Five regional winners have received 2013 Premier’s Awards for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. The awards are given out annually to recognize contributions to the success of Ontario’s agri-food sector.
Northern Ontario’s winners include Thompson’s Maple Products of Hilton Beach (outside Sault Ste. Marie), which produces maple syrup products from a sugar bush with 20,000 trees. Owner Doug Thompson developed a wireless remote monitoring system that reports the status of each line to his computer or smartphone every few minutes. The new system has increased Thompson’s income, boosted production and reduced the number of staff repairing lines from five to two.
The Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association, based in Manitowaning on Manitoulin Island, was lauded for its work on waterway protection. Since 2001, the organization has worked with landowners, businesses, schools and governments to restore coldwater streams on the Island that have been impacted by farming. Work includes planting 23,887 trees to reduce erosion, installing more than 3,000 metres of fencing to prevent livestock from contaminating water, decommissioning two dams and setting up livestock watering systems.
Boreal Berry Farm & Winery of Warren outside Sudbury was recognized for its work bringing the haskap berry to the North. Owners Greg and Mira Melien have cultivated the berry—a cold-weather variety that’s a cross between a blueberry and raspberry—on 20 acres of their land. From the crops, they produce juice, wine, jams, jellies, wine gums and syrups.
The True North Community Co-operative of Thunder Bay was acknowledged for its co-operative model that supports small-scale farmers and promotes the sale of regionally sourced foods. The co-op currently has more than 700 members and has spawned an offshoot in Fort Albany First Nation.
The Golden Beef Producer Cooperative of Val Gagné, located in the Districts of Timiskaming and Cochrane, has developed a custom-built online traceability system to track abattoir data, which helps members determine the optimal slaughter weight to maximize yield and profits for their forage-fed beef. They can also monitor processing costs and use that information to set appropriate retail prices.
A total of 50 regional agri-food innovation awards are being announced across the province. Since 2007, a total of 325 producers, processors and agri-food organizations have received a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. Ontario’s agri-food sector contributes approximately $34 billion to the province’s economy and supports more than 740,000 jobs across Ontario.