In an effort to keep pace with fierce competition from producers in sunnier, southern climates, an innovative greenhouse operation in Ontario has made a big move to grow tomatoes all year round.
Great Northern Hydroponics in Kingsville built a new 14-acre greenhouse that uses high density light fixtures to extend the growing season and significantly increase its production.
Completed in 2011, the greenhouse uses approximately 7,000 light fixtures equipped with high-pressure sodium light bulbs.
Guido van het Hof, president and general manager, says expanding to year-round production from the conventional timeframe of nine months was a logical next step for the company.
“If we stand still, then we move backwards,” says van het Hof, referring to the intensifying competition from greenhouse tomato producers in the southern U.S. and Mexico. “And producers there have natural advantages over us in terms of climate, lower energy dependency and high natural light concentrations, resulting in an extended growing season.”
Great Northern borrowed a page from producers in northwestern Europe who faced a similar situation ten years ago. They installed lighting technology to compete with growers in Spain, Morocco and the Canary Islands. “We took that technology and we emulated it here to our circumstances and our climate zone,” says van het Hof.
The story is in the March-April edition of Greenhouse Canada. Click here for the online version.
A shift in the landscape is occurring as farmers are increasing tillage in the wake of high commodity prices. With the view that reduced tillage practices carry a yield drag, some producers are reverting to more aggressive methods to capture as many bushels per acre as possible.
The move, which increases the risk of soil erosion, is raising concerns and renewing calls to strike a balance between finding an adequate level of tillage to benefit the crops and leaving enough residues to protect the soil.
While tillage practices aren’t extensively tracked across the province, Greg Stewart, corn specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says most people in the agriculture business would agree that there has been a significant shift to more tillage, especially when planting soybeans after corn.
“We have quite a range of tillage options,” notes Stewart. “In some areas, the mouldboard plough is back into those corn stalks in a big way and, in some cases, what used to be known as no-till, is vertical till or some other type of till.”
In addition to the shift to more tillage, instances of soil erosion, caused by rain or high winds, are becoming more noticeable, too. With dry conditions and high winds in the spring of 2012, Peter Johnson, OMAFRA cereals specialist, says wind storms were causing “brownouts” that were as dangerous as whiteouts in winter snowstorms.
“There were more stretches of highway where people nearly had to pull off the road than we’ve seen since the 1980s, and that is not a good-news scenario for agriculture,” says Johnson.
In an effort to strike the balance between the shift to increased tillage and the need for soil conservation, Stewart and his OMAFRA colleagues are recommending a compromise: Leaving a ground cover of at least 30% residue. “Whether those plants are dead or alive, you can do something significant in terms of reducing erosion potential,” says Stewart.
The full version of this story is available in the October 2012 edition of Top Crop Manager (East).
An Ontario crop business is the first in Canada to adopt a unique system for late-season applications of nitrogen for corn and soybeans.
By using the GreenSeeker technology and the Y-Drop system, which is attached to a high-clearance sprayer, Good Crop Services Ltd. of New Hamburg is finding a way to apply fertilizer at the right time and in the right place.
“It’s the placement of the product that makes it far superior to what’s on the market,” says company owner Don Good of the Y-Drop system.
Developed in Iowa, the Y-Drop is a tool that can place any liquid product within two or three inches of a crop row. Good adopted the Y-Drop to complement the GreenSeeker for variable rate applications.
Dan Muff, CEO of Y-Drop LLC in Iowa, says the system can fertilize any row crop at various stages of the plant’s development. In corn, it can fertilize from knee-high to tassel. For soybeans, it can be used at V2, V3 or higher, up to R2 ½.
The system originated from research in sweet corn production when Muff and other researchers were seeking ways to increase sweet corn yields and studying fertilizer placement.
“We did some fertilization along the row and from that we’ve seen the results were huge, and we spent a lot of years studying agronomy knowledge and taking this agronomic knowledge to the field,” says Muff.
“The story is fertilizing a plant in its late production stages – before it sets its fruit – has a huge benefit, and that’s how Y-Drop developed.”
For more, see the article in the October 2012 edition of Top Crop Manager.
Here are some excerpts from two farm-related stories featured in the recent 2012 FACES of Chatham-Kent, a special section of the Chatham Daily News, dedicated to the success stories of people, business and industry in the area
To see more, the online version can be downloaded by clicking on this link: FACES 2012.
Making Weather Pay
There’s a quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, about our everyday conversations.
“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
For the last 12 years, Weather INnovations Inc., or WIN, of Chatham, has built a viable business on its ability to do a lot with weather information.
Using a network of on-farm weather monitoring stations to collect key data, the company turns that information into services that farmers can use to make better management decisions.
The company was started by business manager Ian Nichols in 2000 when he was still teaching farm business programs at the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph.
“The weather business was something I didn’t even know existed until somebody said study this…we want to see if we can provide a service,” said Nichols, who was born and raised in the Cedar Springs area.
He said the idea had its share of skeptics because weather information is perceived as something that is generally free and it would be hard to market that service to farmers who tend to be frugal.
But Nichols and his colleagues at Ridgetown discovered that the concept in other areas wasn’t being done properly.
Small Farm Market Big on Quality and Service
Without hesitation, Peter Koning and Sarah Graham, the father-daughter team that owns Sarah’s Farm Market, said they are known for the quality of the sweet corn they sell in Chatham.
“We spend a good month in the winter picking out varieties and testing new ones,” said Graham. “We always pick a fresh cob in the field and try it ourselves before we sell it to make sure it’s of good quality to put on our tables.”
“We’ll throw it out if it’s not suitable. It’s that important to us,” added Koning.
While they sell other fruits and vegetables and have expanded to include flowers, potted plants and many items for holidays, corn has been the foundation for the business from the beginning when Sarah ran her first retail stand as a young teenager.
While driving with her dad one day, Sarah spotted a fruit stand and thought it would be a great summer job.
“He set me up on a corner in Chatham with some corn and that’s how it all developed,” said Graham, noting she spent 10 summers at the corner of McNaughton and Sandys, earning money while she went to high school and university.
Describing the business as a retail farm market, Sarah said her father does most of the farming and she handles the retailing.
Almost all – 90 per cent – of the produce they sell is grown locally.
About 120 young people turned out for the Annual Farm Safety Day Camp for Kids, held July 20 at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus.
The event, hosted by the Chatham-Kent Farm Safety Association and Progressive Agriculture, is geared to children aged, six to twelve.
Janet Richards, co-ordinator of the event, says it was also a day of celebration as this was the 20th annual edition of the farm safety day.
The children are divided into groups that rotate between several stations where they learn about potentially dangerous activities.
This year’s event included eight safety stations, covering diverse topics such as bike safety, sun safety, lawn mower safety, staying safe around creeks and bike safety.
One of the highlights was the fire safety station, where firefighters from the Orford-Highgate fire station showed the kids how to use a fire extinguisher.
Farmers could soon be facing a new insect threat in Ontario.
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs entomologist Hannah Fraser says crop specialists are keeping close tabs on an insect called the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.
Fraser says the bug, which is native to Asia, has a wide range of host plants, including tree fruits and field crops.
The pest was first spotted in North America ten years ago in Pennsylvania.
Since then, Fraser says the bug has spread to 27 States and is now making inroads into Ontario as it was recently detected in an urban area around Hamilton.
In the quest to help boost Ontario wheat yields, provincial cereal crops specialist Peter Johnson is turning his attention to lodging problems in the crop.
At the Southwest Crop Diagnostic Days in Ridgetown, Johnson reviewed the research that shows a good yield increase by applying a fungicide and increasing nitrogen rates.
However, too much nitrogen can cause lodging, which offsets the increased yield potential.
In this clip, Johnson says crop researchers are taking a closer look at the use of growth regulators to reduce lodging in the Ontario wheat crop.
Or download Peter Johnson clip: Peter Johnson SCDD
Loblaw Companies and the Ontario Cattle Feeders’ Association have teamed up to boost sales of Ontario Corn Fed Beef across the province.
Several Loblaw executives and members of the OCFA were on hand to officially introduce the new partnership during an event on May 25, at Tremblett’s value-mart in Toronto.
The deal involves more than 150 Zehrs Markets, valu-mart, Your Independent Grocer and Bloor Street Market grocery stores in Ontario.
“While we have always supported Canadian beef, this new partnership means the vast majority of beef available in these 150 stores will be produced by farmers from Ontario,” said Rodney Koning, vice-president of Meat and Seafood Procurement for Loblaw.
“Consumers will now be able to easily identify and purchase Ontario beef.”
Koning said the Ontario Corn Fed Beef program offers several benefits for both the retailer and consumers.
Or download clip: Rodney_Koning
A logger from Montana has a word of advice to help Ontario livestock farmers deal with those who are opposed to their type of business.
Bruce Vincent believes that “activism” should appear on a line in the farm business plan.
He made the comment during his keynote presentation at the 2011 Beef Industry Convention in London (Jan.6).
Vincent has become a well-travelled speaker on the impact of the “timber wars” between loggers and environmentalists in the United States.
Sharing his experience as the co-owner of a family logging company in Libby, Montana, he said people in the timber industry lost their social licence to operate.
“We’re crossing the thin line between environmental sensitivity and environmental insanity,” said Vincent as he explained how “eco-activists” are wielding more influence in the political discussions in rural America.
Not only did opponents of the timber industry build legal and regulatory cases that protected wildlife and the environment, Vincent said the provisions put logging companies out of business.
Back by popular demand, Dr. Ron Hanson, an agri-business professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, brought his honest and entertaining approach for dealing with family farm succession matters to the Beef Industry Convention, hosted by the Ontario Cattle Feeders’ Association.
Hanson, who teaches full-time at the University of Nebraska, counsels family farm operations in his spare time.
He shared his valuable insight during his presentation on Multi-Generation Farm Family Beef Cattle Operations: Family Harmony vs. Family Conflicts.
So why can multi-generation farming work so well in some families while others have to struggle?
In his 32 years of counseling, Hanson said he can trace every farm family failure (these families are no longer farming today) to one of seven mistakes.
And these failures between family members, he said, did not result from production failures or financial troubles, but the inability of the family members to effectively communicate and work together in a team effort approach to their farming business.