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Agri-Food Innovations Recognized at Award Ceremony in Southwestern region

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

The following are regional award recipients from the Southwestern region:

Wylie Mycologicals Ltd. - Grey County

Cinnamon cap. Lion's mane. Elm oyster. Whatever your favourite type of mushroom, Wylie Mycologicals can help you grow it yourself. The organic mushroom operation has perfected a versatile growing block for producing native and specialty mushrooms on a commercial scale.

The highly adaptable growing surface is ideally suited to meet the specific temperature, light, humidity and oxygen needs of different mushroom varieties. Indoor and outdoor blocks are available for commercial growers, while home-growing kits can be purchased by individual mushroom enthusiasts. Specialty mushrooms are a trend that is gaining traction, with increasing growth in recent years. Thanks to Wylie Mycologicals, Ontario consumers will now have access to more mushroom varieties - without having to tromp through the woods to get them.

Par-Chier Farms Ltd. - Huron County

When you've got a thousand goats to milk, efficiency matters. So in 2015, the operators of Par-Chier Farms travelled to Holland to check out various approaches to dairy goat management. Based on that research, they chose a rotary parlour that incorporates both feeding and milking into a time-saving system. The 80-stall facility makes it possible to milk 800 goats per hour. Each animal wears a scanner that stores easy to access information about its specific dietary needs and tracks when the goat is due for breeding and hoof-trimming. Before Par-Chier installed the computerized equipment, their goats were producing 3.2 litres of milk per day. Today, production has increased to four litres per goat each day, with a planned expansion to 1,200 animals.

Fresh Air Media - Middlesex County

Fresh Air Media's Andrew Campbell is on a mission to help urban populations learn more about where their food comes from and how it's produced. Campbell's passion project sees him hitting the road armed with a smartphone, microphone and drone, creating videos of different Ontario farms each week to share across social media. His "Dinner Starts Here" series takes viewers on an interactive journey through barns and onto fields, showcasing everything from robotic milking machines to greenhouse pepper operations.  In an era where more Ontarians live in urban areas, Campbell is starting important conversations using the power of modern technology to discuss food production, animal welfare and environmental sustainability - and establishing trust from gate to plate.

Heeman Strawberry Farm - Middlesex County

Row covers offer a great way to protect crops from frost, but requires a concerted effort to install and remove. Determined to improve productivity and efficiency, the growers at Heeman Strawberry Farm assembled large spools for the row covers and mounted them on the back of an ATV. As one worker holds the loose end of the sheet, the driver can now quickly and easily unwind the covers over the crops. The system also reels the sheets back into tightly rolled bundles, making them less prone to damage and easier to store. The system is so simple, Heeman's are now covering six times as many acres as before, increasing production and revenue.

Clear Creek Farms Inc. - Municipality of Chatham Kent

In less than a decade, Clear Creek Farms has doubled their beef production per acre, decreased their tractor use and improved the quality of their beef. The secret? Intensive rotational grazing. By frequently moving their cattle on a carefully managed schedule, owners Chris and Carl Knight are increasing their soil organic matter and giving their pastures time to recover after grazing, creating better forage to keep their cows healthy. Rotational grazing influences the environment by providing benefits to species at risk, such as pollinators. Thanks to better production and direct-to-consumer sales via the farm's website, the Knights have averaged a 25 per cent increase in year-over-year gross sales for the past four years - and proved that intensive rotational grazing can benefit Ontario farmers.

Tomecek Agronomy Services Inc. - Municipality of Chatham Kent

Thanks to a handy new app from Tomecek Agronomy Services, tracking pesticide applications has never been more accurate and easier. Workers can now input their spray records into the mobile tool, which can then broadcast the information to the entire farm team. In addition, the software improves traceability, sending spreadsheets of spray records to processors for each of their grower's fields. It also gives growers handy access to pesticide product label information, allowing them to double-check their safety protocol before spraying. The Ontario Tomato Research Institute is currently piloting the program, involving 75 tomato growers and five major processors in the Chatham-Kent and Essex regions. Now Tomecek is looking at expanding the app to other horticultural crops in Ontario.

Veritas Farm Business Management - Municipality of Chatham Kent

Veritas Farm Business Management is all about micro-managing - in the best way possible. The precision agriculture company provides tailor-made variable rate prescriptions for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, transferring them directly to their customers' tractors, sprayers and spreaders. At harvest, Veritas analyzes data to determine how well their crop plans fared. Their statistical analysis software calculates the actual return on investment and helps producers compare what the result could have been using other application processes. In 2016, Veritas integrated GIS (geographic information systems) software that allows customers to see which areas in their fields produce the highest - and lowest - returns. Their fine-tuned methods maximize harvests producing impressive results, with farmers using the precision approach to increase their profits by an average of $20 per acre.

Shorequip Sandy Shores Farm Ltd. - Norfolk County

For workers using conventional multi-person picking carts to harvest asparagus, progress up and down the rows can have efficiency challenges.  To avoid potential bottlenecks, Shorequip Sandy Shores Farm hired an engineering firm to design Mantis: a one-person cart that allows staffers to pick at their own pace. Thanks to the efficient new carts, growers can harvest more fields while significantly reducing the cost of production. The lighter-weight equipment reduces soil compaction and overall impact to the environment. Don't be surprised to see the made-in-Ontario innovation south of the border: with 85,000 acres of asparagus farmland in Mexico and the U.S., there's a big market for this little cart.

Twin Creeks Greenhouse Inc. - Lambton County

Not long ago, flares were used to burn off the methane produced at the local landfill down the road from Twin Creeks Greenhouse. Today, the excess gas travels 1.8 kilometres by pipeline from the landfill and into a greenhouse boiler, which regulates the greenhouse at perfect growing temperatures. The steady fuel supply reduces the amount of natural gas needed to heat the greenhouse by 65 per cent and allows the producers to grow their crops year-round. The crops take in carbon dioxide produced by burning methane, helping offset the carbon emissions. The construction of the pipeline supported a number of contractors and local businesses, while Twin Creeks plans to add 80 acres to the methane-heated greenhouse operation.

Source: Ontario.ca