World crops and their potential in Ontario


Ahmed Bilal, crop production and diversification researcher from the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre spoke at the Harvest Hastings Annual Meeting on December  5, 2012 about the potential for growing vegetable crops from South Asian and the Caribbean in Ontario. He pointed out, Toronto, together, with the GTA is one of the most ethnically diverse area in the world. Demographics are changing, and by 2031 63% of the population in Toronto will be members of a visible minority. People eat what they know about. $61 million worth of ethnic and cultural vegetables (ECV) are the imported into Ontario each month. We would save $24 million in four months if only we grew 10% of these imported vegetables locally. 

He also said people want to try new tastes and there is an interest in trying new vegetables. 

Horticultural specialists at OMAFRA and University of Guelph are looking at which crops would be economically viable in Ontario, as new tastes bring new opportunities. New ECV vegetables can bring diversification to the vegetable industry. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is looking at new varieties and the production technologies involved and have been doing taste tests with consumers. Vegetables grown here may not taste the same as the same variety grown in the Tropics. They are also looking at taste acceptance of new varieties with the wider population. Bilal been looking into new production system and applying genomics. New Canadians like the vegetables they got in their home country home and will pay high prices for them. He also said, “when we import produce we import pests.” There is a move with Ontario consumers to buy local. This is pushing scientists to do work in finding growers for ECV vegetables.

Glen Filson of the University of Guelph has produced a report with Farmstart on potential different types of ethnic vegetables. They looked at melon, eggplant, yard long bean, amaranth (pigweed), and okra. Many of these imported crops are picked before they are ripe, which means they do not taste right. It is important to see what crops grown in Ontario taste like.

Using new production methods one can get high yields. According to Bilal, one can grow over 60,000 and 70,000  fuzzy melon per acre, on raised beds covered with black plastic mulch using drip irrigation. Oriental eggplant  and okra are also highly productive. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is experimenting with different sorts of mulch including black plastic mulch, sawdust, and wood chips. Biodegradable black plastic heats the soil, which is crucial with peppers, eggplant and okra.

[Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and Vineland are hosting the second world crop seminar, “What you need to know to grow: commercial production and marketing of world crops in Ontario” on February 6, at Vineland 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.]