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Province recognizes on-farm innovation

Seven local Ontario farmers win the Premier’s Award for innovative ideas they’ve implemented


Guelph, Ont. – The winners of the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence program have more in common than the fact that they’re family farm operations.

They’ve all found innovative ways to add value to their businesses and give Ontario’s agri-food industry a boost.

The province announced the winners in June, with a celebration in Kingsville, Ont.

What makes them innovative

On-farm innovations help farmers provide more healthy food that is grown, processed and sold across the province. The winners and their innovations are:

• Dave Van Segbrook – Tupperville
The Chatham-Ken Daily Post says the farm created a new system for getting the best possible concentration of fertilizer for vegetable transplants is saving money and producing better plants. A precision injector is used to put an amount of fertilizer in transplanter water that is neither too much (burning the roots) nor too little (causing inadequate growth). A new electrical conductivity meter that shows a constant readout of salt levels, which helps workers monitor progress without having to leave their stations. As a result, plant yields are higher and fewer plants are lost to fertilizer damage.

• Jennen Family Farm Market – Thamesville
The Jennens, says the Post, have figured out how to lengthen the growing season; harvest in rain, sleet or shine; be environmentally responsible; and make a profit at their fruit and vegetable operation near Dresden. The farm includes seven acres covered in high tunnels, with room to expand over another five acres over the next two years. Irrigation is done from a three-million gallon pond of recaptured rain water. These improvements have meant better quality produce, increased yields, less chemical use, and a higher income per acre planted.

• Van Mar Farms Ltd. – Chatham
The Post says Mike Buis is always thinking creatively about how to do things better. When BSE was discovered in a Canadian cow in 2003, he got creative about the way he ran his beef feedlot operation. Beef farms are few and far between in his part of the province because the land is so highly valued. So Buis gets the most out of his land by using a double-cropping system that incorporates high-value vegetables and forage crops, and allows for pasturing during part of the year. It’s a unique way of doing business that has substantially reduced his feed costs, makes use of otherwise wasted vegetable material, and has helped his farm not only survive but thrive in the post-BSE years.

• Cedar Beach Acres – Kingsville
At Cedar Beach Acres, says the Post, it sounded like a problem for Goldilocks – one area was too hot, one was too cold, and they both needed to be made just right. The ingenious solution for the 16-acre greenhouse operation was to build an enclosure around the CO2 (carbon dioxide) condensers and blow the cold air to those parts of the greenhouse that needed to be cooled. Using individually designed plastic pipes and air-trapping curtains, this inexpensive air transfer system is quick and easy to install. And the best part is that it saves thousands of dollars each year because of reduced energy costs.

• Pyramid Farms Ltd./New Energy Farms Ltd. – Leamington
The Tiessens have known their way around greenhouse tomatoes for years, says the Post, and now they are known locally and as far away as the Philippines for their unique way of producing energy. Beginning in 2005, with 40 per cent of operational costs going into energy, the Tiessens turned to biomass as a less expensive fuel source. When local biomass feedstock became more expensive, they started planting their own in the form of miscanthus, a perennial grass. Today, they have 300 acres of the grass, producing the equivalent of 30 barrels of oil per acre per year. They have built a new facility that will cube the grass, making it useful for fuel as well as fibre for packaging material, plastic injection moulding, building materials and animal bedding.

• Chad Anderson – Mooretown

A shortage of hay in 2008 got beef producer Chad Anderson thinking about alternatives, says the Post. What he came up with has reduced hay consumption on his farm by 20 per cent and provided a nutritional supplement that his 100 head of cattle feed themselves. The invention is a lick tank filled with condensed corn distillers solubles (CDS), a by-product of corn ethanol manufacturing. CDS is delivered directly from the ethanol plant to the farm where it is stored and then loaded into the lick tank, which Anderson has fitted with a sled so that it can be moved around during pasturing. With grain prices increasing, Anderson believes that this is a good way for beef farmers to boost their bottom lines.

Envirofresh Farms – Sombra
When two friends combined their engineering expertise and greenhouse growing experience, their team approach resulted in a new vegetable operation that captures waste heat and CO2 (carbon dioxide) from an adjacent manufacturing industry, says the Post. Envirofresh Farms grows 23 acres of greenhouse peppers beside Terra Industries, a manufacturer of nitrogen fertilizer. The two have established a symbiotic relationship. The greenhouse operation needs the equivalent of energy required to supply 1,400 homes. Being able to draw free heat via pipelines directly from the neighbouring manufacturer’s byproducts means a huge reduction in energy costs for the greenhouse. In addition, the high quality CO2 that’s captured and piped into the greenhouse is good for the plants, and it’s good for the manufacturer too, since it reduces the amount of CO2 it releases into the atmosphere. Envirofresh is a great example of how agriculture and industry can be good neighbours and boost each other’s sustainability. Its peppers are a “greener” green.