Agri-Food Innovations Recognized at Award Ceremony in Cambridge
The Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes and celebrates the agri-food producers, processors, organizations and rural communities, who through their innovative ideas and projects are helping strengthen our communities, support a sustainable environment, create jobs and boost our economy.
The following are regional award recipients from Grey County, Perth County, Simcoe County, Waterloo Region and Wellington County.
Beef Improvement Ontario (BIO) - Elora
Your typical beef farmer doesn't spend a lot of time behind a desk. And that's what makes desktop-computer traceability systems clunky. But thanks to Beef Improvement Ontario's mobile livestock recordkeeping software, producers can now use their smartphone to record and access data wherever they happen to be. The Go360|bioTrack system makes food safety simpler, allowing users to track animal identification, movements, feed, health records, biosecurity and more. Spotty connection? Not to worry: the software works offline as well, automatically uploading and backing up your data when an Internet connection becomes available. The data-capture solution is now available for sheep and goat producers as well and has caught the attention of markets in Alberta and the United States.
Best Baa Dairy - Fergus
The Amish farmers who supply Best Baa Dairy faced a conundrum. According to food safety rules, they have to cool their sheep milk to four degrees within two hours of milking. However, their traditions prohibit them from using electricity. So Best Baa Dairy stepped in to develop a solution. The cheesemaker equipped a 240-litre stainless steel tank with a small engine to drive a standard refrigeration compressor. The prototype successfully cooled milk in just 35 minutes and also heated a barrel of washwater to boot. Best Baa built a second one, and then three more that used solar panels instead of a gasoline engine. Today, Best Baa gets great sheep milk, Amish farmers can adhere to their traditions, and the new off-the-grid technology can be used anywhere that farmers don't have access to electricity.
Bighead Hops - Meaford
Ontario-grown hops seem like the natural choice for the province's craft breweries. There's just one problem. Most breweries are set up for pelletized hops, but the price tag of commercial pellet mills is well beyond the budget of small-scale hops producers. That's where one Meaford hops grower got creative. Bighead Hops banded together with six other producers to form a co-op and adapt a pelletizer to their specific needs and scale. Bighead put the mill into operation in 2014, producing more than 3,000 kilograms of pelletized hops. A few tweaks this year have helped speed up the processing time by nearly 50 per cent. Breweries and cideries are snapping up the hops, giving co-op members the dollars they need to plant even more acres of Ontario hops.
Clear Valley Hops - Collingwood
Clear Valley Hops claims to supply the freshest hops in the world, and they go to great lengths to deliver on that promise. As soon as the hops are harvested, they are transferred to a 40-foot-high oast house for low-heat drying, preserving their flavour-rich essential oils. Once the hops are dried, Clear Valley doesn't waste time baling them - instead they go straight to pelleting. Finally, they are packed in material that blocks harmful oxygen and ultraviolet rays, flushed with nitrogen and flash-frozen. The entire process, from harvest to freezing, takes just 24 hours. Laurie Thatcher-Craig and John Craig have poured more than $1.3 million into their enterprise, but the investment is paying off with numerous long-term brewery contracts. As their customers have discovered, fresher is clearly better.
Escarpment Laboratories - Guelph
You can't make beer without yeast - the microscopic beasties that create both the alcohol and much of the flavour in your favourite brew. Until recently, however, Ontario's craft breweries had to rely on yeast. Not anymore. Guelph's Escarpment Laboratories now offers a local supply of yeasts, from tried-and-true classics to new, made-in-Ontario strains like "Wild Thing": ale yeast isolated from a local apple orchard. Escarpment Laboratories will even work with breweries to develop custom blends for truly unique flavours. Currently, the company sells 20 different strains and blends, with several hundred more in development. To meet demand, Escarpment Laboratories is planning to increase its production capacity 10-fold in the coming years, helping the province's breweries produce 100 per cent local beer.
Harvest Hop & Malt - Guelph
Harvest Hop + Malt is thinking small. And that could have a big impact on Ontario craft breweries, distilleries, bakeries and grain farmers. Most malting equipment is designed for large-scale operations, with a price tag to match. However, this Guelph enterprise - the province's first micro-maltery - has designed an affordable, single-vessel system for malting grains that are destined for beer, liquor, baked goods or animal feed. The system processes one tonne of grain at a time, runs on household water and power and can fit through an eight-by-eight-foot doorway. And at a price tag under $200,000, this "uni-malter" lies within the reach of small-scale enterprises. Once commercial production begins, brewmasters across the province can raise a glass to Ontario-grown, Ontario-malted grains.
Jewels Under the Kilt - Fergus
Customers go nuts for Jewels Under the Kilt - a line of locally grown walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts roasted with an addictive mixture of flavourings that range from chipotle to pumpkin pie. In the early days, Elizabeth Burrow grew all the nuts herself on her 95-acre farm, using sustainable practices such as shellfish-based fertilizer, strategic inter-planting and organic insecticidal soap. As the popularity of her snacks has grown, she has planted other nut varieties to expand her offerings. Burrow has also turned to other farms to supplement her nut supply, as well as provide maple syrup, peaches, apples, pumpkins and other flavourings. Now, if discussions with chain stores prove successful, she'll be upping her orders - and Jewels Under the Kilt could soon be winning new fans.
Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency - Guelph
When an Ontario consumer grabs a package of lamb chops or a lamb roast at the grocery store, four out of five times that meat is imported. The Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency wants to change that. To help local farmers produce more lamb, the Agency has launched a "Master Shepherd" course, giving producers the tools and knowledge they need to expand their flocks, improve flock health and reduce production costs. The 12-module course covers everything from feedlot management to digital technology. Eighteen farmers enrolled in the full course, while many others have signed up for the individual modules, offered once per month at different locations around the province. As more farmers complete the program, Ontarians will see more sheep on local fields - and more homegrown lamb in local supermarkets.
Paul Bechtel - Baden
Paul Bechtel won a Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2009 for developing a high-temperature composting system that transformed manure from his beef feedlot into valuable fertilizer. Since then, this farmer hasn't rested on his laurels. Although the aerobic composter destroys all weed seeds and slashes composting time, Paul wanted to augment the nitrogen content of his final compost. He also wanted to prevent the emission of odours and greenhouse gases. Adding zeolite to the process did the trick. This naturally occurring mineral adsorbs nitrogen, cutting methane emissions and doubling the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in his compost. While adding zeolite costs just one dollar per tonne of manure, it doubles the price Bechtel can command for the finished product.
Perth County Ingredients - St. Marys
There's a whole lot of goodness in every egg, and Perth County Ingredients aims to make the most of it. Egg processing leaves behind inedible egg material - called slurry or spinnings - that typically gets tossed. But Perth County Ingredients knew that "waste" could be converted into powdered, high-protein ingredients for animal feed and pet food manufacturers. With federal and provincial assistance, an egg processing plant in Perth County was brought back to life and retrofitted to process the by-product. Equipped with high-tech dryers, a pressurized membrane system and modified centrifuge technology, the facility has brought much-needed jobs to the area and supports local egg and hatchery operations, creating value from what would otherwise be landfill.
Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) - Guelph
It takes skill, vision and savvy to keep Ontario's agri-food sector thriving in a globalized world. So the Rural Ontario Institute is cultivating those qualities through customized leadership training. The Institute set out to develop a modular curriculum for building leaders within Ontario's agricultural organizations. They put together materials, trained workshop leaders and, to date, have equipped more than 110 participants with the skills, tools and strategies to guide their organizations to success. What's more, the program is strengthening connections within the sector and providing participants with valuable networking opportunities. Thanks to the Rural Ontario Institute, a new generation of leaders is helping keep Ontario agriculture competitive now, and in the future.
Stratford & District Agricultural Society - Stratford
For the better part of two centuries, the Stratford & District Agricultural Society has raised awareness about agriculture at fairs and farm shows. But in the early 2000s, the organization started to feel the financial pinch of maintaining a large facility for its events. So when the City of Stratford was planning to build a new recreation facility, the Society pitched a novel partnership idea to share the space. The multi-use facility now accommodates a variety of agricultural events and a weekly farmers' market over the summer months. Come winter, it is transformed into a state-of-the-art indoor sports facility. The forward-thinking partnership has cut utility expenses by more than $80,000, revitalized the farmers' market and provided the organization with new and growing revenue streams.
The New Farm - Creemore
Since 2007, The New Farm has been helping low-income families get fresh, healthy produce. Each year, this certified organic vegetable farm outside Creemore organizes a fundraising dinner and concert to support The Stop Community Food Centre. The event attracts hundreds of people keen to hear artists like The Tragically Hip and Sam Roberts Band and munch on food from top chefs like Jamie Kennedy. To date, The New Farm has raised more than $150,000 - money The Stop uses to buy fresh organic food from small- and medium-sized Ontario farmers. On top of that, The New Farm launched a "Grow for The Stop" retail brand. Consumers pay a premium for the veggies, supporting local growers and The Stop with every purchase.