Specialty crops set roots in Ontario

Pawpaw, Haskap grapes, quinoa, edamame, tiger nut and hops. Do you grow any of these specialty crops on your farm? Maybe not, but more and more Ontario farmers are taking a serious look.

OMAFRA new crop development specialist Evan Elford says working with these crops presents both opportunities and challenges. At last week’s Ontario Certified Crop Advisor annual meeting in London, Ontario, he shared insights into a host of specialty crops that are setting roots in the province.

Elford says specialty crops can be described as low-acreage crops that fill a niche; some of them are under utilized species; while others are re-emerging crops such as hops, which are now planted on about 400 acres in the province.

OMAFRA’s Evan Elford says developing production guidelines for crops that have little history of being grown in the province can be challenging.

Grain, fruit and vegetable specialty crops fall into three main categories ranging from foods for health, environmental markets and those that address changing demographics such as ethnocultural fruits and vegetables. In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Elford reviews the prospects for some of the crops that dot the specialty crop horizon. Not surprisingly, he admits he gets the most phone calls about hops, a crop that’s seen a significant resurgence with the explosive growth of the craft beer industry.

OMAFRA now has a dedicated resource – Specialty Cropportunities – where specialty crop information is compiled and easily accessible for interested growers.

Elford discusses the challenges of developing production guidelines for crops that have little history of being grown in the province. He also notes that even a crop like edamame – fresh market soybeans – poses unique challenges. Growers would expect that crop protection products labelled for soybean use would be a natural for this crop, but because edamame is a fresh market crop, that’s not the case, Elford explains.

 

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