Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne handed out the top five Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
The annual awards recognize producers, processors, organizations and rural communities who help support a sustainable environment, create jobs and boost Ontario’s economy. The recipients were recognized at the 2015 Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food. They were also among 50 regional award recipients this year.
“This year’s award recipients are perfect examples of the ambition and ingenuity that is driving Ontario’s agri-food sector forward,” said Wynne. “In the two years since I challenged the sector to double its growth and create more jobs, people from every corner of the industry have continued to step up with innovative new ideas.”
The Ontario Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee also shared its recommendations at the Summit. The committee, consisting of industry and government representatives, suggested focusing in three areas:
- Increased government and industry promotion of Ontario’s agri-food sector at home and abroad.
- Stronger advocacy of Ontario’s food processing sector, particularly at the federal level.
- A focus on medium-sized agri-food businesses to enhance competitiveness.
Award recipients (background info courtesy OMAFRA):
VG Meats – Simcoe, Norfolk County
For VG Meats, the best school uniform is a butcher’s apron. When they couldn’t find the skilled staff needed for the family’s processing and retail operations, they teamed up with an Ontario grocery chain to create their own training program. Within a week, 300 applications poured into “The Chop School.” Ultimately, nine students were accepted into the inaugural class for 100 hours of fully paid training. The program includes classroom sessions, plenty of hands-on practice and even time on the Van Groningen beef farm. The school proved so successful that VG Meats is now launching a second class. They have also developed a two-week “Farmer in Training” program to help retail employees understand exactly how the VG Meats’ meat they sell is produced.
Clear Valley Hops – Collingwood, Simcoe County
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.
Leaders in Innovation Awards
Celmar Dairy Ltd. – Norwich, Oxford County
As dairy farmers, Herman and Marcel Steen store a lot of forage for their herd. Shifting from bunker-style silos to tower silos helped automate that storage and cut down on the amount of spoilage. Filling the silos proved slow and cumbersome, so the Steens installed a custom-built, in-ground concrete pit that allows tandem wagons to discharge their cargo of forage in less than two minutes. From there, the forage is evenly transferred to a blower powered by a 200-horsepower electric motor, eliminating the need for another large tractor. The hydraulically driven two-stage conveyor system lets the Steens fill multiple silos from one location and cuts fill time by 50 per cent. And because the silos get sealed sooner, the forage starts fermenting faster, improving the feed quality of the resulting silage for their animals.
Durham Foods – Port Perry, Durham Region
To achieve food safety and traceability certification, food producers and processors have to keep a number of thorough records and manuals. And for small operations, that can be daunting. Durham Foods has just made it a whole lot easier with their new GAP App. The hydroponic spinach producer has taken the manuals from CanadaGAP – the national food safety program for fruits and vegetables – and transformed them into a user-friendly app. Bye-bye time-consuming paperwork. Instead, workers can enter information and document issues with a few swipes and taps on tablets strategically placed around the plant floor. The app prompts them with required activities for the day. It also generates reports and makes food safety audits a cinch, slashing the costs of the company’s food safety program.
Vineland Estates Winery Inc. – Vineland
To make a great wine, you need to be choosy. No under-ripe grapes, no bits of leaves or stems and definitely no bugs. A couple of ladybugs can ruin an entire tonne of grapes. But hand-sorting grapes is a slow, back-breaking business. That’s why Vineland Estates has invested in an optical sorter. The first of its kind in Canada, it scans 2,000 grapes per second, gently de-stems the fruit and removes bugs and unwanted plant material. Puffs of air then sort the grapes by colour, size and shape, letting winemakers select exactly what they want. The optical sorter is six times faster than hand-sorting, and it delivers better-quality grapes. By lowering costs and raising standards, this machine promises to revolutionize winemaking in Ontario.