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2016 Top Five Recipients of the Premier's Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence

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2016 Top Five Recipients of the Premier's Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence

The Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes and celebrates agri-food producers, processors and organizations that are helping to create jobs, boost the economy, strengthen communities and support a sustainable environment through their innovative ideas and projects.

Premier's Award

Dairy Quality Inc. - York Region

Healthy cows are top priority for dairy farmers, which is why York Region's Dairy Quality Inc. has developed breakthrough technology to help combat mastitis in cows. Developed in 2013, this new, low-cost, hand-held device is a powerful tool that detects the early stages of mastitis by accurately measuring somatic cell counts in milk. Attached to an iPod touch or iPhone, the device uses patent-pending microscope technology that can count somatic cells in milk samples within seconds. Images of analyzed milk can also provide clues that enable earlier treatment and intervention. The device can also be used to measure somatic cell levels in the farm's bulk tank. Farmers across the globe are using the technology daily, and Dairy Quality Inc. is the only company of its kind to offer rapid response and data storage capabilities. In the future, the technology could be modified to detect pathogens in other fluids, such as water, blood and urine. Using the device, dairy farmers can identify problems and take action before a cow develops advanced problems. This helps cut treatment costs, reduce antibiotic use, protect farmers from loss of productivity and ensure the highest milk quality standards.

Minister's Award

First Ontario Shrimp Ltd. - Northumberland County

Good things grow in Ontario - everything from strawberries to spinach to shrimp. Thanks to the trailblazing efforts of the Cocchio family, home-grown crustaceans are now available in Ontario. Inspired by reports of indoor aquaculture in the United States, the Cocchios set out to become Ontario's first shrimp producers. They researched and toured operations in Maryland and Indiana, secured an aquaculture licence and worked with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to import feed and shrimp larvae. The family then set out to convert one of their hog barns into a shrimp facility, installing 16 cement saltwater tanks, each lined with a pond liner and filled with nearly 60,000 litres of water. Although initial survival rates were low, the company has fine-tuned its closed-loop system and can now produce 136 kilograms of Pacific white shrimp a week. As production increases, the business is expanding its customer base, while mentoring other farmers in shrimp farming. The Cocchios have successfully created a new local food product, paving the way for more jobs for Ontario's economy and more value chain opportunities for local industries, like equipment manufacturers, hatcheries, and processing and packaging facilities.

Leaders in Innovation Awards

Vineland Growers' Cooperative Ltd. - Niagara Region

Ontarians are now able to enjoy more locally grown pears, thanks to a new blight-resistant pear variety. The new "Cold Snap™" variety, developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada features a firmer texture, sweeter taste and larger size. Since being introduced in 2011, more than 75,000 "Cold Snap™" pear trees have been planted in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Thanks to the variety's natural disease resistance and improved planting density, Ontario growers are achieving higher yields and using less spray to control disease. While Ontario-produced pears aren't typically available beyond late December, Vineland Growers' Cooperative have adopted state-of-the-art, atmosphere-controlled storage technology to keep the harvest fresh throughout the winter. This ensures customers have access to locally-grown options until the end of March, and brings additional revenue to growers during the winter months. Half a million of the pears hit the market in fall 2015, and retailers were sold out by early January 2016. Plans to double production are now underway with sub-licensing agreements to help growers in other parts of Canada offer the new variety.

Asparagus Farmers of Ontario - Norfolk County

The Asparagus Farmers of Ontario (AFO) is the first organization representing growers to develop its own seed business. In 1996, the organization - which represents 90 growers across the province -- negotiated exclusive rights to new asparagus varieties developed through the University of Guelph's breeding program with great success. In the late 1990s, the AFO introduced their first commercial variety, the Guelph Millennium. It quickly became the seed of choice for growers in Ontario, representing up to 95 per cent of all asparagus grown in this province. Thousands of acres of Guelph Millennium can also be found growing in Michigan, Washington and further afield.  The new variety has since expanded into the European market, generating worldwide sales of more than $1.2 million. Profits from the sales are re-invested through a trust to support further innovative breeding research and marketing programs at AFO. With a second variety called Guelph Eclipse slated to hit the market in 2017 and several other varieties currently in the pipeline, AFO is putting Ontario asparagus on the global map.

Evynn's Advantage Inc. - Durham Region

Across the country, many Canadians depend on a liquid diet for the nutrition they need. Most use a commercial baby formula made from syrup and synthetic nutrients and oils, which is delivered directly to their stomachs through a gastric tube. Jeff and Carol Syme's daughter, Evynn, was on this diet as a result of a health condition. When Evynn developed an intolerance to commercial formulas, the Symes to created their own liquid blend from fresh whole foods, with dramatic results: within 18 months of changing her diet, Evynn required no hospital visits. The improvements led the Symes to establish Evynn's Advantage to help other people in similar situations. After extensive research, development and lab testing, the company is preparing to launch its first products. Made from Ontario vegetables, fruits, grains and yogurt, their products can be refrigerated for up to three months or frozen to keep even longer.

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