The Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC) recently hosted representatives from government and industry on a tour of three farms in the Ottawa area. Tour attendees witnessed on-farm crop protection practices and discussed priority issues with actual farmers. Staff from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, the Pest Management Centre, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada attended on behalf of government. From industry, CHC welcomed representatives from Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers and Flowers Canada.
The challenge of producing quality food
The tour first stopped at Dentz Orchard and Berry Farm where tour participants learned about the farm’s struggles with food loss. Calvin Dentz, who owns and operates the farm along with his brother Paul, noted that, even with an Integrated Pest Management Program in place, the Dentz farm is challenged with producing field tomatoes of the type of quality demanded by their retail customers. Due to disease, insect damage and physical imperfections of the fruit, the farm experiences significant losses due to grading during a typical growing season. Thankfully, though, due to sustainable and safe pesticide use, the damage usually stays in check. To highlight the importance of pesticide use, the Dentz brothers showed us tomato plants that hadn’t been sprayed and had subsequently become diseased. The difference that the spray made was outstanding. Calvin emphasized that “losing these crop protection tools would seriously threaten our ability to stay in business” and further emphasized the impact that the loss of insecticides and Group-M fungicides proposed by the PMRA would have on their farm operation.
Good bugs vs. bad bugs
At SunTech greenhouses, tour participants witnessed how biological control agents (“good bugs”) are used to control invasive pests (“bad bugs”). Although SunTech is a relatively small greenhouse operation compared to its counterparts elsewhere in Canada and the U.S., it has a strong reputation in serving the local market, based on the quality of its produce and its excellent growing practices. In addition to biological control agents, SunTech also uses disinfectants between crop cycles to cleanse the growing environment of pathogens and insects.
Diversified farm provides quality food to local region
Rideau Pines Farm is owned and operated by the Vandenberg family and provides quality vegetables and berries to the local market through on-farm sales, farmers’ markets and direct sales to restaurants. Tour participants observed the farm’s diversity of crop production, with many field vegetables being harvested at the time of the tour. Of interest were the day-neutral strawberries that were just coming into harvest in late August.
John Vadenburg, the farm’s founder, highlighted challenges associated with managing insects, diseases and weeds in a multi-crop operation, and the need for constant crop monitoring to scout for pest outbreaks. He also discussed how important it is to choose the right pesticides, so as to be able to schedule the re-entry of workers into crops following pesticide applications based on label re-entry intervals. John pointed out how difficult weeds have been to control this year, as seedlings continued to emerge throughout the season, due to the wet conditions.