Specialty Cropportunities: Ontario’s Portal into the World of Specialty Crops

Sean Westerveld, Evan Elford, Melanie Filotas and Jim Todd, OMAF and MRA

SPECIALTY CROPportunities
SPECIALTY CROPportunities

Considering growing a new crop? Not sure what crops can be grown on your farm? Launched in April 2013, OMAF and MRA’s Specialty Cropportunities resource provides a good starting point for anyone interested in growing a specialty crop.

Growing specialty crops presents some unique challenges compared to traditional crops. These include few options for pest management, minimal agronomic information, undeveloped or small markets, and specialized equipment.  There are literally hundreds of specialty crops that can be grown in Ontario including culinary and medicinal herbs, specialty/ethnic vegetables, specialty fruits and nuts, specialty grains and oilseeds, and industrial crops. Due to limited research and experience with many of these crops, there has been very little written information available to Ontario growers looking for a new crop to grow. The research that has been conducted on these crops in Ontario has often been forgotten over time without a permanent database to provide those results to the public. Specialty Cropportunities assembles much of the available information into a single resource. Initially the resource includes specific information on 100 specialty crops, but the crop list will be expanded over the next few years.

Growers looking for information pertaining to a specific crop can use the crop category selection or alphabetical crop list to locate a profile on that crop. Each profile summarizes background information on the crop, its growth habit, and specific agronomic information such as plant spacing, fertility, irrigation, soil type, harvest, and storage requirements. It also includes information on pests of that crop, such as a listing of existing and potential pests, notes on potential pest impacts, and how to find more information on pest management. Finally, the profile lists any research projects conducted on that crop in Ontario and other references used to create the profile.

If a grower is unsure of what they want to grow, they can use the Crop Selection Tool to narrow down the list of specialty crops to those specifically suited to their preferences and growing conditions. The selection tool asks a series of four questions and the end result is a listing of crops that match the selection criteria along with an indication of labour, irrigation and specialized equipment requirements. Crops not included in the list could still be grown, but may require some additional site modifications.

Just because a crop can be grown, doesn’t mean there is a market for it. Growers still need to find a market before growing any specialty crop. The resource provides guidelines for developing a marketing strategy for specialty crops.

The resource also includes a wealth of general information on specialty crops including crop fertility, pest management, on-farm research, food safety, and an introduction to organic crop production. A particular challenge for specialty crop growers is a lack of fertility recommendations. The resource provides suggested approaches for fertilizing crops when there are no recommendations. Another challenge is pest management, since it is often unknown what will attack the crop and how to control those pests. The resource discusses integrated pest management, provides information on the major types of insects and diseases, provides alternative management approaches, and discusses how to determine which products are registered for use on the crop.

We encourage growers to contact us if they have suggestions for new crops to include in the resource or have information to add from their experiences growing and selling any of the specialty crops. Contact information is provided in the resource.

Specialty Cropportunities can be found at: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/CropOp/en/index.html

This project was developed by a team of specialists and scientists from OMAF and MRA, the University of Guelph, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Erie Innovation and Commercialization and Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. It was funded by Agri-Food and Rural Link, a program of the OMAF and MRA/University of Guelph Partnership.

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