Berlo’s Best boosts sweet potatoes

Nick VanBerlo, director of sales and product development for Simcoe, Ontario-based Berlo’s Best, said along with new orange sweet potato varieties, Berlo’s Best is expanding its acreage of purple-skinned white sweet potatoes and yellow-fleshed yams, both normally imported from the Caribbean.

He’s also doing a small trial of organic sweet potatoes.

“Our retail partners have been asking for organic for a few years,” he said.

“Since we’re not supposed to be able to grow conventional sweet potatoes in Ontario, we thought why not give it a try? The demand is definitely there.”

In the past year he’s increased his sweet potato acreage by about 100 acres for a total of more than 1,000 acres. Upgrades to packing lines should make storage more efficient and shorten pack times. 

VanBerlo said winning the Ontario Produce Marketing Association’s 2016 Fresh Award introduced him to new people and contacts.

His 3-pound bag of small No. 1s continues to sell well. VanBerlo said about 80% of his crop goes direct to retail, while 20% is sold through wholesalers and distributors.


Dominion Farms bumps up carrots

Bradford, Ontario-based Dominion Farm’s new Mega Polisher has arrived from New Zealand.

“We are proud to say we now have the largest capacity carrot washer/polisher in Ontario, which will allow us to increase production of beets, parsnips and carrots by 30%,” said general manager Tony Tomizza.

Tomizza said Dominion has also expanded its acreage of early crop carrots to feed the local and Grown Close to Home programs at Ontario chain stores.


Gwillimdale Farms increases carrot lines

Along with new packaging, Bradford, Ontario-based Gwillimdale Farms Ltd. has doubled the capacity of its carrot lines to fill seven to 10 trailer loads a day, compared to the previous three to five loads a day, said sales and production manager Quinton Woods.

Gwillimdale also grows parsnips, beets and cabbage and ships year-round with help from growing partners across the U.S.

“We’re gung ho on carrots, and we’re looking for one or two more strategic customers,” Woods said.


Hillside Gardens grows beet volume

With local stocks of specialty beets dwindling, Hillside Gardens Ltd., Bradford, Ontario, is growing red, golden and candy-striped beets in Georgia.

Sales and marketing associate Steven Kamenar said all three colors are being packed in a new rainbow beet mix for Loblaws’ PC (President’s Choice) line to be launched in early summer.

“They’re in a clear bag with nice photography and we expect it to be a good-moving item,” Kamenar said.

Since taking over a cauliflower farm three years ago sales have been growing very fast, he said, though for a company accustomed to growing root vegetables the constant attention required has been a big learning curve.

“Demand is growing as more consumers and chefs use cauliflower in recipes,” he said.

A new facility with a processing room will allow Hillside to offer fresh-cut and ready-to-eat items, he said, perhaps fresh-cut celery, peeled onions and cauliflower florets. “We’re working on it,” he said.


Nightingale Farms adds more organic

La Salette, Ontario-based Nightingale Farms is increasing its Norfolk Organics line with 15 acres of organic asparagus.

President Bill Nightingale began harvesting the new crop at the end of April before cold weather slowed it down across the province, and stopped harvesting June 1.

“It’s the first year and I don’t want to hurt the crowns,” he said.

Organics is now at least half Nightingale’s business, and he’s particularly pleased with his seven acres of organic grape tomatoes growing under high tunnels. He has also increased conventional and organic green bean acreage by 30% to 40%.

“We see demand for beans climbing, and have made a huge investment in machinery for harvesting,” he said.


Scotlynn Group opens offices

The logistics and transport side of Vittoria, Ontario-based Scotlynn Group continues to grow, said president and CEO Scott Biddle.

“We’ve added 50 more trucks and another 100 more trailers,” he said, “which puts us close to 300 trucks and close to 450 trailers.”

The grower/shipper has also opened two more Florida offices, in South Fort Meyers and Tampa, for a total of seven across North America. The new offices will serve customers from its Belle Glade farms.

The Florida sweet corn crop was fair this winter, he said, but his biggest challenge has been harvesting enough Ontario asparagus to meet customer demand.

“I wish our crop was a little more mature so we had more product to sell,” Biddle said.

“I believe there has been a bit of a shortage due to frost. Some in southern Ontario were affected worse than we were. And with the higher U.S. dollar, more asparagus is leaving the country.”


Sandy Shore Farms adds grading lines

Port Burwell, Ontario-based asparagus grower/shipper Sandy Shore Farms has installed six automated grading lines from Germany and put up an additional 12,000-square-foot grading facility to house those lines, said co-owner Ken Wall.

“We still need a lot of workers, but the new equipment has reduced the number of people we require, greatly enhanced the uniformity of our pack and given us the capacity to move through greater volumes,” Wall said.

The Mantis, a one-man harvesting unit, has improved productivity, he said, reducing overall labor supply by approximately 40% on the same acreage.

Sandy Shore is using 90 units in its own fields this spring, and its year-old manufacturing and distribution company, Shorequip, has sold more than 200 units throughout Ontario, Manitoba, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“They have been well received and are working extremely well,” he said.

Another unit is on trial in Mexico.


Smith Gardens boosts red onions

Though it’s a more challenging crop, the demand for red onions is growing, said Paul Smith, co-owner of Queensville-based Smith Gardens.

“It takes twice as much land to get the same yield,” said Smith, who planted fewer yellow onions this year to increase his supply of reds. Transplant onions should be ready for harvest the last week in July, he said, followed by carrots.

The farm’s new romaine crop should be ready in late June, and he’s planted 10 acres of sorghum to act as wind row protection on the flat, open Holland Marsh.

His biggest challenge so far this year has been the “unprecedented” high water in Lake Simcoe, which came perilously close to breaching his neighbor’s dikes earlier this spring. Emergency fill cost close to $30,000, said Smith, who fortified his own dikes after a 2013 flood.