Redefining “super food”: this corn-based water additive fights fires

By Lisa McLean

Firefighters commonly use petroleum-based foams and gels to get fires under control, but the lasting effects of those products – on soil, waterways and the firefighters themselves – has recently been called into question.

Now, a new competitor is on the market, and it’s proving as effective as traditional foams – made entirely from edible products, including Ontario corn.

Napanee-based company FireRein is the brainchild of veteran firefighter Quincy Emmons and Napanee entrepreneur Steven Montgomery. In spring 2018 the company announced a deal with U.S.-based technology holding company Ethonus to develop applications for Eco-Gel™ within the U.S. military.

“Eco-Gel is a proprietary water additive that is instantly transformed into a firefighting hydrogel when introduced into a water stream at the required concentrations,” says Rui Resendes, president and CEO of FireRein. “In fighting class A and B fires, Eco-Gel is proven to extinguish fires in half the time of traditional foams and gels.” Continue reading

Smarten-up your farm with the Internet of Things

By Lisa McLean

Kitchener – What if monitoring temperature controls was automated, and a grain bin itself could warn suppliers of low levels?

That’s the theory behind an emerging category of technology called “the Internet of things (IOT),” and it’s leading to better business outcomes for farms and food business across Canada.

Kyle Arbuckle, of Kitchener, Ontario-based blueRover, says agriculture and food is one key area of focus for the company, which serves clients across North America.

In agriculture, blueRover is developing new ways to give farmers cost-effective ways to be pre-warned on any non-optimal conditions on the farm and through the cold-chain.

“We focus on the business of perfect food safety and other business outcomes that will help business mitigate risk, increase compliance, decrease cost and differentiate their business amongst competitors,” says Arbuckle. Continue reading

Ontario research leads to more sustainable lawns

By Tiffany Mayer

Michael Brownbridge has great respect for the lowly lawn.

For starters, grass has remarkable survival skills. During droughts, those brown blades that look dead have simply gone dormant until the next generous rainfall returns them to resplendent green.

Lawns kick out moisture on hot days which cools urban environments. They also act like sponges that hold moisture after heavy rains and release it slowly to benefit trees and other plants growing nearby.

Then there are all the pollutants grass traps.

“It’s one of the most phenomenal plants on the planet,” Brownbridge said. Continue reading

Sliding scale market brings fruits and vegetables to all

By Lisa McLean

Guelph – Hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables grow in Ontario each year, but many Ontario residents still face barriers to accessing those foods. Now, an innovative food accessibility program in Guelph is making it easier for its community members to buy fresh produce.

The SEED – a community food project that delivers community programs to address food insecurity – offers weekly, affordable fresh food markets with items priced on a sliding price scale. The markets, running a few hours each week now in two neighbourhoods in Guelph, offer a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables to residents who may face income, transportation or other barriers to eating well.

“When people come to the market, they choose what they want to pay,” says Becca Clayton, community food markets coordinator at The SEED. “On the reduced end of the scale, we price items as low as we can offer while still covering our costs. The upper value of the scale is retail value. Customers can pay the retail end or the reduced rate, or anything in between — no questions asked.”

While the community market has been operating in a downtown location at the Guelph Community Health Centre for less than a year, the program is already expanding. A second site, in a so-called “food desert” (located a significant distance from grocery stores) in Guelph’s east end opened in April 2018. Continue reading

Sterile insect technique promising in fight against greenhouse pepper pest

photo by Lilian Schaer, AgInnovation Ontario

By Jane Robinson

Ontario’s greenhouse pepper growers are struggling to control a very problematic invasive insect, but have very few effective options. Pepper weevils are threatening the province’s $420 million greenhouse pepper industry – a high value crop that covers about 520 hectares (1,285 acres) in Ontario.

University of Guelph researcher Dr. Cynthia Scott-Dupree is testing a genetic control strategy that could bring much-needed hope to growers.

“Pepper weevils began causing substantial economic losses in Ontario in 2015,” says Scott-Dupree, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and Bayer Chair in Sustainable Pest Management.  “There really aren’t any effective insecticides that control the adult, and the direct damage caused to the pepper is invisible until you cut it open.”

Adult female pepper weevils lay a single egg in a puncture wound on the surface of the pepper. When the egg hatches, the larvae chew into the pepper to feed. The adult emerges inside the fruit, feeds on the pepper a little longer, mates and then exits the fruit. And the cycle starts all over.

Scott-Dupree started working on sterile insect technique (SIT) about five years ago to control a leafminer in Ontario-grown chrysanthemums. She was then approached by Bruce Power about the potential to use gamma radiation to mitigate insect pest problems in Ontario agriculture.

“I steered them to the pepper weevil issue as I knew that growers were stuck for solutions,” she says. Continue reading