Story by Angela Gemmill- CBC News -
Research is beginning into what conditions are best to grow strawberries in northern Ontario.
The study is part of a partnership between Collège Boréal and the Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN) in Sault Ste Marie, Ont.
Strawberries are one of the most imported fruits in Canada.
"Specifically we're interested in looking at how we could really develop a strawberry production system that would allow a more consistent local supply in northern Ontario, but that could also be shared across Canada in similar climatic areas or regions," said Sabine Bouchard, project manager at Collège Boréal.
The team is currently in the first phase of the project, which is to identify northern Ontario farmers who have strawberry crops or use greenhouses to grow the berries.
"Really this first phase is to get a better understanding of challenges that strawberry producers or greenhouse producers currently face and then see how we can adapt those systems we're developing to help them find solutions," Bouchard said.
"We're hoping to really take this information and see how we can help current producers either adapt or tweak their current existing system for a more productive strawberry growing season," she added.
"What we're hoping to do with Collège Boréal is to devise a unique system that's tailored to the needs of northern producers that would essentially allow them to pursue strawberry production in an economically viable way," said Lauren Moran, horticultural research assistant with RAIN.
Moran said she'll get in touch with strawberry producers growing in fields and in greenhouses, to hear from them "what kind of practices they use and whether or not they would be interested in a system" like the one being developed at Collège Boréal.
"The idea was to kind of boost the domestic production of these berries because they're so popular, and because we are doing so much importing so that we can be a little more reliant on our own systems to provide," she added.
Phase one of the project is expected to wrap up by the end of this calendar year.
"I know the folks at Collège Boréal are looking to move into this next phase to secure a little more funding, and to hopefully prototype a system," Moran said.
"Moving forward from there to see whether it's economically viable, how much it produces and whether it's something that could be marketed to folks who are looking to expand their own production."
Phase one of the research project is being funded through the Homegrown Innovation Challenge, which is financed by the Weston Family Foundation.
They're also working with northern producer Stephane Lanteigne, a co-owner of Truly Northern Farms in Chelmsford.
Lanteigne works for Smart Indoor Farming Solutions, which helps producers who want to start indoor farming through hydroponics.
Collège Boréal has its own 2,250 square foot, high-tech, heated greenhouse that some experiments will be conducted in.
Bouchard said the college team will determine which type of strawberries grow best in a greenhouse setting.
Students will be involved with the data collection, and next steps of the project.