Horticultural research centre marks 10-year anniversary

Industry and consumer focused innovation drives Vineland success

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre building

By Lilian Schaer

Vineland – It’s been 10 years since a new horticultural research facility in Niagara Region was launched as the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland).

Since then, Vineland has been turning heads across Canada and internationally with its needs-based innovations. The organization reflects the entire horticulture value chain from farmers to consumers, and they’re not afraid to take big steps to help the industry solve problems.

“We started by understanding what needed to be done and how we needed to work to make a difference, which is real results with real impact from acres in the field to shelf space in the store,” says Vineland’s CEO, Dr. Jim Brandle.

Asian eggplants at Vineland

Addressing the labour intensive nature of horticultural production was a need identified early on. Today, machines designed in Vineland’s robotics program and built in Ontario are coming into use in fruit and vegetable greenhouses, which Brandle says will go a long way in helping to keep growers competitive, as well as boost the local manufacturing and automation sector. Continue reading

Waterloo company prototypes light-based food inspection technology at Burlington-area food processor

Shine a light on me

By Matt McIntosh

Waterloo – Good lighting can do more than illuminate your salad. It can actually tell you the quality of those soon-to-be ingested leafy greens.

With the right technology, light can be used to measure the quality of food in real-time. When it comes to food processing, that can help make for more efficient and less wasteful production systems.

With funding through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), Waterloo’s P & P Optica has patented a system allowing them to incorporate hyperspectral imaging technology into a fast-paced, food processing environment.

“We developed what we call PPO Smart Imaging, which is a process that uses light to analyze the chemical makeup of a specific food product,” said Kevin Turnbull, Vice President of Sales for P & P Optica. Continue reading

Food and customer trends shape Harriston Packing growth

By Jeanine Moyer

Harriston ON – Harriston Packing Company Ltd. is a testament to the old adage that the customer is always right.

As the small town family business celebrates 50 years this year, second generation co-owner Mark Oelschlagel says listening to his customers has been the key to growth, especially in recent years. Over the past decade, local food trends and changing customer buying habits have shaped a new direction for the meat processing and retail company.

Today, the family business located in Harriston, ON is stronger than ever. Oelschlagel continues adjusting the company business model to keep up with his customers, and his results are paying off.

“Direct-to-customer wholesale and retail sales have grown six times in the past ten years,” says Oelschlagel, who is also seeing the trend extend to custom processing for farmers as farm gate sales increase. Continue reading

When the time is ripe: New, natural formula helps farmers manage harvest time

Tree in front with fruit sprayed; trees to the left and right not sprayed

By Lisa McLean

Vineland – Why do the best fruits seem to have the shortest shelf life? It’s a challenge that plagues fresh fruit markets around the world, and has real implications for consumers and fruit growers.

Now, new research from University of Guelph has led to the development of a product that extends the shelf life of fresh fruits by days and even weeks, and it is showing promise in food insecure regions around the world.

“In people and in fruit, skin shrinks with age — it’s part of the life cycle, as the membranes start losing their tightness,” said Jay Subramanian, Professor of Tree Fruit Breeding and Biotechnology at the University of Guelph, who works from the Vineland research station. “Now we know the enzymes responsible for that process can be slowed.”

The secret, according to Subramanian, is in hexanal, a compound that is naturally produced by every plant in the world. His lab has developed a formulation that includes a higher concentration of hexanal to keep fruit fresh for longer.

Subramanian’s research team began experimenting with applying their formula to sweet cherry and peaches in the Niagara region. They found they were able to extend the shelf life of both fruits and spraying the formula directly on the plant prior to harvest worked as well as using it as a dip for newly harvested fruit. Continue reading

Canadian farmers seeking new crops could consider growing okra

By Lilian Schaer

Vineland – Farmers interested in adding a new crop to their production line-up may want to look at okra as an opportunity.

That’s according to researchers at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) who have been working with the crop for the past five years and have some very promising results from two years of field trials with three okra varieties.

“We know okra can be grown commercially in southern Ontario and that yields of 20,000 kg per hectare are possible,” said Vineland research scientist Dr. Viliam Zvalo.

Canada imported over six million kilograms of okra in 2015 – an increase of 43 per cent since 2011 – so the market demand for this new crop, popular especially in South and Southeast Asian cuisine, is there.

Zvalo is particularly excited about three additional varieties Vineland has been able to source from East West Seeds from Thailand. The company is a key player in the okra seed market in countries like India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand where much of the world’s okra is grown.

“We planted some of these varieties in June last year and were amazed by the yield potential,” he said. “I believe they may outperform the varieties we’ve been using so far and we are quite optimistic they’ll do very well here.” Continue reading