Business Management
The amount of debt Canadian farmers collectively carried relative to the value of their assets increased in 2016 for the first time since 2009, putting operators at heightened risk of going out of business should the next two or three years treat them poorly.

Further, roughly 70 per cent of farm assets are tied up in land. The value of land is expected to continue to climb but not as fast as it has in the past, according to Farm Credit Canada (FCC), the country's largest agricultural lender.

While FCC is confident the industry's financial resilience remains healthy, many challenges remain: Interest rates are rising, growth in farm revenue is sliding and the Canadian dollar is strengthening. And farmers have not paid down any of their collective debt since the early 1990s. This means some agricultural producers across the country could hit a financial crisis if an extended stretch of unfavourable weather or volatile markets hammered the industry.

Drought in large swaths of Western Canada, coupled with excess moisture in the East, are expected to hurt this year's farm income. Agricultural producers will be able to handle this year's bumps, but need a cushion in case more "shocks" are in the cards, according to J.P. Gervais, the FCC's chief agricultural economist. READ MORE
The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) recently held an AgriWorkforce Roundtable to discuss challenges and possible solutions to address the critical agricultural labour shortage in Canada.
Agri-food stakeholders from across the value chain are invited to attend the second annual National Environmental Farm Plan (NEFP) Summit in Ottawa, November 1-2, 2017. As Co-Chair of the NEFP steering committee, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) encourages producers and farm groups to be part of this initiative that seeks to harmonize the many different environmental farm plan programs in Canada.

An Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a voluntary, whole-farm, self-assessment tool that helps farmers and ranchers identify and build on environmental strengths, as well as mitigate risks on their operations. A National EFP (NEFP) would not be a replacement program, but rather a harmonization effort across the existing EFP programs nation wide.

Building on an inaugural event held last year, summit attendees will further develop a national standard designed to connect environmentally sustainable practices at the farm level with global food buyers' growing need to source sustainable ingredients.

The NEFP program is well into development, led by a steering committee comprised of participants from across the agri-food value chain. Four sub-committees are working toward developing a national protocol as it relates to data collection, standards and verification, all of which will be supported through comprehensive communications and stakeholder outreach. Summit attendees will hear from each committee, along with subject matter experts, about the progress to-date - information that will further guide steps toward this national standard.

Learn more and register for the 2017 National EFP Summit by visiting nationalefp.ca. The NEFP is always seeking to add to its list of stakeholders involved in shaping this made-in-Canada solution. Interested organizations should contact co-chairs Drew Black or Paul Watson.
Last month Statistics Canada released the results of the 2016 Census of Agriculture. Like many of you, I was eager to read up on the results and discover how our industry has changed in the five years since the last survey was conducted.
The Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) is back for 2017. Now in its 10th year, SARFIP supports Ontario producers who are enhancing on-farm habitat for species at risk across the province. The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), with support from Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, is pleased to continue to offer this impactful program. With streamlined funding levels and updated application forms – and up to $20,000 available per farm business – it’s easy to benefit more with SARFIP.

Farms in Ontario can access cost-share dollars for on-farm projects that implement a variety of Best Management Practices (BMPs). With a diversity of project opportunities, eligible BMPs encompass activities around croplands, grasslands, shorelines, stream banks, wetlands and woodlands. Many opportunities are available to support critical habitat through SARFIP, including cross fencing for rotational grazing, watering systems for livestock, native tree planting, improved stream crossings, native grassland plantings, invasive species removal and erosion control structures, among others.

SARFIP 2017 is open to all agricultural landowners in the province. Projects that provide indirect benefits to species at risk are eligible for 50 per cent cost-share, and projects that directly benefit species at risk are eligible for 65 per cent. An additional bonus of 10 per cent cost-share is available for direct benefit projects if the producer is interested in enrolling in SAR-Watch, a monitoring program that measures the impact of SARFIP projects on the ground for species at risk.

To find out if SARFIP is a good fit with your farm, consult the program brochure for complete and detailed program information. All program materials, including the brochure and application forms can be found on the OSCIA website. To be eligible to participate in SARFIP, Ontario farms must have a completed 3rd or 4th Edition Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) workbook and Action Plan that has been verified and completed within the last five years.

Applications are now being accepted, and funding will be allocated to eligible projects in the order in which they are received until fully allocated. Funding for this program is limited; if you have a project idea that fits, submit your application as soon as possible. Projects initiated on or after April 1, 2017 may be eligible.

For more information on eligibility criteria, the application process, and program deadlines, or to sign up to an upcoming EFP workshop in your area, visit the SARFIP page on the OSCIA website at www.ontariosoilcrop.org/oscia-programs/sarfip/ or contact OSCIA directly at 519-826-3035 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Team Alberta is warning the federal government of serious financial consequences to farmers if they lose the ability to use deferred cash tickets to manage wide variations in their income.

The potential end of the cash ticket deferral system was included unexpectedly as part of the federal government’s Budget 2017. Team Alberta’s submission to the federal finance department’s consultation process summarizes the specific necessity and utility of this tool in farmers’ business planning strategies and tax management.

“We believe that the government has overlooked the severe impact that farmers would face if this tool was no longer available,” said Kevin Auch, Alberta Wheat Commission Chair. “Farmers operate with a high degree of income volatility due to factors beyond our control and the cash ticket deferral mechanism allows us to manage risk and balance our income to ensure we can still remain profitable.”

The government maintains that the cash ticket deferral mechanism is out-dated since the single desk was dismantled in 2012. But Team Alberta points out that farmers have been exposed to the same income volatility regardless of the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB) status, facing many of the same risks they did when the mechanism was first introduced in 1973. Data from the Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA) indicates that the percentage of cash tickets deferred annually has remained fairly stable throughout and following the end of the CWB’s monopoly.

Team Alberta further points out that removing this management tool could hamper Canada’s ability to increase agri-food exports from $55 to 75 billion per year by 2025 as outlined in the recent federal budget.

“Canada’s agriculture industry is poised and ready to meet these targets,” said Jason Lenz, Alberta Barley Chair. “But we will only be able to meet them if the government works with farmers to eliminate barriers that impede growth.”

Team Alberta’s submission provides examples from accounting firm MNP LLP that demonstrate impact on farm businesses – whether partnerships, sole proprietors, or corporate family farms. The information from MNP shows that removal of the deferral option will have a disproportionate and negative impact on farm operations relative to non-farm Canadian businesses of similar sizes.

“The existing policy allowing for deferral of cash tickets is an important tool in ensuring that farm operations, whatever their business structure, are treated fairly relative to other Canadian businesses,” said Greg Sears, Alberta Canola Chair.
D’Arcy Hilgartner, Alberta Pulse Growers Chair said: “We have a responsibility as a country to ensure that our farmers remain profitable and sustainable. The consequences of this proposed policy change would be dire for many Canadian farmers and severely limit the sector’s ability to meet growth objectives.”

Team Alberta’s submission can be viewed online here.
Timely information about drought conditions can help agricultural producers, agribusiness, government planners and policy-makers, emergency preparedness agencies and others to better plan for and proactively respond to drought. The Canadian Drought Monitor tracks a wide range of drought-related information and boils it all down to easy-to-understand, online monthly maps.

“The Canadian Drought Monitor is kind of an early warning system. It provides a clear picture of what is occurring in near real-time. We’re tracking drought conditions continuously so that we know where we’re at and we can respond quicker to problems,” explains Trevor Hadwen, an agroclimate specialist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC leads the Canadian Drought Monitor initiative, working in close collaboration with Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

He notes, “There is a very large process around developing the Drought Monitor maps that is unique to this particular product. It is not as simple as feeding climate data into a computer and having it spit out a map.” That’s because drought is difficult to measure. It can creep up on people as the cumulative effects of ongoing dry conditions gradually mount up. Its effects are often spread over broad areas. And different groups define drought conditions differently, depending on their interests and needs.

So, the Canadian Drought Monitor draws together diverse information like precipitation amounts, water storage levels, and river flow amounts, as well as information about drought impacts on people. And it combines various drought indicators used by the agriculture, forestry and water management sectors into a single composite indicator.

“All that information is put together to create one easy-to-read map product, with just five classes of drought or dryness. Users can get a very clear picture of the areal extent and severity of the drought with one look at the map,” Hadwen says.

Drought classification
The five drought classes are: D0, abnormally dry – an event that occurs once every three to five years; D1, moderate drought – an event that occurs every five to 10 years; D2, severe drought – an event that occurs every 10 to 20 years; D3, extreme drought – an event that occurs every 20 to 25 years; and D4, exceptional drought – an event that occurs every 50 years. The monthly maps are available in an interactive form that allows users to see the changes in drought location, extent and severity over time.

The Canadian Drought Monitor provides useful information for people in many sectors. Hadwen gives some examples: “For agriculture, the information helps with things like where people might want to market grains, where there might be shortages, where there might be areas of good pasture, where livestock reductions might be taking place, all those types of things. The information is also very valuable outside of agriculture, in terms of water supplies, recreational use, forest fires – the list can go on for quite a while.”

The Canadian Drought Monitor maps feed into the North American Drought Monitor maps. “The North American Drought Monitor initiative started about 12 years ago. The U.S. had been doing the U.S. Drought Monitor project for a number of years, and Mexico and Canada were interested in doing similar projects,” Hadwen notes. “So we joined forces to create a Drought Monitor for the continent.” All three countries use the same procedures to monitor, analyze and present drought-related information.

The continent-wide collaboration provides a couple of big benefits. “Number one, drought doesn’t stop at the borders,” he says. The North American initiative provides an integrated view of drought conditions across the continent.

“Also, the Drought Monitor is extremely powerful in terms of the partnerships that have developed and the linkages to some of the best scientists in North America. We share ideas and build off each other, developing better and more accurate ways of assessing drought. We can utilize some of the information generated from U.S. agencies, like NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the National Drought Mitigation Center, and agencies in Mexico. This collaboration effort helps increase the efficiency of the science and the technical aspect of drought monitoring.”

According to Hadwen, the continental collaboration has been really helpful in building Canadian agroclimate monitoring capacity. “Over the last decade or so we have certainly matured a lot, and we’ve started to develop some really interesting tools and applications for Canadian producers and agricultural businesses to help deal with some of the climate threats to the farming industry, including droughts, floods, and everything else,” Hadwen says.

AAFC’s Drought Watch website (agr.gc.ca/drought) provides access to the Canadian Drought Monitor maps and to 
other agroclimate tools such as maps showing current and past information on precipitation, temperature and various drought indices, and the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (scroll down for "When complaining about the weather makes a difference").

 WTCJune16 drought

When complaining about the weather makes a difference
If you love to talk about the weather's impacts on your farming operation, the Agroclimate Impact Reporter (AIR) could be for you. If you want your comments about these impacts to make a difference, then AIR is definitely for you. And if you want to find out how the weather is impacting agriculture in your rural municipality, your province, or anywhere in Canada, then AIR is also for you.

AIR is a cool online tool developed by AAFC that grew out of a previous program to collect information on some drought impacts. "We have had a program in place to monitor forage production and farm water supplies in the Prairies for well over 15 years. Then about three years ago, we started to develop a tool to replace that program – a tool that would be national in scope and that could gather information on a whole range of agroclimate impacts," Hadwen explains.

AIR taps into a volunteer network of producers, AAFC staff, agribusiness people and others. "We use crowd-source data for this, gathering information from a whole wide variety of people. Some of them we know through our registered network, and others have a subscription to our email box and provide comments to us on a monthly basis," he says.

"We're trying to gather as much information from as many people as possible on how weather is impacting their farming operations. We ask the participants to do a short [anonymous] monthly survey, usually about 25 quick multiple choice questions, to let us know how things are going."

AIR is collecting impact information in several categories including: drought, excess moisture, heat stress, frost, and severe weather (like tornadoes and hail storms).

"We plot that information and produce a whole bunch of individual maps showing very subject-specific information from each survey question," Hadwen notes. "We also have a searchable online geographic database. On a map of Canada, you can zoom in on different regions and see where we're getting reports of a large number of impacts or not as many impacts. You can even drill down into that map and see the exact comments that we are getting from [the different types of respondents, in each rural municipality]."

The information collected through AIR provides important additional insights into the weather conditions and related issues and risks. He says, "Sometimes the data we have in Canada isn't as fulsome as we would like, and sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story. For instance, the data [from weather stations in a particular area] might show that it didn't rain for a very long period and the area is in a very bad drought, but the producers in the area are telling us that they got some timely rains through that dry period that helped their crops continue to grow. Or, the data might show that we received a lot of rain in a season – like we did in 2015, if you look at the overall trend – but the farmers are telling us that there were big problems in the spring. So, combining both those types of information certainly helps draw the whole story together a little better."

AIR information feeds into the Canadian Drought Monitor to help in assessing the severity of drought conditions. As well, the AAFC's Agroclimate group incorporates AIR information into its regular updates to AAFC's Minister and senior policy people; it helps them to better understand what is happening on the land, and that knowledge can help in developing policies and targeting programs.

Information from AIR is also valuable for businesses that work with producers, such as railroad companies wondering about regional crop yields and where to place their rail cars, and agricultural input companies wondering if they need to bring in extra feed or fertilizer.

AAFC is in the process building AIR into a national program. "We want to collect agroclimate impact information from right across the country. We have a history in the Prairie region, so we have more Prairie producers providing information. We've made inroads into B.C., so we're getting some reports from there already," Hadwen says. "[Now] we're going out to Atlantic Canada and Ontario. And over the next couple of years, we'll be expanding AIR right across the country."

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer AIR reporter, visit www.agr.gc.ca/air.


This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of
Top Crop Manager West.

Farmers of all types, from dairy to fruit to livestock, contribute to the economy and to the healthy lives of Canadians. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) wants to help make filing your income tax and benefit return easier so you can save your time and energy for the harvest.

Claiming expenses
Farmers can generally deduct any reasonable current expense from farming income, including interest on loans and losses, and the cost of fertilizer, feed, veterinary fees, and materials to pack and ship goods. Other eligible expenses are machinery rental, electricity, insurance, and motor vehicle expenses. To find out more, go to cra.gc.ca/smallbusiness and click on “Report business or professional income and expenses.”

When it’s time to harvest your crops, you may need a helping hand (or two) out in the field and if you do hire someone, the cost may be claimed as an expense. If the person you hire is a qualified Red Seal trade apprentice, like an agricultural equipment technician, you may also be able to claim the apprenticeship job creation tax credit. This non-refundable investment tax credit is 10 per cent of the apprentice’s salary or wages. The maximum credit an employer can claim is $2,000 per year for each eligible apprentice. For more information about the apprenticeship job creation tax credit, go to cra.gc.ca/smallbusiness and click on “Investment tax credit (line 412),” and then on “Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit (AJCTC).”

Reporting income or loss
As with any business, not every year will be profitable. When your farming business expenses are more than your farming business income in a year, you have a net loss. You can transfer a farm loss amount back to any of the preceding three years or forward to any of the next 20 years to deduct the loss from income for another year. For more information on farm losses and how to calculate and apply them, see Chapter 6 of CRA Guide T4003, Farming and Fishing Income.

Eligible farmers who dispose of breeding livestock in a tax year because of drought or flood can exclude part of the sale proceeds from their income until the next tax year, under the livestock tax deferral provision. This provision also covers breeding horses over 12 months of age and certain breeding bees. For more information, see Chapter 2 of Guide T4003.

To avoid the stress of ploughing through countless invoices and receipts, stay on top of your record keeping during the year. Records of your business-related expenses will support your claims. These records need the same constant and conscientious care as your crops. Without supporting documents, the CRA may not allow a credit or deduction. To learn more, go to cra.gc.ca/records.

Completing your return
The legislated deadline for most Canadians to file their income tax and benefit return is April 30. Since that date is a Sunday in 2017, the CRA will consider your return as filed on time and your payment to be made if the CRA receives your submission or it is postmarked no later than May 1. Self-employed individuals and their spouses or common-law partners have until June 15 to file their returns. However, if those persons have a balance owing to the CRA, that amount is due no later than May 1.

If you’re facing cash flow problems and can’t pay your tax balance owing in full, you may be able to pay off your tax debt in more than one payment. You can set up a pre-authorized debit payment agreement through the CRA’s My Business Account or My Account service or by calling 1-888-863-8657. To learn more about your payment options, go to cra.gc.ca/payments.

The CRA has a list of certified tax preparation software on its website, including some software that is free. Last year, more than 84 per cent of individuals filed their tax return online. File online, so you can spend less time working on your return and more time doing the things you love. To find out more, go to cra.gc.ca/netfile.

When filing online, you can save valuable time by using the CRA’s auto-fill my return feature. This feature automatically fills in parts of your return. For more information, go to cra.gc.ca/auto-fill. If you sign up for online mail, you can find out the status of your return immediately after you file your return and receive your notice of assessment the next day. For more information, go to cra.gc.ca/express-noa.

Protect yourself
When it comes time to file your return, don’t risk your reputation and your business by intentionally underreporting your income. If you get caught evading tax, you may face fines, penalties, or even jail time. It’s not worth the risk. Don’t participate in the underground economy. For more information, go to cra.gc.ca/undergroundeconomy.

If you make a mistake or omission, the CRA offers you a chance to set things right under the Voluntary Disclosures Program. If you make a valid disclosure before you know about compliance action taken against you by the CRA, you may only have to pay the tax owing plus interest. You can get more information about the program at cra-arc.gc.ca/voluntarydisclosures.

Stay on top of the latest CRA news and tax tips by following @CanRevAgency on Twitter.
Farm Credit Canada (FCC) is offering support to customers in parts of the Prairies facing financial hardship as a result of widespread excessive moisture that has impacted the growing season, delayed harvest and reduced the quality of this year’s crop.
Canada's carbon price may weaken the farm sector in one of the world's biggest grain-shipping countries, raising farmers' costs and discouraging investment in fertilizer production, industry groups say. CBC News reports. | READ MORE
Farming is a unique type of business that causes financial planning to take on dimensions not often seen in other industries. This is reflected in the Income Tax Act, which has numerous provisions for things like farm income, tax deductions, various subsidies and more.
Winter wheat is an important crop in many cropping systems, however poor stand establishment and winter survival continue to be challenges to crop expansion in Western Canada. Seed treatments and fall foliar fungicide applications in other growing areas show benefits of improved crop competitiveness and yield, however little research has been done in Western Canada.

Researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) conducted a three-year study across Western Canada from 2011 to 2013 to determine if seed treatments could improve crop competitiveness of winter wheat and whether or not there were differences in responses between active ingredients, which target a different spectrum of the pathogen/insect complex in the soil. They also wanted to assess if fall application of foliar fungicide improved crop health, vigour, and competitiveness, and yield alone or in combination with particular seed treatments.

“We set out to identify alternative strategies that would help ensure good stand establishment and overwintering success of winter wheat crops across the Prairies,” explains Kelly Turkington, research scientist with AAFC at Lacombe, Alta. “We also wanted to look at options that would help manage disease development the following spring, such as stripe rust and leaf spot diseases like tan spot or septoria. Research from other areas, like Australia, shows that seed treatments with the right active ingredients can help slow down early rust development. We compared different seed treatments with different actives as a way to assess which factors were the most important. We also wanted to determine if a fall application of fungicide would provide any benefits for crop survival from one growing season to the next.”

This direct-seeded study was conducted at nine sites across Western Canada over three growing seasons. The trials assessed the response of the winter wheat cultivar CDC Buteo to seed treatments and fall-applied fungicides. Five levels of seed treatment were compared: check–no seed treatment, tebuconazole, metalaxyl, imidacloprid and a dual fungicide/insecticidal seed treatment of tebuconazole + metalaxyl + imidacloprid. Two levels of fall-applied fungicide were compared, a check–no application or a foliar-applied prothioconazole performed in mid-October.

Overall, the results showed a yield benefit by using seed treatments, with the dual fungicide/insecticide seed treatment providing the highest yield and net returns. The neonicotinoid seed treatment, imidicloprid, and the fungicide seed treatment, tebuconazole, generally provided intermediate grain yields and net returns, while the check and the fungicide seed treatment, metalaxyl, produced similar low grain yields and returns. Fungicide seed treatments have been effective in improving winter wheat stand establishment and yield when seed infection with Fusarium graminearum is a concern.

“The study showed some benefit from the fall foliar fungicide treatment, however the increase was small and resulted in decreased net returns,” says Turkington. “In areas with confirmed stripe rust in the fall, the yields gains were a bit better, however the cost of application is prohibitive at this point compared to no application. For now, a timely spring foliar fungicide application focusing at either the flag leaf emergence stage for leaf spot management or a bit later at anthesis timing for managing Fusarium head blight and leaf spot disease is still recommended when there is a risk of disease. We need to do more research on fall foliar fungicide application alone or in combination with a spring application to see if there are economical benefits. We also need to do additional work on seed treatments to determine if early season leaf disease management can be improved in both winter and spring cereals.”



Another four-year study is underway in Western Canada comparing four winter wheat varieties of various levels of resistance with the timing of four different foliar fungicide treatments: check–no application, fall application only, spring application at flag leaf, and a dual fall and spring application. “The preliminary results after the first two years aren’t showing much of a benefit from the fall foliar fungicide application, similar to our recent study,” Turkington says. “Some of the results suggest a dual fall and spring application does not provide any additional benefit over a spring application in Western Canada.”

Turkington adds that overall, when comparing the study data on stand establishment, overwintering and yields, one of the biggest factors was moisture at the various sites. If diseases are a concern, select a more resistant variety. Using higher seeding rates, good quality seed and seed treatments are recommended for good winter wheat stand establishment, overwintering and improved yields.

“One of the other important factors is field selection, in particular with cereal stubble and the potential risk of a green bridge and transmission of the wheat streak mosaic virus in some areas,” says Turkington. “We have been getting a number of calls over this spring and summer about potential issues with wheat streak mosaic, which is caused by the wheat curl mite and for which there are limited control options. If volunteer wheat or other cereals and grassy weeds are not controlled before seeding a winter wheat crop, then there can be a transmission or vectoring of the virus from the spring crop into the volunteers and then into the winter wheat crop. Selecting non-cereal stubble and controlling volunteer cereals and grassy weeds to remove the potential for a green bridge is generally the best strategy for managing wheat streak mosaic virus.”

Turkington and his colleagues are continuing their research into seed treatments, foliar fungicide applications and other alternative seeding and crop management practices to help improve stand establishment, overwintering and yield for winter wheat production in Western Canada. Researchers will continue to make their findings available through field days, extension events and publications.
The National Farmers Union says it supports steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but is concerned that Ottawa’s proposed carbon pricing could hurt producers. The Toronto Star reports. | READ MORE
Sept. 13, 2016 - The provincial government is extending the time that free mandatory training will be available to help farmers comply with recent rules aimed at protecting insect pollinators. Farmers must undergo training if they wish to purchase and use neonicotinoid-treated corn and/or soybean seeds.

The half-day course is available in English or French, online or in class in towns across Ontario and at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus. To register, call 866-225-9020, or visit www.IPMcertified.ca.

Ontario has taken action on pollinator health, working towards an 80 per cent reduction in the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 2017.

The free training is available until April 30th, 2017.
Sept. 6, 2016 - It’s no secret that there’s a growing ethnic population of Canadians who have preferences for foods from their home countries. That fact brings with it unique opportunities for farmers to produce crops that haven't traditionally been grown locally.

Okra is one such crop.

Over six million kilograms of okra is imported into Canada every year and the demand climbs annually. India is the top producer of the world's okra, growing more than 70 per cent of the global crop. Other big producers are Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq and Pakistan.

The United States is the 20th largest producer, accounting for only 0.1 per cent of the world’s production. In the U.S, okra is grown in southern states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana, where the vegetable is used in the popular gumbo dish. It’s a subtropical crop that thrives in a hot and dry environment, so Canada hasn't always been the most logical place for production.

Dr. Viliam Zvalo is a research scientist in the area of vegetable production at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland). A native of Slovakia, he joined the team in 2014 with a mandate to investigate opportunities for world crop production for Canadian farmers.

The biggest challenges in growing okra in Canada are the shorter growing season and the labour requirements. During the harvest season, plants need to be harvested daily to give the immature pods time and space to grow, which requires a big staffing commitment.

To help boost the crop's potential and maximize growing time, seeds are started in greenhouses and then transplanted into fields covered in black plastic mulch to increase heat to the plants. Spacing of the plants is critical - the further apart, the higher their yields.

To date, crop trials have shown that three particular varieties - Lucky Green, Elisa and Jambalaya - do the best in Canada.

Last year, 22 farmers grew small trials across Canada from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and have had similar results in all areas. This year the number will increase to about 30 growers.

The crops are planted into fields in late May and bloom a month later. Peak production is between the middle of July and the end of September. Each plant (which can grow seven feet high) can generate 60 to 70 okra pods. Pods are light though - between seven and 10 grams each - so the entire harvest per plant is about 0.6 to 0.7 kilograms.

Growers, researchers and retailers are all optimistic about the results to date and the work is garnering international attention.

Recently, an Indian company contacted Zvalo to see about providing seeds from a late season variety for Vineland to test in Canada.

"Attention like this will help us continue to look for better varieties,” Zvalo noted.

"Okra's an interesting crop. It can be quite finicky but there's great potential," Zvalo said.

He concluded, "It's a matter of finding the right varieties, the right location and the right buyers."

The project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
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