Agriculture Development Branch (ADB) 2015-2016 Successes

Enabling Innovation through Technology Transfer

The Agriculture Development Branch (ADB), a branch within the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) provides crop, livestock and business management technology transfer and advice to enable innovation and change to strengthen economic and environmental sustainability of a diverse agriculture sector.

Promoting opportunities for Ontario apple growers

Ontario apple growers

Collaborating with apple industry partners to share technical information, Dr. Jennifer DeEll, Fresh Market Quality Specialist, has helped Ontario apple growers to achieve new marketing opportunities.

Working with the Ontario Apple Growers and the Apple Marketers' Association of Ontario, Jennifer recognized an opportunity for the province's apple growers to increase their profit margins by accessing off-season markets.

Alongside industry partners in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, Jennifer collaborated on two large research projects. A national research project leveraged close to $700,000 in government and industry funding over five years. In addition, Ontario conducted a regionally-focused research project over two years, funding $95,195 to this research, of which 25% was provided by industry partners. (Partners and collaborators are listed below).

This research evaluated post-harvest handling and storage regimes and investigated new storage technologies to improve the retention of apples after harvest, including new apple cultivars. Jennifer used these research outcomes to create best management practice recommendations for producers to optimize commercial storage regimes. She worked collaboratively to share information with the sector through six reports, six posters and numerous newsletter articles and presentations. Jennifer also presented this research at Ontario's Fruit and Vegetable Conventions in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to audiences of more than 150 people each year.

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Local Hops are a Brewing Industry

Local Hops are a Brewing Industry

After almost a century, hops are re-emerging as a notable specialty crop in Ontario with a significant increase in growers and acreage occurring across the province over the last five years. Driving the demand is Ontario's craft beer industry that is looking for locally produced, high quality hops. Growers have responded by increasing mechanization and processing capacity, implementing a regional processing hub, and pioneering forward contracts with the brewing industry. The province has also seen the incorporation of the Ontario Hop Growers' Association (OHGA) within the last three years; an organization with a mandate to educate growers and promote Ontario hops to the brewing industry. Although acreage is still limited compared to other horticultural crops, the industry is poised to expand.

With the fast growth of the craft beer industry in Ontario, there is potential to create jobs and expand the market for Ontario-grown hops. ADB staff have been involved every step of the way to nurture this expanding industry. In addition to assisting the new and fairly inexperienced industry with agronomic information, staff have partnered on several research projects which has led to the successful identification and registration of over 20 pest control products (both organic and conventional). ADB staff have led the development and growth of the Great Ontario-Hopped Craft Beer Competition which provides a venue to connect growers and brewers while highlighting locally produced beer using locally-grown hops. From its start with 13 teams, the competition has grown in popularity, reaching capacity in record time and having to turn away registrants in 2016! The competition now expands to 18 teams for its fifth anniversary in 2017 and is already at capacity. Since Ontario's craft brewing industry is currently the largest buyer of Ontario-grown hops, developing this industry is key to providing a steady market for hops.
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Fishing for Opportunities in OMAFRA-U of G Aquaculture Workshops

Aquaculture Workshops

While fresh, locally-sourced food is becoming more important to consumers, Ontario rainbow trout farms can only produce enough stock to supply about half of the trout sold in Ontario. We are currently importing trout from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia and other countries to meet consumer demand. Rainbow trout is the main species farmed in Ontario, with 4,510 tonnes (9.9 million pounds) produced in 2015.

The aquaculture sector has been growing 15% a year for the past 30 years worldwide. However, aquaculture growth in Ontario did not increase between 1996 and 2013 for many reasons, including:

  1. Need for clear policy to enable aquaculture development in public waters.
  2. The need for regulatory reform of provincial aquaculture regulations.
  3. Lack of information on potential opportunities for aquaculture and aquaponics development in Ontario.

To address the lack of defined policy and need for regulatory reform, provincial and federal government agencies and the aquaculture sector worked to develop policy which would encourage the growth of aquaculture on public waters. Steve Naylor, Aquaculture and Aquaponics Specialist, has assisted with this process since 2003. This work has resulted in the Application Guide for Aquaculture on Public Waters being posted for comment on the Environmental Registry in the spring of 2016 which allowed for public and stakeholder groups' input on future policies that support the growth and potential investment in the sector.

To encourage further understanding of opportunities for aquaculture development, in 2010 Steve partnered with the University of Guelph to deliver the Getting Started in Aquaculture and Aquaponics workshop. Held four to five times a year at the Alma Aquaculture Research Station with about 24 attendees participating each time, the workshop provides hands-on learning about the industry. Participants learn to make informed decisions on whether to invest (or not invest) in aquaculture and aquaponic development opportunities in Ontario.

The cost to establish a commercial fish farm in Ontario is more than $1 million. Approximately one to two people out of each of Steve's aquaculture workshops considers establishing a commercial venture. About the same number decide to establish smaller scale, part time endeavours.

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Long Term Investment in Extension Strengthens Ontario's Dairy Industry

Ontario's Dairy Industry

Extension work often requires vision and patience to see your work pay off. As far back as 2000, the OMAFRA Dairy Team had a vision of a progressive, flexible, innovative dairy industry in Ontario that would lead the way in the adoption of technology to improve producer lifestyle, animal health and welfare and production. The vision was to position the Ontario dairy industry as the North American leader in the adoption of robotic and precision dairy technology. The nature of dairy farming means change does not happen quickly. With significant capital investment in equipment, land, quota, and cows, large scale change and investment in new technology usually requires investment in a new barn as well as the equipment after careful research and thought.

The cost for a robotic milking system in the early 2000s was about $200,000. The price is about the same today but current models have more advanced technology and provide significantly more production and cow data for the producer.

Robotic milking: maximizing profits

In 2002, the Dairy Team began to make their vision a reality by partnering with industry to organize the First North American Conference on Robotic Milking. Attended by 400 dairy farmers and industry members, the conference brought experts on robotic milking to Ontario to present information to our producers and led to regulatory improvements. It also featured exhibits by robotic milker manufacturers so producers talk to the manufacturers directly and get demonstrations of the models available.

As adoption of robotic milking increased, resources were developed to help producers manage these systems also called automatic milking systems (AMS). With roughly 10% of robotic milkers in the early 2000s being removed, information was needed to address management issues. The dairy team developed significant website content for producers fostering the use of herd management software and data available from robots to improve profitability and cow welfare on dairy farms.

Promoting new tools to improve cow welfare

In 2010, the OMAFRA Dairy Team again partnered with industry to deliver the First North American Conference on Precision Dairy Technologies. This conference, along with follow-up resources and events, promoted the adoption of precision technologies such as automatic calf feeders to improve the nutritional status of dairy calves. Electronic technology for individual animals is now able to track cow behaviour (activity) and rumen function which provides improved management opportunities to improve cow health and welfare.

Labour costs are a significant proportion of the cost of milk production and the availability of labour is often an issue for dairy farmers. Canadian dairy farms can achieve a 30% labour savings by adopting robotic technology, eliminating the need to be in the barn at fixed times seven days a week. This also makes the industry more attractive to younger producers.

In 2013, OMAFRA and the University of Guelph partnered through the Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) program to conduct a survey of 33 automatic milking system herds across the province to find out information on management, production and nutrition. This research provided Ontario dairy producers information that was specific to their needs and benchmarked the state of the industry.

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Soybean Industry
A strong foundation of collaboration

Soybean Industry

Field Crop Pathologist Albert Tenuta has built strong working relationships across Canada and internationally over his 25 years of working at OMAFRA. Albert's networks have opened up collaborative business opportunities for Ontario's soybean industry. Albert has always been keenly aware of global opportunities and works to ensure that Ontario growers are aware of sector trends and opportunities that can benefit their businesses.

Since 2014, Albert has worked with the Crop Protection Network (CPN), a regional network of land grant universities in the United States (US) and OMAFRA, which serves as the infrastructure for collaboratively creating crop pathology resources for the soybean industries in Ontario and the North Central States. Canada ranks as one of the major soybean producing countries, with a global reputation for both high quality and high yields. Unfortunately, yields in many of the major soybean countries, including Canada (especially Ontario), are reduced each year due to diseases, resulting in unnecessary losses to the producer and agriculture sector as a whole. The most recent published disease losses for Canada (2006) are 363,000 metric tonnes (13,338,072 bushels) at a potential conservative cost of more than $154,855,015 (Cash Price - $11.61 December 4, 2015) (Wrather et al, 2010, Plant Health Progress).

Working together to combat soybean disease

Albert is the only Canadian on the CPN team. He saw the CPN as a forum to collaborate with extension experts outside of Ontario to create a strong, unified message about soybean disease management. The CPN was created to provide unbiased, research-based information to farmers and agricultural personnel on how to combat emerging field crop disease problems in their fields. This project has been funded through the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) and the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP). The NCSRP program has funded the project at $58,000 per year in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) has provided $10,000 per year for Ontario's involvement. Without Albert's involvement with the CPN, the information produced by the team would not have been applicable to Ontario growers, and Ontario would have missed this opportunity to be part of a strong brand. Albert's partnership with US colleagues and his long history of working with the GFO and the NCSRP led to Ontario's participation in this project.

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