By Neil Billinger
A new study says Saskatchewan has the potential to expand vegetable production.
Only 1,000 acres (excluding about 8,500 acres of potatoes) was devoted to vegetable production in 2013, according to the study commissioned by the Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association. The production represents about 10 per cent of in-season demand, which the study indicates is well behind Manitoba at 57 per cent and 33 per cent in Alberta.
SIPA sees Lake Diefenbaker as an untapped water resource that could help produce the vegetables and fruits needed to supply large wholesalers, retailers and processors. Saskatchewan imports $26 million of vegetables annually, excluding potatoes.
Many vegetable growers use farmers markets as their main sales outlet. The challenge has been getting retail space in larger “to make increased production profitable.
Last year, a group of 16 growers from all four regions of the province formed the Prairie Fresh Food Corporation. It supplied provincial Co-op grocery stores with vegetables like sweet corn, carrots, radishes, onions, cabbage and cauliflower. Total sales were 340,000 kilograms. The 2014 target is 567,000 kilograms of locally grown produce.
Emile Marquette of Marquette Gardens near Kelvington, Sask., grows onions, beets and zucchini.
"The partnership has seen a shift from thinking small to thinking big," Marquette says. "We're now farming 70 acres and have expanded the packaging and cooling facilities to meet our future needs."
"These producers are positioning themselves well for the future," says Bryan Kosteroski, value chain manager at the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan. "They’re getting a good understanding of the market and what the consumer wants."
All 16 growers either have irrigation or are applying for irrigation projects to provide water for their vegetable crops. There is room for much more production, according to Roger Pedersen, chair of the Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association.
"For Saskatchewan to reach its full potential, we will need an additional 40,000 to 50,000 acres of irrigable land just for vegetable production," Pedersen says.
The report makes a number of recommendations, such as a benchmark study to build confidence and strengthen the vegetable industry, and development of a strategy to increase competitiveness.