20-something kids are firmly on the fence about whether they want to carry on the farm's family tradition.
The McLartys operate a mixed field crop operation near Ridgetown, Ontario. They own 600 acres, custom farm another 300 acres and farm an additional 500 acres with a business partner. White beans, corn, soybeans and wheat make up their crop rotation.
"We took over the farm from Ken's father, who hadn't expected anyone in the family to farm, so the operation was not kept as current as it could have been," says Sue.
An important step for the McLarty's farm business plans was attending a Grow Your Farm Profits (GYFP) workshop in December 2009. After the workshop, Sue and Ken developed an action plan for their farm, reviewed it with the OSCIA workshop leader, and with an approved plan were then eligible to apply for cost-share funding.
The McLartys identified three goals in their action plan to help strengthen their farm business - update computer records, explore opportunities for alternative energy on the farm and develop an exit strategy for retirement.
Sue wanted to update the computer record with a new accounting package. They applied for cost-share funding to have a trainer come to the farm for one day to quickly teach Sue the ins and outs of the program. "Our books are now aligned with the program our accountant uses, and having the trainer come to the farm eliminated a lot of stress and frustration in learning a new program."
Sue and Ken had been thinking about the advantages of green energy for a number of years and now are building a free standing solar panel on their farm. "It's created a new income stream for the farm," says Sue. "We'll be paid more for the energy we create and sell back to the grid, than what we pay for the energy we use on the farm."
Succession planning can be a touchy subject for any farm family. "The workshop really brought issues out into the open for us, and started the dialogue with our family," says Sue. And while they haven't done a lot with it, their "exit strategy" is on the table and they have a goal to retire by 2019.
"Although we don't know if any of our three children want to be involved, we want to keep the farm as a viable and profitable business," say the McLartys.
Before the GYFP workshop, Glen Ackroyd admits that farm business management basically meant paying the bills and having some left over. "I always knew there was more to it, but the lingo and time and ability to look at the bigger picture was just not a possibility for a small operation like mine," says Ackroyd, who owns and operates Ackroyd's Honey in Tara, Ontario.
"I always thought I had to do it all," says Ackroyd. "The program inspired me to me build a circle of professionals to help me organize my business and then grow it in a logical direction."
For Ackroyd, success means having goals and prioritizing them. Once he had gone through the workshop and developed an action plan for his honey operation, he quickly identified three goals - documenting the strengths and weaknesses of his business, attending a North American industry-specific event and hiring a business specialist.
"Beekeepers have had serious challenges keeping their hives alive for the past several years, and attending an event with industry specialists from around the world with a single focus of 'keeping the hives alive' was invaluable to my business," says Ackroyd.
He's also hired a specialist to advise him on where he should take his business.
Through the process of building an action plan for his farm business, Ackroyd realized his operation has created some high risk situations. "The program helps us ask the 'what if' questions. Too much of my business is in my head and not communicated to those around me. I've opened up the communication channels between key parties that will help take my business to the next level, including my spouse, financial advisor, employees, customers and suppliers."
By stepping back and seeing his operation from a different perspective, Ackroyd has diversified his business to ride out fluctuating prices and focus on profitability. "To be successful, I know now we must start with a goal," says Ackroyd. "This program helped us build our own unique goals."
There's no question in Glen Ackroyd's mind that attending the Grow Your Farm Profits workshop has helped his business and his outlook.
When Kim and Chris Hall bought his father's apple farm in 1996, they had a plan geared towards getting financing, but that's where the plan's usefulness ended. Their 80-acre apple orchard near Brockville, Ontario got a great boost when they took the Grow Your Farm Profits workshop.
Aside from the content, the drive to and from the two-day workshop gave them uninterrupted time to get a lot of issues on the table. "We knew that our bookkeeping was our weak area going into the workshop, but this course highlighted how we could be more profitable by having up-to-date records that would also give us better knowledge leading up to a decision," says Chris.
"I learned in black and white what our problem areas were as well as our strengths," he says. Through role-playing and team-based work, the Halls also got a glimpse into the situations other participants were facing. They were reassured to know that other producers, regardless of the type of business, had some of the same problems. "Even though there were 20 different types of farm operations in the class, the course was broad enough to make it relevant for everyone."
Chris and Kim, along with their four children, operate a year- round farm market with a scratch bakery. They also sell apples wholesale to chain stores within a 100-mile radius of their farm. Business has changed tremendously since Chris's grandfather began the family apple business in 1947. The business model his father built has completely changed, and Chris and Kim are always seeking new products and ways to market their apple crop profitably. "We're not finished the whole business planning process yet, but we have defined timelines and attainable goals that are measurable and realistic," says Chris.
"More prosperous farmers across Ontario" - that's the goal of Dr. Peter Vander Zaag, a potato producer from Alliston, Ontario. It's a vision he believes can become a reality with the help of the newly launched Agricultural Management Institute (AMI) and its mandate to champion farm business management.
Vander Zaag is chair of the not-for-profit organization that stepped out on its own as a stand-alone institute. Part of AMI's mandate is to use Growing Forward funds to support projects to develop business management and risk management tools, products, information, resources and training for farm families, farm managers and farm business advisors.
"The big-picture plan is that we have much to do as far as helping Ontario farmers deal with the issues that are out there," says Vander Zaag. "The main thing is creating the awareness of the resources that are available and linking those resources to farmers - whether it's a resource from OMAFRA or Missouri State University or information about what they do with food labelling in England - whatever it is, we can help farmers by connecting them."
Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre Delivers Expertise and Connections to Growing Ag-based Businesses
If you have an entrepreneurial idea, are looking for startup capital or an expanded network to grow your business, the new Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre (ATCC) could be the best first call you make. The centre serves as a single point of contact for entrepreneurs, researchers and companies who are growing businesses in the cutting edge fields of agriculture and biotechnology.
Located in the University of Guelph Research Park, ATCC was initially formed in 2009 with three organizations - BioEnterprise Corporation, Soy 20/20 and Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT). Each ATCC organization offers specialized knowledge, market expertise and connections to help entrepreneurs find capital and increase their profitability.
"I'm able to offer expertise and advice to expansion companies, Dave is able to offer advice on the financing and start-up side, and Gord is able to offer it at 30,000 feet. We thought it was a logical fit to put us al together," says Jeff Schmalz, President, Soy 20/20.
Opening Doors to New Markets
With a profitable business already in place, bio-based polymer company Ecosynthetix needed new connections to expand its customer base to international locations. In the fall of 2008, CEO John van Leeuwen made an important first connection with the Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre (ATCC), and specifically Ontario Agri-Food Technologies (OAFT), an organization focused on business to business market retention and expansion.
"Our work with ATCC and OAFT helped us gain three large customers in three different countries," says van Leeuwen. "We were able to access direct financial assistance and in-kind services such as introductions to government agencies and speaking engagements at a number of different conferences."
At OAFT, van Leeuwen was quickly connected with Gord Surgeoner who introduced him to the Rapid Response to Business Opportunities (RRBO) program after learning about inquiries for Ecosynthetix's biolatex products from prospects in Brazil. van Leeuwen quickly wrote a two-page business case and submitted it to ATCC. "Within 10 days we received approval and financial assistance to help us send two people to Brazil to conduct business meetings and product qualification trials," says van Leeuwen.
This quick turnaround successfully landed the Burlington- based Ecosynthetix a large customer in Brazil, and identified opportunities to deal with subsidiaries of the same company in other countries.
"The biggest benefit for our business of the RRBO program was speed," says van Leeuwen. "The approval for money was completed in time for us to respond to opportunities." They applied again to the RRBO assistance program to help defray the high costs of overseas travel to successfully pursue projects in Indonesia and China.
"Without the RRBO program, it would have been significantly more difficult to land customers in Brazil, Indonesia and China," says van Leeuwen. Based on this experience, he expects an ongoing relationship with ATCC to evaluate where else they may be able to help Ecosynthetix grow its business.
"We're all here in the same place and can work things out for you very quickly. We are constantly passing off opportunities to each other," says Gord Surgeoner, President, Ontario Agri-Food Technologies.
It's still early days for Don Marentette's DM's Bio-Based Fluid Supply Inc. His Bolton, Ontario company sells a broad range of biodegradable, environmentally friendly lubricants to manufacturers and consumers, produced from oils including soy and canola. He's looking into options for manufacturing his line of biodegradable lubricants from Ontario-produced oilseeds, and building sales and exposure for his distribution company.
Marentette first connected with Soy 20/20 a few years ago because his products were made from soybean oil. Recently, he's developed a working relationship with Soy 20/20 to help build business connections and exposure for his bio-based lubricants.
"Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre (ATCC) has linked me to various groups such as the University of Guelph and the Bio-Auto Council, and arranged opportunities for me to make presentations to groups including OMAFRA," says Marentette. And since exposure and sales can be influenced by more than just business connections, ATCC also helped secure media coverage for Marentette in the automotive section of a national newspaper.
Marentette's connections with ATCC are ongoing, and have helped move his business further along the development continuum. He knows the funding required to take his manufacturing business to the next level will be his biggest hurdle.
"ATCC has given me exposure, which in turn has generated new business. However we still have a long way to go."
In business, the way to maintain a leadership position is to be more innovative, reduce costs and do things smarter. Thats what were all about here, says Dave Smardon, President and CEO, Bioenterprise Corporation.
Thousands of Canadians suffer from life-threatening nut allergies and consumers are demanding more peanut-free products. Hilton Soy Foods is answering the call, creating a soy product that tastes like peanut butter. Their innovation made the Mahon family regional winners of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation in 2008. When they needed a go-to-market strategy for their soy butter, the Agri-Technology Commercialization Centre (ATCC) and Soy 20/20 was a natural next step.
Mike Williams was contracted by Soy 20/20 to help the Staffa, Ontario company develop and execute a pricing, marketing and retail business building strategy initially for their Ontario business.
Williams helped the Mahons expand their distribution from a handful of contacts to a significant number of key retail outlets. "This is a great product so it wasn't hard for the Mahons to get going, but the next step was getting contracts from major distributors," says Williams, a retail marketing expert.
He focused on making retail presentations, and using mini samplers of soy butter as a merchandising tool. The Mahons created their own marketing, but through Soy 20/20 and Williams they received both expert advice and hands-on retail execution that helped them increase their chances of success. "I consulted on the type of in-store displays that are relevant to the retail industry, and acted as their eyes and ears in Ontario to link them with the retail trade," says Williams.
Soy 20/20 will lead some summer 2010 initiatives on the business including an aggressive plan to make sure that strong retail distribution is in place and subsequently to run a number of in-store sampling events. It is believed that trial-inducing opportunities on this excellent product will be key to its success - once consumers try it, they will return to buy it again!
The ATCC is part of the Innovation and Science Suite under Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
Greening Ontario's Highways
Vineland Research Project Offers Potential Win/Win for Horticulture Industry and the Environment
Imagine Ontario's highways lined with thriving, mature trees - removing heavy metals from the air and producing oxygen. Today's reality is that with the stressful environment along provincial highways, the average life of planted trees is virtually zero, but Dr. Hannah Mathers, Senior Research Fellow at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC) is working to change that.
Two Toronto interchanges - Highway 401 and the Allen Expressway as well as Highways 401 and 427 - were planted in April 2010 with hardy trees grown at VRIC. The survival of the plants will be evaluated throughout the next five years. The outcome could mean new methods for landscaping Ontario's highways and deliver profoundly positive effects on the horticultural industry for generations to come.
Traditionally, the bulk of the trees used along Ontario's highways have been produced out west in a completely different climactic zone. "To be able to source and advocate Ontario-grown material will have a huge impact on survival," Mathers says." It's also good to stimulate the industry, which is a major employer in Ontario."
Greening Ontario's Highways is just one of the many research projects being conducted at VRIC, an independent, not-for-profit, world-class centre for horticultural science and innovation located in Ontario's Niagara region. Through consultation with industry groups such as Landscape Ontario, the team at Vineland identifies industry priorities in the different commodity areas and sets about building research programs to address those priorities. Outcomes are focused on the growth of the entire horticulture industry.
The unique project - titled "Greening Ontario's Highways" - is being conducted by VRIC, with support from the federal-provincial-territorial initiative Growing Forward, Landscape Ontario and the Ministry of Transportation, in an effort to increase the survival of trees planted along highways.
Growing Forward is a commitment by Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments to support the development of a profitable, innovative agri-food sector that is adept at managing risk and responsive to market demands.
For more information on Growing Forward, please call 1-888-479-3931 or e-mail email@example.com