Economic development professionals gathered at the Ontario Agriculture Economic Development Forum recently to learn about new technologies and best practices.
Among them was a tour of examples of on-farm diversification. Lee & Maria’s, a 30-acre farm, was one of the stops. The location focuses on local food, workshops and wellness, and has a lucrative local food delivery business with over 500 homes in Essex County. The company created its own ordering and delivery app so people can use their phone to buy food bins starting at $22.99. The app also generates the best delivery route to make best use of the trucker’s time. One learning moment at this location was the concept of putting wheels on all displays and furniture in the retail and packing spaces so events could quickly be set up.
A presentation by Henry Gordon-Smith from Agritecture outlined examples of urban agriculture, included elevated farming. Drivers of this market include water scarcity, food safety, limited arable land, unfavourable weather, demand for local, innovation leadership, and food security. Examples included AeroFarms of Newark, New Jersey, a 70,000-square-foot facility that harvests 2 million pounds of salad mixes annually for the wholesale market; Iron Ox in San Francisco; Gotham Greens, with eight locations across the U.S.; or Floating Farm Melk, a floating dairy farm in the Netherlands.
Gordon-Smith recommended that rural agriculture should partner with urban farms to create an outpost in cities for transfer of talents, innovations, best practices and customers; to attract innovation through open challenges by inviting urban ideas; and develop incubators to empower the next generation to innovate locally by creating places for them to learn and collaborate. He encouraged cities and agricultural regions to work together on agriculture systems.
Automate Canada is a national association representing companies involved in the industrial automation industry as well as service and supplier companies which provide specialized technologies to our industry. The organization leverages automation born from the automotive sector to assist other sectors, including agriculture. Robotics, for example, helped improve harvest times in greenhouse strawberries by 40%. Their online automation search tool can help an agrifood business or food processor find the automation manufacturer who can assist in solving proces issue. Representatives of the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre were also on hand to discuss automated harvesting for cucumbers and mushrooms, as well as smart irrigation and other technologies. Automation will help to solve an estimated doubling of the labour gap in horticulture by 2025. Advances in machine vision systems, artificial intelligence and decision support systems, robotics and end effectors can help with the harvesting process.
The Fair Finance Fund offers loans for farms and food companies that specialize in impact investing with a social or environmental return. They will lend between $20,000 and $100,000 at 6% fixed interest with no collateral. Clients include Mulberry Moon Organics and Kipling Ridge Farm. The Fair Finance Fund also offers $50,000 bonds at 4% interest for a ten-year term to support regional food systems. At the other end of the spectrum, Export Development Canada offers credit insurance, financing, knowledge and connections for agribusinesses thinking of exporting.
Harvest Bowl of Elgin County and Southwestern Ontario Gleaners presented on their successes, including dehydration of vegetables for soup mixes and fruit for snacks. Farmers can get tax write-offs for donating foods to gleaners who are registered charities.
Food Waste Reduction