Just label it

Paper labels and automation tech makes Essex County company an international success

By Matt McIntosh

Windsor – Product traceability is critical for food processors, and an Essex County company specializing in agricultural automation has been helping them sustainably improve for 27 years.

“Automation was almost non-existent in agriculture 30 years ago, but there was obviously a need for it,” says Joe Sleiman, founder and president of Ag-Tronic Control Systems, an automation technology company based near Windsor.

“We started by looking at ways to help local produce growers improve efficiency, and do so in a more sustainable way. Now we have clients throughout Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and we’re in the process of expanding to South America, Europe and Australia,” he says.

Together with his wife Samia, Sleiman started Ag-Tronic Control Systems in 1991 to market and improve his own automation equipment. At the time, that included a height control system for tomato harvesters, tractor guidance equipment, and a plant watering system. Continue reading

DNA doesn’t lie: new technology authenticates food ingredients

Steven Newmaster

By Jane Robinson

Guelph – Now that scientists can barcode and catalogue the unique DNA sequence of any living being, they’re putting the technology to the test to authenticate food products.

University of Guelph professor Steven Newmaster is helping food manufacturers verify the products they use don’t contain any adulterated ingredients.

University of Guelph scientists invented DNA barcoding in 2003, starting with animals and plants and identifying more than 60,000 plant species to date. Newmaster, the director of the Natural Health Products (NHP) Research Alliance at Guelph, wondered how the catalogued information could be used by the food and NHP industry.

He began by using the previous barcoding work to create new libraries of DNA information for commercial plant species used in agriculture and food. Now, he’s successfully created a new tool to deal with food fraud – the practice of using lower cost substitute ingredients in the food industry – that will soon be installed by food manufacturers for on-site testing.

“With a shrinking food supply and a population headed to nine billion, there is tremendous pressure on the supply chain, and contamination or substitution of ingredients may become more tempting for some companies,” says Newmaster. Continue reading

The Growcer brings year-round food production to hard-to-feed places

By Lisa McLean

Ottawa – If you’ve visited or lived in a remote community in Canada, chances are you weren’t there for the salad.

In many regions that are far from traditional food production systems, fresh vegetables are inconsistent and costly due to the distance and effort required to get them there.

Now, an Ottawa-based company with a focus on food access is helping remote communities grow fresh vegetables 365 days a year, thanks to Containerized Growing Systems.

Corey Ellis, chief executive officer and co-founder of The Growcer, says the company offers plug-and-play hydroponic systems that allow local entrepreneurs to grow vegetables commercially, even when outside temperatures are -50 degrees Celsius.

“We knew that any food production system we developed for the arctic and remote regions would need to be easily dropped in communities that lack road access, and it would have to be ready to use, without relying on skilled tradespeople,” says Ellis. Continue reading

New boar genetic screening test can boost litter sizes

Allan King

By Jeanine Moyer

Guelph – A new genetic test offers a boost to swine litter sizes in Canada. The result of more than 25 years of genetic research has led Prof. Allan King to identify a chromosome abnormality in male reproduction, including boars, that results in smaller litter sizes – and develop a genetic screening process to detect the fertility flaw.

“The abnormal chromosome in boars, male pigs, causes lower litter sizes, typically 3-4 fewer piglets per litter,” explains King, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Animal Reproductive Biotechnology at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College. “Those numbers can add up to $100 in lost revenue, on average per litter. We’ve developed a simple blood test that can identify boars with the abnormal chromosome and rule out the problem before any breeding, ensuring average litter sizes at minimum.”

Approximately two per cent of hogs have the abnormal chromosome, and if used in a breeding program, could also pass the genetic makeup onto the offspring as carriers, carrying on the genetic fertility issue.

Farrowing operations and breeders would be most affected by this genetic abnormality, making the screening test a sound investment in their swine genetics and herd performance. Continue reading

Promising new Ontario tender fruit varieties identified

By Lilian Schaer

Vineland ON – Five new tender fruit varieties currently being tested at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) are showing promise and getting closer to becoming available on the marketplace.

The Tender Fruit Evaluation Committee (TFEC), which started in 2012 and includes growers, tree nurseries, fruit marketers and retailers, has selected two peach and two apricot varieties along with one yellow plum variety as showing the most potential from among approximately 30 selections that are part of a five year new variety development program.

Since 2014, more than 2,000 peach, nectarine, pear, plum and apricot trees have been planted at 18 commercial grower sites across Ontario.  The trees come from the University of Guelph and the former Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada breeding programs through license agreements with Vineland.

“We are seeing some interesting varieties. From on-site testing at commercial grower orchards, we have found that they’ve survived the climate, and the fruit quality is good, so we’re looking to advance those in coming years,” explains Michael Kauzlaric, Technology Scout and Grower Outreach at Vineland. “We’ve been planting trees every year since 2014 and we’re hoping to get some more evaluations in 2018 to further cement the idea that these varieties have merit.” Continue reading