Business & Policy
Covered Bridge Potato Chips has purchased new equipment and expanded its Hartland-area manufacturing facility with $867,000 in federal and provincial funding. Government officials and company president Ryan Albright did not respond to a request from CBC News for details about when the funding was provided. The announcement comes less than eight months after a strike and boycott at the plant ended with the signing of a new contract that included a pay increase for workers and more money for boot and clothing allowances. The contract dispute was settled after a New Brunswick judge rejected an application by Albright to dismantle the union. The nearly 836-square metre (9,000-square foot) expansion is expected to improve the company's efficiencies and optimize operating space to increase production of its old-fashioned kettle chips, which are made from dark russet potatoes, harvested from the Albright family's local farm. | READ MORE
Feb. 26, 2016, Prince Edward Island – Two Island farmers convicted of planting potatoes on a slope that was too steep were granted a partial victory from the P.E.I. Court of Appeal, writes CBC News. | READ MORE
For the past nine years, veteran automotive journalists have donated their time to act as judges in the only annual North American truck competition that tests pickup and van models head to head – while hauling payload and also towing. The Canadian Truck King Challenge started in 2006, and each year these writers return because they believe in this straightforward approach to testing and they know their readers want the results it creates. I started it (and continue to do it) for the same reason – that, and my belief that after 40 years of putting trucks to work I know what’s important to Canadians. Now, that’s a long list of qualifications, but in a nutshell it’s the concept that a truck can be pretty, but that alone is just not enough. It had also better do its job – and do it well. This year, nine judges travelled from Quebec, Saskatchewan and across Ontario to the Kawartha Lakes Region where we test the trucks each year. All the entries are delivered to my 70-acre IronWood test site days before the judges arrive so we can prepare them for hauling and towing. In the meantime they are all outfitted with digital data collectors. These gadgets plug into the USB readers on each vehicle and transmit fuel consumption data to a company in Kitchener, Ont. (MyCarma) that records, compiles and translates those readings into fuel economy results that span the almost 4,000 test kilometers we accumulate over two long days. These results are as real world as it gets. The numbers are broken into empty runs, loaded results and even consumption while towing. Each segment is measured during test loops with the trucks being driven by five judges – one after the other. That’s five different driving styles, acceleration, braking and idling (we don’t shut the engines down during seat changes). The Head River test loop itself is also a combination of road surfaces and speed limits. At 17-kilometres long it runs on gravel, secondary paved road and highway. Speed limits vary from 50 to 80 km/h and the road climbs and drops off an escarpment-like ridgeline several times; plus it crosses the Head River twice at its lowest elevation. The off-road part of our testing is done on my own course at IronWood. Vans are not tested on the off-road course, though it’s noteworthy that the Mercedes Sprinter was equipped with a four-wheel drive system this year. This is the third year that we have used the data collection system and released the final fuel consumption report that MyCarma prepares for the Truck King Challenge. It’s become one of our most anticipated results. But how do we decide what to test? Well as anyone who’s bought a truck knows, the manufacturers never sleep, bringing something different to market every year. As the challenge looks to follow market trends, what and how we test must change each year too and the 2016 model year proved no different. We had a field of 14 contenders at IronWood this year covering four categories. They were as follows: Full-size half-ton pickup truck Ford F-150, Platinum, 3.5L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Ford F-150, XLT, 2.7L, V6 EcoBoost, gas, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Silverado, High Country, 6.2L, V8, gas, 8-speed Auto Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6, diesel, 8-speed Auto Mid-size pickup truck Toyota Tacoma, TRD Off-Road, 3.5L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto GMC Canyon, SLT, 2.8L Duramax, I-4 diesel, 6-speed Auto Chevrolet Colorado, Z71, 3.6L V6, gas, 6-speed Auto Full-size commercial vans Ford Transit 250, 3.2L Power Stroke I-5 diesel, 6-speed Auto Mercedes Sprinter 2.0L BLUE-Tec I-4 diesel, 2X4 Mercedes Sprinter 3.0L BLUE-Tec V6 diesel, 4X4 Ram ProMaster 1500, 3.0L I-4 diesel, 6-speed Auto/Manual Mid-size commercial vans Ram ProMaster City, SLT, 2.4L Tigershark I-4 gas, 9-speed Auto Nissan NV200, 2.0L I-4, gas, Xtronic CVT Auto Mercedes Metris, 2.0L I-4, gas, 7-speed Auto These vehicles are each all-new – or have had significant changes made to them. However, this year, the Truck King Challenge decided to try something else new by offering a returning champion category. This idea had been growing for a while and had everything to do with the engineering cycles that each manufacturer follows. Simply put, trucks are not significantly updated each year and to date we have only included “new” iron in each year’s competition. However, we started to think that just because a truck is in the second or third year of its current generational life shouldn’t make it non-competitive. Certainly if you watch the builders’ ads it doesn’t! So, this spring we decided that for the first time the immediate previous year’s winner (in each category) would be offered the chance to send its current truck back to IronWood to compete against what’s new on the market. This year the invitation was sent to the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, Ford Transit 250 and Nissan NV200 – all previous winners that accepted the offer to return and fight for their crowns. They, along with the new vehicles, took the tests over two days with the judges evaluating everything from towing feel to interior features. The judges score each vehicle in 20 different categories; these scores are then averaged across the field of judges and converted to a score out of 100. Finally the “as tested” price of each vehicle is also weighted against the average (adding or subtracting points) for the final outcome. And this year’s segment winners are... Full-Size Half-Ton Pickup Truck – Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – 82.97 per cent Mid-Size Pickup Truck – GMC Canyon Duramax – 76.30 per cent Full-Size Commercial Van – Ford Transit 250 – 73.90 per cent Mid-Size Commercial Van – Mercedes Metris – 75.69 per cent The overall top scoring 2016 Canadian Truck King Challenge winner is the Ram 1500, Laramie, 3L EcoDiesel, V6 diesel, 8-speed Auto. Congratulations to all the winners and to the two repeating champions – the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel and the Ford Transit 250.
Jan. 25, 2016, Guelph, Ont. – Registration is now open for the 2016 Ontario Potato Conference, to be held March 1 at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in Guelph. The deadline for the early bird registration at the reduced fee of $50 is Feb. 25. Lunch, coffee breaks and parking are included in the registration fee. The agenda and registration information can be found here.
Jan. 11, 2016, Prince Edward Island – The P.E.I. Potato Board is moving to train the Island's potato growers and exporters on how to disinfect trucks before loading them, with five workshops being offered across the province, reports CBC News. | READ MORE
Nov. 18, 2015, Charlottetown – The International Potato Technology Expo returns to the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown on Feb. 26 and 27, 2016. This biennial event welcomes potato growers and manufacturers of equipment and product solutions from across the Maritimes and beyond. Registration is now open for the 2016 edition of the show. For a limited time, visitors can pre-register for just $5 and fast-track their entrance to the show. Registration is $10 at the door. Convenient online registration is available on the show website: www.PotatoExpo.ca.
A P.E.I. farmer is taking stunning images of his fields to show people where their food comes from — from a whole new aerial angle. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
May 25, 2016, Prince Edward Island – A new study linking potatoes and increased risk of high blood pressure is being viewed with caution by the P.E.I. potato board and a local nutritional scientist. | READ MORE
Dec. 1, 2015, New Glasgow, N.S. – Pictou County RCMP are investigating after a nail was found in a 20-pound bag of Country Magic white potatoes bought in a grocery store, reports CBC News. | READ MORE
Sept. 24, 2015, Halifax – Halifax Police are investigating a possible case of food tampering after a nail was found in a potato sold at a grocery store. Global News reports. | READ MORE
Sept. 24, 2015, Charlottetown – Prince Edward Island’s potato harvest is now underway and many farmers have installed security cameras in their fields and around machinery due to potato tampering concerns. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Aug. 18, 2015, Charlottetown – The deadline has passed for the $500,000 reward for information in Prince Edward Island’s potato tampering cases, but farmers are holding out hope an arrest will be made. The Guardian reports. | READ MORE
Chinese scientists will attempt to grow potatoes on the moon as part of a forthcoming lunar mission.
It may be a while before robots and drones are as common as tractors and combine harvesters on farms, but the high-tech tools may soon play a major role in helping feed the world's rapidly growing population.
A potato extract that’s rich in beneficial compounds is looking very promising. In trials with mice, researchers at McGill University have found that this extract reduces weight gain and provides other important health benefits. Now, they hope to conduct clinical trials to see if the extract produces similar benefits in people. In this research, Danielle Donnelly, a potato researcher in McGill’s department of plant science, has teamed up with Stan Kubow and Luis Agellon, who are both at McGill’s school of dietetics and human nutrition. The research had its beginnings in Donnelly’s research on genetic improvement of Russet Burbank, the number one processing cultivar in Canada. Because Russet Burbank has limited fertility, traditional breeding techniques aren’t effective for developing improved lines. So, about 10 years ago, Donnelly and her research group developed a technique using tuber tissue to propagate plantlets that can differ genetically from the original tuber. These variants, called somaclones, can then be grown in the field and screened for various traits. Donnelly has produced about 800 Russet Burbank somaclones. “I had been screening my somaclones of Russet Burbank for yield and processing characteristics after long-term storage, and doing the selections and realizing that the somaclone technology could be very helpful there,” Donnelly explains. “Then, in talking to Stan Kubow, I realized that we should also be looking at nutritional parameters because the processing industry, and the whole potato industry, needs to be more concerned about the health of their consumers.” Donnelly and Kubow started collaborating on potato nutrient research. In one part of this research, they examined the mineral content of 16 cultivars, including chippers, fryers and table stock, grown at five locations. “We found there was a lot of variation between the cultivars. Potatoes are not created equal for minerals! Russet Burbank and Yukon Gold were particularly good,” Donnelly says. They determined that one serving per day of Russet Burbank, Yukon Gold or Freedom potatoes provides a significant portion of the recommended daily intake for magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, iron, selenium and zinc. In another part of their nutritional studies, Donnelly and Kubow determined the antioxidant levels in her top 25 somaclones that were best for yield and processing traits. In potatoes, antioxidant activity comes from vitamin C, a number of polyphenolics and other compounds. Out of the 25 somaclones, they selected the four that had the highest antioxidant activity plus a range of polyphenolic compounds. From this screening and selection work, Donnelly currently has four advanced lines moving toward registration. She hopes to register the best one or two of those lines later this year. “All four lines have high yield, three of them do better than the Russet Burbank control in fry tests, and all have very high protein and high antioxidant capacity,” she notes. Fat-fighting extractIn a different aspect of the potato nutrient research, Agellon, Kubow and Donnelly investigated the effects of potato polyphenols on diet-induced obesity. The possibility that eating polyphenols might control obesity may seem surprising, but obesity actually has a connection with inflammation. Research has shown that obesity results in low-grade chronic inflammation due to the reaction of certain cells to excess nutrients and energy. As a first step, Kubow and Donnelly grew 12 different potato cultivars for several growing seasons and compared their polyphenolic contents. They found that Onaway and Russet Burbank had higher and more consistent polyphenol levels than the other cultivars. Next, using these two cultivars, the researchers made an extract containing a mixture of potato polyphenols. “The extract concentrates the active ingredients, making it more likely to see the biological effects we were interested in,” Kubow explains. One dose of the extract has about 30 times the amount of polyphenols found in a single potato. The main polyphenol in the extract is chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to have anti-obesity effects in some situations. Then the researchers conducted a feeding trial with mice to evaluate the effect of the extract. “The mice were fed a diet that is similar to what many North Americans consume; it is high in calories, high in fat, and high in sugar content. We wanted to see if these polyphenols, when given to mice that are ingesting this high-fat diet, would help in preventing obesity,” Agellon says. One group of mice was fed just the high-fat diet. A second group was fed the high-fat diet plus the potato extract. And a third group was fed the high-fat diet plus an equivalent amount of a purified single polyphenol, either chlorogenic acid or ferulic acid. “We were intrigued by a number of studies that tested single polyphenols reported to be active in some systems but that were not as effective when used in a purified form; it seems that the purified compound had lost its potency,” Agellon explains. “We wondered if the desirable effect associated with a food like potato and the polyphenols that it contains, is because of a combination of the different compounds in the food.” Their hypothesis was that each individual polyphenolic compound produces a small benefit for a particular area of the body, like the liver, but multiple polyphenols ingested together affect multiple pathways, producing a synergistic effect with major health benefits. Agellon says the extract’s benefits emerged quite quickly in the trial. “Midway through the 10-week study, we could see which of the groups had received the polyphenol extract. They had less weight gain and were much more active than the mice receiving the high-fat diet by itself.” Kubow adds, “This effect wasn’t because the mice didn’t like the diet and didn’t eat it. They were eating as much or more of the high-fat diet [as the other groups of mice]. Normally, mice respond just like humans – if they eat a lot of fat, they gain a lot of body fat and body weight. But to our surprise, the extract had quite remarkable potency in inhibiting that, regardless of how much they ate.” The individual polyphenols were not quite as effective as the extract in reducing weight gain, suggesting synergistic benefits from the mix of polyphenols in the extract. The researchers are excited by the extract’s potential human health benefits. Agellon notes, “The extract could be a wonderful tool to help people suffering from obesity.” To move forward on this, they need to conduct clinical trials to assess the extract’s fat-fighting effect in people. “We’ve got a lot of data supporting this effect in animal trials and in some culture trials, but clinical trials are the key, critical step toward commercialization,” Kubow says. Pollution protectionThe researchers have also looked at the extract’s effect on another inflammation-related health problem: lung damage caused by air pollution. Kubow explains, “Inflammation is your immune system overreacting to various compounds, including pollutants. With air pollution, that overreaction causes damage in various tissues including the lungs. So our hypothesis was that the extract might be effective where people are overweight and exposed to pollutants at the same time.” In this study, they fed two groups of mice a western-style diet, similar to the diet in the obesity trial but not quite as high-fat. For four weeks, one group was fed the high-fat diet, and the other group was fed the high-fat diet plus the extract. Then the mice were exposed to ozone for four hours, to replicate the effects of exposure to heavy smog. “We looked at their lungs 24 hours after that exposure because the body is continually overreacting with the inflammatory response. That allowed us to detect factors in the lungs associated with ozone damage and inflammation,” Kubow explains. The results showed that the mice eating the potato extract had significantly less lung damage. “We think this study was an important first step to validate the use of this extract as a means of potentially having a supplement to combat air pollution, which would be the first such supplement,” Kubow says. “However, we need clinical trials for verification of the benefit in humans.” Clinical trials are keyThe researchers are currently seeking funding for clinical trials to see how well the extract fights obesity and lung damage in people. If those trials prove the extract’s effectiveness, then the extract could have commercial potential, for instance, as a dietary supplement or a cooking ingredient. So investment in the trials could be of interest not only to health agencies but also to the potato industry because of the extract’s value-added potential. Donnelly sees a couple of ways the next steps in this research could help potato growers and processors. “First, there are the clinical trials, which would get a product out there. Secondly [with information on polyphenol levels in more cultivars] it could be that more potato growers could benefit because there is a lot of wasted potatoes – people growing small potatoes have big ones they can’t use, and big potato growers have little ones they don’t always know what to do with. It may be that some of these materials could be rescued from waste streams from processed potatoes. So there is a lot of potato that could be used for a product that no one has produced up until now, which is this extract.” As well, a potato extract with proven health benefits might help enhance the health reputation of potatoes. Kubow says, “The public perception is that potato intake is bad for your weight, but we’re talking about potato decreasing the risk of overweight and obesity.”
March 7, 2016, Charlottetown, PEI – A research team has discovered that Prince Edward Island is exporting more than just potatoes. It turns out that 95 per cent of the nitrates that are emptying into the Northumberland Strait are coming from this province. And of these, 91 per cent are coming from the Island's agriculture industry. READ MORE
February 12, 2016, Fredericton, NB – Bright pink and purple are the hot new fashion colours for Spring 2016, for potatoes. Every year the federal government releases new kinds of potatoes to the marketplace: the spuds that eventually end up sprouting in our gardens, turning golden in our deep fryers and mushed under our mashers. This year, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has released 16 new kinds of potatoes, including one that may be better than the current standard French fry potato, the Russet Burbank. READ MORE
Feb. 3, 2016, Ontario – Eugenia Banks recently received the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association (OFVGA) 2016 Award of Merit at the OFVGA annual general meeting in January. Banks hails from Santiago, Chile where she completed her bachelor of science degree at the University of Chile. She studied further at the University of Guelph where she completed her masters and PhD. Her connection to the potato industry started in 1990, when she began working for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) as a potato specialist. In those years, Banks made herself available to growers whenever needed, tirelessly identifying problems with unique solutions. Her first battle was against the Colorado potato beetle, which was resistant to all pesticides that were registered to control it. For five years, Banks and potato growers would use propane flamers, vacuums, and plastic line trenches to control the pest into control by 1995. What started as very little knowledge of the potato industry grew exponentially over the years with dedication, commitment, and a desire to learn. Today, Banks is a respected potato expert. Her most successful endeavours include the evaluation of new potato varieties through practical field trials, tackling the aggressive strain of late blight that originally caused the Irish Famine, scout training days, and the Ontario Potato Conference held annually.“Each year brought new challenges, but by working together we got positive results,” Banks said of her work with farmers in a press release. “Ontario potato growers are knowledgeable, innovative, hard working, and resilient. I will share this award with them.”
P.E.I. potatoes fetched good prices in 2016, continuing a trend that stretches back to 2004. The strong performance for Island spuds was shown in the farm product prices indexed released by Statistics Canada. | READ MORE
While North American farmers are in the process of wrapping up a fourth-straight bumper harvest, according to the BMO 2016 North American Agriculture Report, foreign exchange developments have yielded very different experiences for producers in Canada and the United States. "In the United States, the lofty greenback, which has gained 20 per cent on a trade-weighted basis since the start of 2014, has been yet another bearish factor for crop prices and revenue," said Aaron Goertzen, Senior Economist, BMO Capital Markets. "Canadian producers, in contrast, have benefitted from a drop in the loonie, which is down 17 per cent against the U.S. dollar since the start of 2014 and has provided a like-sized lift to crop prices north of the border." Mr. Goertzen added that as a result of the weaker loonie, domestic crop prices in Canada are 18 per cent below all-time highs – compared to nearly 30 per cent in the United States – and have risen five per cent from their recent low in mid-2014. The lower loonie has been a particularly fortunate development given the country's mediocre crop yields over the past few years. Canadian Outlook In Canada, composite crop yields, which consist of corn, soybeans, wheat and canola, picked up modestly on last year's subpar result. However, they remained on-trend overall as a near-record crop of canola on the prairies was offset by a decrease in corn and soybean yields in Ontario. "Canadian producers have undoubtedly been supported by the weaker loonie," said Adam Vervoort, Head of Agriculture Banking, BMO Financial Group. "This means now, with extra capital available, is an ideal time to invest in technology, which is driving the current string of bumper crops we've seen on a North American scale." He added, "Those producers who have adopted modern agricultural practices, particularly in the corn space, have grown trend crop yields substantially. There's still room for autonomous, satellite-informed equipment to be refined and used, as the innovation trend shows no sign of slowing down." Producers in Canada's Western regions, namely Alberta and Saskatchewan, have experienced a more difficult season impacted by weather challenges since October that have delayed their harvest timeline. However, the prairies remain on track for a near-record crop of canola. Mr. Vervoort affirmed that producers in the West could have potentially seen stronger results weather permitting, but have managed to still sustain a decent crop turnaround. "The harvest conditions have not been ideal, but we continue to work with farmers negatively impacted by adverse weather." While Canadian producers benefitted from a timely fall in the loonie that lifted crop prices north of the border, it also raised the cost of internationally-priced inputs like energy and fertilizer. Most producers face a wide variety of Canadian dollar-dominated expenses though, so margins have ultimately benefitted on balance. From mid-2014 to early this year, the weaker Canadian dollar also caused food prices to inflate four per cent yearly. Consumers have been somewhat relieved as a result of the partial bounce-back of the dollar in the latter half of the year and a decrease in livestock prices.
Nov. 3, 2016, Alberta – The Government of Canada has secured market access for Alberta seed potatoes to Thailand.Effective immediately, Alberta becomes the third province to have an export agreement with Thailand, joining Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, both of which secured export agreements in 2009. Combined, these three provinces form about 76 per cent of Canada’s seed potato exports. Alberta’s seed potato exports to Thailand could be worth up to $2 million annually, according to industry experts, adding to the $5 million on average exported annually to that country. The increased access will advance the competitiveness of, and create new opportunities for, the seed potato sector.
April 28, 2016, Manitoba – French fry companies cutting back on process potato contracts is predicted to cause a fall in Manitoba's potato acreage this spring. | READ MORE
March 9, 2016, Prince Edward Island – The Island’s staple potato industry may be experiencing a slump, writes The Guardian. At least one Island potato grower who recently attended the International Potato Expo says farms like his are struggling to sell potatoes because there are just too many of them. | READ MORE
Jan. 25, 2016, Prince Edward Island – The dropping dollar, which is hovering just above the 70-cent U.S. mark, has not translated into bargain-hunting American importers snapping up spuds south of the border. In fact, U.S. exports of P.E.I.'s 2015 crop are down about four per cent, according to the PEI Potato Board. CBC News has more details. | READ MORE
Researchers say they’ve pinpointed individual spud plants infected with potato virus Y with 90 percent accuracy, using hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones. Donna Delparte, an assistant professor of geosciences at Idaho State University, and graduate student Mike Griffel have successfully tested a “computer-learning” algorithm they developed to tease out PVY from spectral imaging “background noise,” such as field variability and unrelated crop stress. “Our premise was to look at all of these wavelengths of light the human eye can’t see and look for differences between healthy plants and plants infected with PVY,” Griffel said, adding their images had leaf-scale resolution. Griffel said the project detected disease well before potato crops reached the row-closure stage, far earlier than people can spot symptoms of PVY by scouting fields. To develop their algorithm, they compiled crop data in fields over three seasons, ending in 2016. The researchers first analyzed fields from the ground with a high-tech camera capable of recording 100 bands of the light spectrum. After studying the images, they selected the 15 most useful bands for identifying PVY based on its unique light reflection. Delparte programmed more basic hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones to detect those bands while surveying the same potato fields from the air. | READ MORE
So far in the project, the drone has collected imagery from about 50 potato fields in New Brunswick. Photo courtesy of Bernie Zebarth, AAFC. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are becoming increasingly popular with crop growers as an easy way to take a look at their fields. Now, researchers are fine-tuning the use of imagery from drones as a more advanced tool for precision management of Canadian potato fields. This work with drone imagery is part of a major five-year project to boost potato yields. “About three years ago, Potatoes New Brunswick and McCain Foods Canada came to me and said they were having issues in terms of potato productivity in Eastern Canada,” says Bernie Zebarth, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre. “The data across North America show a slow but steady average increase over time in potato yields, going up about five hundredweight per acre per year. But in Eastern Canada, that is not happening – the crop insurance data for New Brunswick suggest our yields are either stagnant or perhaps even decreasing slightly over time. “That’s a serious concern for industry. For example, a lot of New Brunswick’s potato production is for French fries for export. To export, you have to be competitive. If you start losing yield, then you become less competitive. So they asked us to work with them to see what could be done about it.” The project aims to increase yields by addressing the variability in productivity within potato fields. “The project has three main objectives. First, can we develop ways of mapping the variability in plant growth and yield in potato fields? Second, for the areas of the fields that are not performing well, can we identify why? And third, can we overcome those yield limitations?” Zebarth says. “In Eastern Canada, precision agriculture is an exciting new area for us, and this is part of what we’re doing in the project,” he adds. So, they are trying out tools like drones and yield monitors to map in-field variability as a first step towards managing that variability through precision agriculture. According to Yves Leclerc, McCain’s director of agronomy for North America, managing in-field variability is key to improving yields and profitability for potato growers. “We need to understand profitability not only at the field level but also the subfield level, and manage fields at that level. It is no longer enough to manage a field based on the average conditions; we need to be more precise [to achieve a field’s full yield potential].” The project’s initial phase, in 2013 and 2014, took place in New Brunswick only. For 2015 to 2017, the research is also taking place in Prince Edward Island and Manitoba. For the first two years, Potatoes New Brunswick, McCain Foods Canada, AAFC and New Brunswick’s Enabling Agricultural Research and Innovation program funded the project. With the expanded project, two additional agencies have come on board: the PEI Potato Board and the Manitoba Horticulture Productivity Enhancement Centre Inc. The project’s lead agency is Potatoes New Brunswick. To try to remedy yield limitations, the project team is looking at a wide variety of practices such as compost applications, fumigation, fall cover crops, nurse crops, furrow de-compaction and, in Manitoba, variable rate irrigation. “We’re looking at everything from drones and drone imagery, to the thousands of holes we’re digging to look at soil compaction, to compost applications, to soil salinity – everything. We want to make sure that there’s literally no stone unturned,” says Matt Hemphill, executive director of Potatoes New Brunswick. “There is no one-size-fits-all and no magic bullet in this process because we have such variability in soil and weather conditions.” Drone imagery – advantages and hurdlesA drone with a specialized camera and advanced software can be used to map in-field variability. The drone flies over the field in parallel passes to capture the entire field in a series of overlapping images. The camera can be set up to capture particular wavelengths of light; for instance, near-infrared wavelengths may be of interest because healthy plants reflect more near-infrared light than stressed or dead plants. So a near-infrared image of a field could potentially be used to identify patches where the plants are stressed due to problems like disease or low nutrient levels. “For instance, if we could use the imagery to identify the parts of a field that aren’t deficient in certain nutrients, then a potato producer wouldn’t need to waste time, energy and money in putting fertilizer products on those parts of the field,” Hemphill says. “Imagine, instead of broadcasting X number of tonnes per acre of lime across the whole field, you maybe only have to apply it to 25 per cent of the field. You can imagine how quickly those savings would add up. The same goes for other input costs.” Zebarth explains that, before drones became available, the main way to map vegetation patterns was with satellite imagery, which has advantages and disadvantages compared to drone imagery. “One advantage of satellite imagery is that it’s calibrated [so the imagery data is easier to use in advanced analysis]. But there are two big problems with satellites. The first one is that you can’t control when they capture imagery of your field – they only fly over the field every so often, and they can’t see through the clouds. In New Brunswick, we have a lot of cloud cover. The other disadvantage of satellite imagery is its low resolution; a ‘pixel’, an individual point of information, represents an area of maybe five by five to 30 by 30 metres in size [on the ground]. So we’ve never used satellite imagery very much to look at crops here in the East.” Drones avoid those disadvantages. The user can choose where and when to capture the imagery, as long the operator flies the drone safely and legally. (Anyone operating a drone in Canada must follow the rules set out in the Canadian Aviation Regulations and must respect all federal, provincial/territorial and municipal laws related to trespassing and privacy.) Cloud cover isn’t as much of an issue for drones because they fly below the clouds. And drone imagery is at a much higher resolution, about seven to 10 centimetres, depending on how high the drone is flown. These advantages are making drones popular with crop growers. “People are already using drones, mostly for qualitative assessment. Drones are fantastic for that,” Zebarth notes. “One such application is to have a visual look at your field. For example, if you fly the drone when the crop is beginning to emerge, you can really see the field’s variability – where the crop is already emerging and doing well, where it is just emerging, and where it hasn’t emerged yet.” Another qualitative application is to target field scouting. Zebarth explains, “In the image of the field, you might see a patch that looks different. The imagery won’t tell you what the problem is; it will just tell you something is there. So you can go out to the field and look at that patch to identify the problem.” However, the project team wants to take drone imagery a step further. “We’d like to get to where it’s a more sophisticated tool,” Zebarth says. “We want to determine quantitative differences, like trying to develop relationships between the imagery and things like yield and leaf area index, and so on.” McCain Foods has its own drone, camera and software for this type of geo-referenced field mapping, and it has trained two of its employees to operate the drone, one as a pilot and the other as a spotter. For the project, they are flying the drone over commercial potato fields in New Brunswick. So far, they’ve collected imagery for about 50 fields. They fly the drone over each field several times during the growing season. The first flight is when the soil is still bare, so they can look for differences in soil moisture and drainage across the field. The subsequent flights are timed to capture the crop during early and late emergence, mid-season, and early and late senescence. Zebarth says, “So we’re looking at: do we have variation in the soil, the early canopy growth, and the canopy die-down.” One hurdle in their quantitative use of drone imagery is to correctly stitch together all the individual images from the drone’s flight over the field. “The drone might take perhaps 50 to 100 different images of the field. Those images have to be pieced together, which is called ‘mosaicking.’ If you have a discrete object, like a house or a fence in the images, mosaicking is not too difficult because you can easily find that object in the different images and align them. But if all you have in the image are rows of potato plants, there is not much to align with,” Zebarth notes. “There is mosaicking software to do that, but it’s not perfect. So we’re working with one of the drone companies to figure out how to get the images almost perfectly lined up so you can get down to looking almost at the [individual] plants.” A second hurdle relates to calibration. “The drone’s camera is actually measuring how bright the light is in different bands; it is taking pictures that have red, green and blue, like a regular camera, but it may also have near-infrared. So it gives you a number from one to 255 in each of those bands, but it is just a relative number. To calculate things like vegetation indices, such as the NDVI [normalized difference vegetation index], you can use a relative brightness to get a relative value of the NDVI. However, you have to convert it to a reflectance value to get a true value for the NDVI that you can compare across fields or measurement dates. That’s where it has to be calibrated,” Zebarth explains. The researchers are making good progress with overcoming both of these hurdles. Plus, they are testing over 20 different vegetation indices to determine what each index is sensitive to and which ones work best for potato fields in New Brunswick. “For instance, one index might be mostly sensitive to how much coverage there is of green leaves, whereas another one might be more sensitive to how much chlorophyll is in the leaves,” Zebarth says. They’ve already found that the NDVI, a common index for measuring vegetation cover, isn’t the best choice for potato crops. “For potatoes, the NDVI reading initially goes up as the canopy develops, but after the canopy reaches a certain density, the NDVI becomes insensitive.” Some of the other indices don’t have that drawback. Once the researchers complete this work in the coming months, they’ll have a much better idea of how they can use the drone imagery. The information from this work could also help agronomists, crop advisors and growers with an interest in quantitative uses of drone imagery in potato production. “In the long run, drone imagery is going to be a tool to add to our arsenal of tools, for sure,” Leclerc says. Progress on agronomic findingsOne of the project’s key agronomic findings so far is the degree of variability in potato fields. “We are seeing a lot more variability in our fields than we had expected. Although some fields are relatively uniform, other fields have pretty dramatic variation,” Zebarth says. The results so far indicate that, in New Brunswick, much of the variability is due to the soil. “What we think has been going on is a gradual decline in soil health over decades,” Zebarth says. The wet spring in 2013 emphasized some of this soil variability. He says, “When we visited the field sites, we would see places in some fields where there wasn’t a single plant. It looked like problems with poor drainage or loss of soil structure or low soil organic matter. So that is why a lot of the remedies that we’re trying are ways to improve soil health, like compost applications or changing crop rotations.” Leclerc notes, “The biggest challenge is determining the underlying causes of the differences in productivity. In some cases it’s fairly easy to pinpoint, especially [with the wet conditions] in the project’s first year, but in other cases it is a lot more difficult. We are examining that aspect with very precise soil and subsoil analysis.” Once a field’s variability is mapped and the causes of its differences in productivity are understood, then the field’s management zones can be defined and managed. “We can work on those management zones to improve the limitations, which are most likely soil-related. Or, if that cannot be done, the idea is to manage the different zones differently. So perhaps we might back off in terms of inputs on the lower productivity zones and reallocate those resources to the higher productivity zones, and look at changing the spacing perhaps on the higher productivity zones to take advantage of their higher yielding capabilities,” Leclerc says. After the trials with the various management practices are completed, the project team will analyze the results to see which practices provide the most consistent benefits, how effective they are, and under what conditions they are most effective, and to determine which options make the most economic sense. “At the end of the day, we need to look at the input costs and profitability,” Hemphill says. “The outcome needs to work for the growers and the processors in order for the industry to remain sustainable.”
March 14, 2016, Prince Edward Island – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada entomologist Dr. Christine Noronha has designed a simple and environmentally green trap using hardware store items that could be a major breakthrough in the control of wireworms, an increasingly destructive agricultural pest on PEI and across Canada. The Noronha Elaterid Light Trap, or “NELT”, is made with three pieces - a small solar-powered spotlight, a plastic white cup and a piece of screening. The light is set close to the ground to attract the source of the wireworms, the female click beetles that emerge from the ground in May and June. Each of these beetles can lay between 100 and 200 eggs that produce the larvae known as wireworms. In a six-week test with 10 traps, more than 3,000 females were captured in the plastic cups, preventing the birth of up to 600,000 wireworms. The screening prevents beneficial predator insects from being caught in the trap. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Office of Intellectual Property is trademarking the trap name and design and work is underway to find a manufacturer who might be interested in mass-producing the trap. The NELT is the latest in a series of wireworm control measures being developed by a team that includes Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the PEI Potato Board, the PEI Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Cavendish Farms, the PEI Horticultural Association, growers and consulting agronomists. Wireworms live in the soil and drill their way through tuber and root crops like potatoes and carrots. The PEI Potato Board estimated wireworm damage to the province’s potato crop alone at $6 million in 2014. To learn more about the NELT, be sure to sign up for an exclusive webinar with Christine Noronha, hosted by Potatoes in Canada magazine, on May 12.
Oct. 15, 2015, Canada – UAVs, UASs, drones – call them what you will, but these aerial vehicles are making news every day – and there is so much more to come. Yes, there’s a new frontier on the verge of exploding on the commercial scene and drones will be used by a variety of businesses including aerial firefighting, security, agriculture, law enforcement and more.So, what’s in it for you? How can you capitalize on this emerging trend and what does it mean for your business? How can you utilize UAVs and what are their benefits and limitations? What are the regulatory realities and how will they change in the future? And just exactly what will the future hold? These are just some of the questions Wings and Helicopters magazines – sister publications to Top Crop Manager – will attempt to answer in an upcoming webinar entitled UAVs – The Value Proposition. Eric Edwards will explore these topics and offer insightful information on how to capitalize on the UAV trends during the webinar on Nov. 10, 2015, EST. As with the first very successful UAV seminar hosted by Wings and Helicopters, $25 gets you a seat – and a chance to ask – your most pressing questions. Edwards will be digging into the realities and perceptions around UAV utility and economics, in several civil and commercial sectors. Register here.
Sept. 14, 2015, PEI – A drone was flying high above an Island potato field last week as part of a 4-R Nutrient Stewardship demonstration of how the technology can help farmers improve crops and reduce the amount of fertilizer they use. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Rain is indiscriminate when it falls from the sky; Mother Nature doesn’t ignore low spots on fields just because they don’t need moisture. But for potato growers, technology is making it possible to even out moisture levels to allow for more equitable crop development. No more do pivots have to circle the field, applying the same amount of water on every sector whether it be a drier hilltop or a moisture retaining former creek bed. Although not new technology, a Nebraska company’s Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) system is gaining notice in Canada. Valley Irrigation advertises that VRI will “make all areas in your field profitable, reduce runoff, and increase water and chemical application efficiency.” The company also says the equipment is relatively easy to use and will make managing irrigation less stressful. However, a grower who has been using the system on his Alliston, Ont. farm for two years now claims there is still much to learn and understand once the equipment is installed. Adequate rain during the two years since he began using the equipment did not give Homer VanderZaag the opportunity to fully experience the VRI technology. “I know there will be a value in using this system, but the last couple years have been wet, so we didn’t see the full benefit,” VanderZaag admits. “Our first measurement of success should be yield improvements across the field.” He explains the system allows growers to divide a field into zones and a computer program can tell the pivot when to apply moisture in a zone. Fertigation can be controlled in the same manner, and late blight and tuber rot can also be better managed in years when the crop receives irrigation exclusively. James Wolsky of K & T Irrigation in West Fargo, N.D., sells Valley’s VRI technology and he understands what VanderZaag has been facing, but he also sees the equipment helping in wet years as well. “We’ve been in a wet cycle for many years here, but we see the variable rate irrigation helping to control excess moisture,” he explains. “Our customers are not putting water on where it isn’t needed. We know every field is not the same, so we use the variable rate technology to prevent over-watering potatoes.” Even in wetter years there might be periods where some moisture is needed on higher zones, and the pivots can be programmed to water where needed while leaving the lower spots alone. “The hard part with VRI is writing the prescription for the pivot,” VanderZaag admits. “You take what you know about the field and translate it into a map that represents the needs of the field. You can overlay maps to help, but you need good aerial imagery and topography knowledge. It can be daunting.” VanderZaag says soil test results help with fertigation, but there is no tool that estimates how much moisture is available in the soil. He feels knowing moisture levels for the various zones would make it easier to program the equipment and to manage water more effectively. He also says VRI would be most useful to growers who have many zones across a field, from highs to lows; a perfectly flat field would, conceivably, require the same level of moisture across all zones. Wolsky agrees. “We have an example of a grower who has a sand ridge in a field, so he’s not putting water on the lower, wetter, heavier soils, but only on that ridge.” By using the variable rate technology, he says, there can be a savings in water use, and the equipment can also be set to a variable frequency drive to put more water where it is needed most. According to Valley Irrigation, VRI can save water because only the amount of water that is needed will be applied. By changing the application depth, run-off can also be reduced and over-watering will not be an issue. There are two types of VRI available – speed control of the pivot as it crosses the field, and zone control that allows for fine-tuning the amount of moisture given to the crop. The company literature says the zone-control technology is most helpful in challenging fields divided into more than 5000 zones. The speed control programming works best when the field variability can be captured in pie-shaped wedges. VanderZaag says in his most complex field, he has 2700 zones with his 1100 foot pivot covering an 80 acre circle. He explains he can set the equipment to irrigate more frequently knowing that each acre is getting the correct amount at any given time. High sandy spots receive more water, while low areas can be limited or even left dry as insurance against large rain events. He believes his average yield will improve overall with regulated moisture. Plus, disease and pests will be managed more effectively. “This is amazing technology and, once the programming is done, it is easy to use,” VanderZaag says. “It was a challenge at first, but it’s a great opportunity to improve our crop output. I like the fact that I can manage my crop’s moisture more effectively.” VanderZaag did a retrofit on existing equipment to install VRI, but complete systems can be purchased with the technology in place on the pivot. Then, all a grower needs to do is input the field’s “personal” information into the computer program. Not all fields are the same, but variable rate irrigation technology offers growers multiple options for managing moisture. When Mother Nature isn’t hitting the high spots adequately, VRI can make up the difference.
March 31, 2016 – Two Agrifac Condor Endurance sprayers are heading to Alberta this week. Manufactured in the Netherlands, the pendulum chassis eliminates boom movement makes sure that the weight distribution is equal on all four wheels. The chassis enables a 2,100 US gallon tank and booms up to 180 feet. Due to the design of the tank, no rest liquids stay behind, and the EcoTronicPlus display is the spray computer as well as the interface for machine settings. For more information on Agrifac and on the self-propelled sprayers, check out www.agrifac.com or www.agrifac.ca.
March 3, 2016, Charlottetown, PEI – With its highest attendance in a decade, the 2016 edition of the International Potato Technology Expo – held Feb. 26-27 – was a resounding success. Approximately 3,200 industry professionals walked the show floor to check out the diverse grouping of local, regional, national, and international exhibitors. Potato growers, together with the leading manufacturers of equipment and product solutions from across the Maritimes and beyond were in attendance. Matt Mitchell, show manager, said he was very pleased with the outcome of the event. “We were happy to see that this year’s edition drew the show’s highest attendance since 2006,” he said. “I think the excellent conference program really contributed to that, given that it was so well attended. Likewise, we certainly couldn’t have asked for better weather, and the addition of the tractors was a great draw for potato farmers.” Exhibitors echoed the positive sentiments. “This year’s show was another very successful event,” said Brian Beaton, potato industry coordinator with the PEI Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. “All the major suppliers to the potato industry were there and attendance by potato growers was very high. I heard many positive comments about the speakers at the conference and many said that they picked up some valuable information for their farm.” “The potato expo provided an excellent opportunity to connect with our customers and others in the ag industry,” said Karen MacInnis Larter, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) marketing program manager. “We were proud to be the major sponsor for this year’s event,” she added. “It was a great showcase and an excellent learning event for producers. They could find industry related information pertinent to their operations and hear top-notch speakers. It was a quality event from start to finish.” “We found the expo extremely beneficial,” said Trent Cousins, Allan Potato Handling Equipment Ltd. “We feel there was a huge attendance from our industry. Having our exhibit in the show put us in touch with many customers, both new and existing, that we may not have had the chance to meet with. We will definitely be attending again in the future.” “I can honestly say that this year show was by far better for us in quality lead generation and people coming to visit our booth; industry interest was like we haven’t seen in a few years,” said Marco Gagnon, GOW Group Inc. “All in all, we qualify this event a success for us.” This year, a full educational conference program was offered alongside the tradeshow portion of the event. It featured seminar presentations from leading experts, including Dr. Tom Wolf, Agrimetrix Research & Training, Saskatoon, SK; Dr. Bernie Zebarth, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fredericton, NB; Dr. Gefu Wang-Pruski, Dalhousie University Agricultural Campus, Truro, NS; and Lane Stockbrugger, Farm Credit Canada, Englefeld, SK. The conference was well attended with 173 registrants and strong attendance for both the morning and afternoon sessions. The next edition of the International Potato Technology Expo will occur in February 2018 and information will be posted online at www.PotatoExpo.ca as it becomes available.
Jan. 25, 2016, Ontario – Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, says farmers are being subsidized by not having to pay taxes on diesel fuel designated for field-equipment use. Dyed reddish-purple, the diesel is bought by farmers in bulk for use in farm machinery. It’s not allowed in farm trucks or other vehicles used mainly on roads. But maybe that subsidy — gasoline tax breaks in Ontario amount to $190 million a year — should be replaced by something that supports agriculture, but doesn’t also encourage the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, Saxe said in an interview. | READ MORE
January 4, 2015, Carberry, Man – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development officials recently announced an investment of nearly $380,000 for the McCain Foods Canada potato processing plant in Carberry. The governments' investment, provided under Manitoba's Growing Forward 2 Growing Value program, will be used to install new and innovative equipment at the facility. The plant processes about 430 million pounds of Manitoba-grown potatoes every year, mostly into French fries. "In order to stay competitive, it's important to have equipment that runs efficiently, allowing maximum productivity and minimal waste,” said Dean Melnic, plant manager with McCain Foods, Carberry. “We export 80 per cent of the products we make at our plant, so investments in equipment help support our employees, local growers, and the surrounding communities." The governments' investment represents half of the total equipment cost. McCain Foods Canada has invested more than $30 million in other upgrades to the Carberry facility over the last 10 years, including a $23 million wastewater upgrade. The potato processing plant employs about 220 people, with another 10 positions to be created over the next three years as a result of the new equipment. Manitoba is Canada's second-largest potato producer behind PEI, supporting 120 potato growers and employing 1,500 full-time and casual workers. In 2013, 70,000 acres of potatoes were grown in Manitoba, valued at about $192 million.
Oct. 29, 2015, Charlottetown – After 10 years of operation in Stratford, P.E.I., HJV Equipment, the specialized agriculture equipment company that has a particular focus on potato equipment, plans to move across the Hillsborough Bridge to Charlottetown, writes The Guardian. | READ MORE
October 29, 2015, Charlottetown, PEI – As P.E.I.'s potato harvest winds up, there's a distinctly different look to many Island warehouses: they've installed shiny new metal detectors, at a cost of between $50,000 to half a million dollars each. Last fall, steel needles and other sharp metal objects were detected in P.E.I. potatoes at processing plants and in bags sold throughout Atlantic Canada. A number of metal objects were found in potatoes again this spring. READ MORE
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AAFC Charlottetown Research Centre Open House and TourFri Aug 04, 2017
Potato Research DayWed Aug 09, 2017
Ontario Potato Field DayThu Aug 17, 2017
Summit on Canadian Soil HealthTue Aug 22, 2017