Key issue: Research

Section Chair: Harold Schooley

Horticulture is a diverse, labour-intensive, high-value segment of the Ontario economy. This means research and innovation in this sector are critical for it to remain competitive and progressive.

The OFVGA provides input into the setting of research priorities for programs through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) partnership with the University of Guelph, the Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC) and the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland).

  • Research report to 2014 OFVGA annual general meeting

    In 2013 some organizations disappeared from the research and development scene:

    Guelph Food Technology Centre
    On January 31, 2013 GFTC was sold to NSF International (Canada). GFTC was a not-for-profit organization founded in 1994 by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) to service the needs of the food and beverage industry in Ontario. It was involved in food safety programs, auditing and training, and as well had contract research capacity for food product and packaging development. The National Sanitation Foundation is a not-for-profit Michigan-based public health and environmental organization that provides standards development, product certification, auditing, and education and risk management services. NSF just recently branched to Ontario and with this acquisition will continue to service the Ontario food and beverage industry in the manner that GFTC provided. Assets from the sale of GFTC were put into a GFTC Legacy Fund. The fund will provide $3 million in food program research funding and scholarships at the University of Guelph as well aid in funding several local community charities.

    Delhi Research Station
    On March 31, 2013 the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research station at Delhi was closed. Erie Innovation and Commercialization took on the task of studying the re-purposing of the facilities and property. A consulting firm was commissioned to work with an Advisory committee to develop sustainable recommendations for the future of the station. After much work and despite local interest in a multi-user agricultural centre, the formation of a Delhi Agricultural Centre was not recommended. Privatization appears to be the most feasible and responsible plan – by either a commercial company or an agricultural producer. And so the station is gone.

    Erie Innovation and Commercialization
    On October 31, 2013 Erie Innovation closed its doors. It was formed in 2009 through the partnership of industry, academia, government and non-governmental organizations to diversify agriculture and food opportunities in southern Ontario. This mandate was fulfilled but secure funding could not be attained to continue. Starting from scratch just 4 ½ years ago it is surprising what this organization accomplished. The full value chain approach it employed was distinct.

    But even though innovation and commercialization opportunities abound in agriculture and food in Ontario, success at this does not happen quickly, easily, or without investment. There were a number of projects left undone. There were letters of support and disbelief that something of this nature could happen. Erie had good support at the grass roots level from those that experienced the benefits it brought. Unfortunately not all were prepared to see the good that was created and/or initiated and the organization closed - and this at a time when agriculture is being exhorted by the minister to “step up to the challenge”.


    Horticulture Science Clusters

    A total of 17 research proposals were submitted to the Growing Forward II Science Cluster program on February 1. It was expected that both the industry and AAFC would be a little wiser this time around and the whole approval and funding process would run a little smoother. It didn’t.

    There are monies to be paid out to research collaborators for both Cluster I and Cluster II projects. At the time of this writing it was reported that although the Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC) had submitted reports and claims for Cluster I projects by March 31st, over $900,000 in claims are yet to be paid! And Cluster II agreements that were approved in June are yet to be signed leaving over 9 months of claims there up in the air! This is an unacceptable way to conduct the federal research business.

    OMAFRA-UG Partnership

    Emergency Management Theme

    Emergency Management or EM is an interesting arena in which to operate. The EM Theme crosses more boundaries than any other in the OMAF-UG Partnership because it includes both animals and plants, and involves human health considerations as well. EM can involve everyone in the food chain as well as municipalities, provinces, the federal government and international agencies. It manages with Prevention/Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery strategies. The animal side of emergency management can be scary. Visualize avian flu or swine flu getting into human populations on a mass scale. Visualize large scale “cullings” of birds and animals. And what do you do with them all?

    We tend to think that things on the plant side move slower and are less catastrophic. But insect or disease infestation of our food crops can be devastating also. In California, the losses to Spotted Wing Drosophila (a fruit fly) went from negligible to over 80% in very short order. Response to this potential threat here is a good example of Emergency Management in action. OMAF is already working on the biology of this pest and how it might best be contained or controlled.

    The economic losses from these emergency incidences can come from direct crop loss, sanitation or disposal costs, polluted land and water, from loss of markets, loss of consumer confidence, closing of borders and several other factors. And there may also be costs to human health and welfare.

    It all gets a bit depressing but shows one thing loud and clear. Prevention now is a lot cheaper than all the other possibilities later.

    Setting Horticulture Research Priorities

    Priority setting for plant research is a lengthy process occurring through several levels of scrutiny.

    In 2013, edible horticulture research priorities from the industry sector were examined for a second time. OFVGA and VRIC co-hosted a meeting in Woodstock in mid-February where industry, government and research came together to discuss issues and opportunities within the sector and outline some priority areas for research and innovation. The workshop was designed to encourage long term big picture thinking and also to introduce, this time around, a value chain perspective to the research and innovation discussion.

    Out of this process came a document that highlighted the top three long-term and three short-term research priorities for each commodity.  This document was later further refined by a Phase 2 expert panel to come up with a manageable list of industry priority areas. Ten priority areas were defined by the expert panel – seven that fit the Production Systems Plants Theme and three that fit other research themes. VRIC presented these seven to the Plants Theme Advisory Group in late June.

    The Plants Theme Advisory Group has its own challenges to condense research priorities into four main groupings of plant production including:

     -edible horticulture

    -non-edible horticulture - nursery/landscape, floriculture

    -field crops – grains, edible beans, forage crops

    This approach reflects the effort and research input of each plant sector, provides more targeted direction to the research community about high priority research needs, and, helps reviewers to align their decisions with defined priorities.

    The Theme Advisory Group annually produces an Updated Priorities and Emerging Issues Document outlining their priority areas for research within the Theme.

    At present these are:

    High priority

                    1. Plant Protection

                    2. Production Efficiency

                    3. Environmental/Ecosystem Impact

    Medium priority

                    4. Product Quality Improvement

                    5. Product Diversification

                    6. Genetic Technologies


    A Call for Proposals is then issued and the whole plant industry competes for limited dollars.

    Researchers submit Letters of Intent which are reviewed for fit to the above Theme priorities, rated, and pared down in number. Projects that directly align with the specific research needs identified in the Call for Proposals document should rank higher than projects that do not.

    Successful applicants then submit full Research Proposals which are again reviewed for scientific merit, rated, and research dollars are allocated to the upper ratings down the list until they are depleted. I have said it and written it before but I cannot stress the following enough:

    Collaboration between U of G researchers and industry stakeholders is important.  Researchers and industry stakeholders need to work together so that well-written scientifically sound proposals with stakeholder support and strong KTT plans are submitted.

    We received input from the value chain speakers back in Woodstock in February from the Ontario Produce Marketers Association & Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers. Where is that applied?

    The Ontario Produce Marketers Association reported:

    Consumer demographics are shifting with increased ethnic diversity. Consumers are purchasing a wider variety of produce available year round. They are demanding more convenience when buying fresh produce. We are now approaching 2 generations of consumers who do not know how to cook. More produce recalls are occurring. We require technological changes in production, marketing and distribution, improved customer service from suppliers, more collaborative business planning between buyers and sellers. Realize that consolidating with other growers to supply a critical mass is advantageous. Better communication and information sharing along the value chain develops true partnerships. Buyers are recognizing sustainability of supply and local food chains. There are needs in postharvest handling and consumer packaging to extend shelf life, reduce food waste and address portion sizing. Food safety, traceability, consumer education and getting paid are top priorities.

    The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers reported:

    Regardless of their size both large and small retailers deal with about 40-50 produce suppliers. In season, the supply is 70% local, but overall it is about 35%. When local is in its peak, quality is comparable or better to imports, but new varieties of imports are raising the bar for taste and appearance. Refrigeration, pre-cooling, innovative packaging and transportation (containers) lead the way for imports. Packing in ice is on the increase –parsley, broccoli, green onions. Sales of berries, grapes, value-added packaged vegetables and packaged salads are growing fastest. Potato sales are declining. Kale is on fire (due to Dr. Oz).

    Large retailers report that supply chain is the number one issue along with keeping the cold chain intact. Ethnic vegetables will grow the produce category down the road.

    Small retailers report getting consistent quality is a challenge and how to price with variable quality. Ready-to-eat products and packaging will grow the produce category down the road along with ‘buy local’.

    The needs of our consumers and value chain customers, our buyers, should dictate our thinking about how and what we research. Each commodity needs to be aware of and apply inputs from the value chain.

    It has been a pleasure to serve as your Research Chair for the past year.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Harold Schooley

  • Research funding opportunities

    There are various opportunities to apply for research funding, including:

    Agri-Innovation Program

    Genome Canada

    Growing Forward 2 - producers

    Growing Forward 2 - industry organizations and collaborations

    Industrial Research Assistance Program

    National Research Council Canada

    New Directions Research Program

    Ontario Centres of Excellence

    Ontario Genomics Institute

    OMAFRA-University of Guelph partnership

    Please refer to the specific websites noted above for more detailed information. This list is not exhaustive - please email to make suggestions to add to this list.

  • Fruit and vegetable research in Ontario

    In Ontario, edible horticulture research is carried out under the Plant Production Systems research theme as well as Tier I and Tier II research funded through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) research partnership with the University of Guelph and the New Directions Research Program.  In addition to Tier I and II funding, direct operating support for breeding research also occurs through the Germplasm Reinvestment Program (GRP).  OMAFRA receives a share of revenues generated from germplasm licenses for plant varieties developed through funding from the partnership; these funds are re-invested directly back into breeding research through the GRP.  In 2012, this represented $235,000 in 11 projects.

    There is also considerable research carried out at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

    Websites where research information can be obtained:

    Specialty Crops:
    List of KTT projects:
    Research Snapshots:
    Field Crop News:

  • OFVGA research project highlights

    OFVGA has been involved in supporting various research projects in recent years.  Here are brief project summaries - more information is available from the OFVGA office.

    CAAP 129 – World Crops (Vineland Research and Innovation Centre)

    The goal of this project was to help Ontario vegetable growers diversify production to supply growing consumer demand for ethno-cultural vegetables. With changing population demographics, the market for fresh vegetables is continuously evolving. A study completed in 2010 by researchers at the University of Guelph showed major ethnic groups in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) spend more than $61 million monthly on fresh produce –  predominantly ethno-cultural vegetables, most of which are currently imported to Canada.

    These crops have not previously been extensively grown on a commercial scale, so many basic questions had to be addressed and the project’s activities focused on three key areas: 1. Understanding the market to determine which vegetables are most in demand, the value of that demand and what retailers want; 2. Understanding which varieties can be grown here successfully from agronomic and economic perspectives; and 3. Understanding the needs of the end-consumer, whether they’ll buy Ontario-grown and what taste, appearance and cost characteristics they are looking for.

    Highlights include:

    • The project started with 10 acres and now has >186 in production by grower partners; a further 70 acres (at least) are in production by “other” growers.
    • Assuming net revenues of $4,000/acre, this production generated a net return of >$750,000 in 2013 alone.
    • Vineland is continuing to engage with new and existing growers for 2014 to further increase production.
    • Generation of economic data which will define the costs of production and anticipated net revenues per acre for selected crops (eggplant, okra) based on actual data obtained from commercial growers (anticipated by end Nov 2013).
    • Data will also be useful to inform lenders and for crop insurance purposes; Vineland continues to engage with OMAF and MRA to develop figures and increase their level of involvement.
    • Consumer preferences are defined and can be used to promote Ontario-grown fresh produce.
    • Postharvest requirements are understood and have been validated for eggplant and okra; these are essential to maintain the freshness and value of the crops through the distribution chain from farm to end-consumer.
    • Market size and acreage targets are defined so the market doesn’t become flooded, helping to maintain the value of the crops for the grower.
    • KTT and other outreach activities have created greater connectivity between growers and the supply chain.
    • KTT activities targeting industry stakeholders (workshops, conference presentations, direct engagement), other public/media events and articles in trade journals and other print media have ensured high project profile and awareness around the opportunity and outputs, efficient technology transfer and access to resources.
    • A significant body of online resources are also now available via the Vineland website.

    Activities related to the project will continue. Although some are contingent upon additional funds being secured, the intent is to continue to provide support to growers deciding to embark on production of these new crops, while also working more closely with OMAF specialists to aid in technology transfer. This will be combined with greater engagement with the retail sector to create more market ‘pull’, along with a range of outreach activities designed to promote growth (in acreage). The farming sector has already started to grow several of the crops identified as having ‘economic potential’ in the current project. Production selections will be influenced by farm location and target markets. Innovations to improve production efficiency and market access will continue.

    CAAP 260 – Reverse genomics (Vineland Research and Innovation Centre)

    The project objectives include building capacity in trait discovery and development for four horticultural crops including petunia, impatiens, pepper and tomato.  Specifically, this involves creating large populations in each species that carry broad genetic variation.  This is done by creating lesions in virtually every gene in the plant genome and archiving the seeds of these populations.  In parallel, DNA sequence technology and DNA fingerprinting techniques are adapted to facilitate the discovery of the desired genetic variants within the populations.

    Significant advancements were made in the DNA sequence aspects of the project.  We have developed some proprietary methods that allow us to search for unique lesions in specific genes within the populations and a provisional patent was filed in March 2013 on the technique in order to maintain ‘freedom to operate’ in this essential area of the project.

    The petunia, and impatiens populations are complete, the tomato population was recently completed with >5,000 mutant lines archived in the Vineland seed vault.  The pepper population was quite delayed in production due to unexpectedly poor germination in the original seed lot.  This led to ~1,000 mutant pepper lines that will be harvested and archived by Dec 1, 2013.  The petunia population was subjected to examination for mutants related to drought tolerance, shelf life and cool temperature growth.  Several mutations were discovered and are currently in trait evaluation.

    The stakeholders invested in this project will benefit from discovery of traits and characteristics that do not exist in natural populations.  Thus we can introduce an array of traits that have an impact on input costs such as water and energy and also product quality.

    CAAP 578 Sweet potatoes (Vineland Research and Innovation Centre)

    The key to the success of this project was the initiation of a sweet potato breeding program at Vineland (only one in Canada) and the acquisition of a large and diverse set of sweet potato clones from Louisiana State University (LSU).  Vineland planted the material in the 2013 field season using replicated trials and three planting dates (May 1, May 15 and June 1). 

    Vineland identified 15 sweet potato clones that survived the frost and cool temperatures of the early planting May suggesting that sweet potatoes can be grown in cooler climates.  Vineland also selected 267 additional lines that had yields, shapes, or sizes better than Beauregard.  These selected sweet potato clones will provide growers with sweet potato varieties adapted to Ontario conditions with increased marketable yield.  Ontario growers will be able to provide high quality locally produced sweet potato that will offset imports from the USA, therefore increasing the acreage and the profitability of sweet potato production.

    The next phase would involve comparison of frost/cold tolerant sweet potato clones with those planted in June to determine if the earlier planting dates had any effect on yield, shape and size.  In addition, preliminary and advanced field testing of selected material at several grower locations is scheduled for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 planting season.

    Due to the late harvest (mid-September instead of mid-August) analysis of dry matter content and total phenolic acid for selected material has not been completed.  The analysis is expected to be completed by the end of November, however with the data collected so far, Vineland did identify sweet potato clones with increased dry matter content and lower phenolic acid content than the commercial variety Beauregard. 

    A correlation between high dry matter content and cream fleshed sweet potato was observed for dry matter content greater than 24%.  However, an orange fleshed sweet potato with 23% dry matter content was observed indicating that it is possible to develop sweet potato varieties with desirable processing quality.  Ontario processors will be able to source locally produced sweet potatoes with desirable processing quality instead of the USA imports. 

    The next phase will involve generating processed foods (i.e. fries, baked, fresh cut packaging, and puree) and consumer preference mapping of these processed foods with the selected material and commercial varieties.  In addition, preliminary and advanced field testing of selected material at several grower locations scheduled for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 planting season.

    CAAP 235 Hazelnut development (University of Guelph)

    The purpose of the project was to seize the opportunity to develop a viable hazelnut industry in Ontario. Already, there is a market in Ontario for 10,000t of shelled hazelnuts, which is equivalent to 20,000 acres of trees. The project will identify suitable hazelnut varieties that grow well in Ontario, and will establish methods for fast and reliable propagation of selected varieties. An efficient micro-propagation protocol for large scale production and high rate of hazelnut propagation is required for consistent supply of elite germ plasm to support the industry. Before the industry can be developed, the issues around suitable varieties and propagation need to be solved. These will enable Ontario producers to have the tools to develop an industry to supply nuts to various manufacturers and the fresh market, with the potential to develop an industry worth over $60 million annually.

    To establish micro-propagation of hazelnuts, a bioreactor-based micro-propagation protocol was developed for hazelnut multiplication. An integrated approach was developed to increase the multiplication rate by optimizing the nutrient medium supplements and culture technology using a temporary immersion bioreactor system (TIS). Under optimized conditions, the explants produce multiple shoots that can be eluted and transplanted to green houses with a high rate of survival. Rooted microshoots of HF-16 and the plantlets acclimatized in green house had 80% survival rate.

    The methodology is in the process of being transferred and commercialized with a greenhouse in Ontario. In a retractable roof greenhouse 1.2 m tall trees could be produced from micro-propagated plantlets in one growing season for a net cost of $9 per plant.

    To date, four variety trial experiments at two different environments, Simcoe and Vineland, have been established with 43 cultivars and selections. So far we have collected data for four years, and six hazelnut varieties have been provisionally recommended to potential Ontario hazelnut growers. The crop on the fifth year has been picked recently. Time is needed to dry them, remove the husks and weight the nuts and calculate the yield. Data analysis will be done by the end of December 2013 and the information will be presented at the fifth annual hazelnut meeting in March 2014.

    As a result of this project, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the Ontario Hazelnut Association and Ferrero to promote a strong, barrier-free hazelnut sector, with a strong economy and strong communities.

  • Research partners

    Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

    The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) is a world-class research centre dedicated to horticultural science and innovation, and located in Niagara Region.

    Vineland's researchers are active in Applied Genomics, Consumer Insights and Horticultural Production Systems to deliver innovative products and production solutions that address the needs of the horticulture industry and advance Canada's research and commercialization agenda.

    Vineland’s Business Development Office aligns business and science interests by assisting with commercialization, technology scouting and technology transfer activities.

    Vineland is an independent, not-for-profit organization, funded in part by Growing Forward 2.

    Click here to learn more about Vineland.

    University of Guelph

    The University of Guelph's Department of Plant Agriculture is Canada’s largest and most diverse applied plant biology department, dedicated to teaching, research and service related to horticultural crops, turfgrass, landscape species and field crops.

    Click here to learn more about Plant Agriculture at Guelph

    Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre

    The Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre (GPCRC) is one of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's national network of 19 research centres, and is located at Harrow, Ontario. Its mission is to develop and transfer new technologies for the production and protection of greenhouse vegetables and ornamentals, and field crops, including soybeans, edible beans, corn, winter wheat and tomatoes.

    Click here to learn more about GPCRC at Harrow

  • Erie Innovation and Commercialization

    Erie Innovation and Commercialization was a regional effort to transform the future of agriculture in the five county region of Ontario known as the South Central Ontario Region (SCOR), which includes Norfolk, Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford and Brant counties. Its main objective was to link growers in this area with new opportunities that will help grow the agriculture and agri-food sector in the region.

    The project, which was in place 2009 - 2013, exceeded all expectations. New grower organizations were formed for hazelnut and lavender producers, as well as wine growers in the Ontario South Coast area, which is well on its way to achieving its goal of becoming Ontario’s fourth DVA (Designated Viticulture Area).

    New markets are being developed for growers of hazelnuts and biomass crops, a new Individual Quick Freeze (IQF) facility was established and several studies, including Accessing the Marketplace and Broader Public Sector have identified new market areas for growers. Longer term, work is underway to explore and potentially develop opportunities for biomass, sweet potatoes, hops, Russian dandelion and castor.

    Erie Innovation and Commercialization was an important advocate for growers in the region on issues of innovation and market development with organizations and initiatives like Life Sciences Ontario, Ontario Lavender Association, Ontario South Coast Wineries and Growers Association, Ontario Ginseng Innovation and Research Consortium, Bioenterprise Scientific Advisory Board, Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Resources (ICFAR), the Minister of Agriculture and Food Innovation Advisory Board, advisory board, Canada’s Fruit & Veg Tech Xchange advisory board, International Bar Code of Life advisory board and the Premier’s Summit on Agriculture.

    A key aspect of Erie Innovation and Commercialization’s success was the provision of expertise, networks and business capacity in the southern Ontario region and having on-the-ground innovation and commercialization support.  Prior to the establishment of Erie Innovation and Commercialization, the region was not progressing at a rapid pace, there were few established networks and many individuals trying to innovate without great success.  Erie Innovation and Commercialization provided a platform for people to work together with the goal of increasing the diversity.

    Unfortunately, efforts at securing continuation funding for Erie Innovation were not successful and the program ended in the fall of 2013. More information about Erie and its work is available at