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OSCII Theme B: Horticultural Crops

Advancing the science of vegetable, fruit and novel horticultural crop production

Fruits and vegetables account for 40% of the organic purchases in Canada (COTA, 2013) and both are an important entry point for consumers into the organic market. Much of the market continues to be satisfied by imports, with an estimated 15% of organic fruit and vegetable products consumed in Canada being produced in Canada (AAFC, 2010). In addition, specific novel niche horticultural market opportunities exist that are either in the early development stages (viticulture) or remain largely unexplored by the Canadian organic horticultural sector (health promoting nutraceuticals/ phytochemicals under field and greenhouse management regimes). The following Theme comprises a suite of innovative and complimentary activities designed to advance key aspects of both field and greenhouse organic fruit and vegetable production, while developing new capacity in these novel sub-sectors. Target crops include grapes, apples, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, hops, bitter melons, and peas.

Canadian greenhouse production requires rigorous climate management and systems control to optimize performance, specifically lighting, temperature and humidity. Organic greenhouse production has its added challenges to elaborate optimum production regimes for new crops, namely development of appropriate growing media, soil fertility management, and control of pests and diseases. Season extension technologies offer tremendous opportunity to increase the competitiveness of Canadian organic horticultural producers once comprehensively evaluated for these production systems.

The production and consumption of flavourful, healthy and safe foods are key concerns for producers and consumers alike. Organic producers strive for a sustainable production system that broadly links healthy soils to the production of healthy crops. Yet, evidence to promote field and greenhouse production practices under Canadian conditions that ensure organic fruits and vegetables are safe, and have high gustatory, nutritional and health promoting value is needed.

The organic production of ornamental plants is in full expansion in Europe and the United States, but still in its infancy in Canada. This expansion reflects the fact that consumers and retailers alike are increasingly interested in sustainably produced product labels, including those for ornamentals.  Light emitting diodes offer a range of very precise spectra that can stimulate or inhibit specific plant morphological and physiological responses. This technology offers the potential to develop high quality mother plants, cuttings and potted flowering plants once comprehensively tested within commercial Canadian organic greenhouse production conditions.

Apples are one of the most important fruit crops in Canada, with a farm gate value of about $150 million (AAFC, 2010). As domestic and global markets for organic fresh and processed fruit products expand, organic apple growers are a in a good position to capture this expanding market. However, appropriate and reliable production systems must first be elaborated. For example, the challenge of providing adequate tree nutrition combined with effective pest management in a cost effective manner are paramount concerns limiting the expansion of this sub-sector. 

The science activities within this Theme, supported by a broad range of national industry partners, will advance knowledge and outline innovative practices for Canadian production.  Specifically they will examine how:

  • Organic horticultural production in Canada can become more competitive and profitable through innovations with respect to season extension, energy, water and nutrient use, and as also assessed through life cycle analyses (Activities B.15, B.17, B.13, B.14).
  • Soil management, specifically inoculation with mycorrhizal fungi, can promote vigour and berry quality for organic viticultural systems (Activity B.12)
  • Organic apple productivity and quality can be enhanced by novel and integrated management approaches to promote tree health and reduce pest impact (Activities B.10 and B.11).
  • Flavour, gustatory quality, and health promoting nutraceuticals/ phytochemicals are enhanced under field and greenhouse management regimes (Activities B.15, B.18 and B.20).
  • Production of various organic ornamental species can be optimized as a function of greenhouse fertilization and lighting regime (Activity B.17).
  • Organic field grown vegetables can be guaranteed as safe (E. Coli, nitrates) under varying fertilization management regimes (Activity B.16).

While tremendous potential exists in expansion of organic horticultural and field crop production, weeds, insects and diseases remain substantial barriers limiting commercial productivity and product quality, and thus profitability and competitiveness, in Canada. Theme C outlines selected integrated activities to develop management solutions for controlling key weeds, insects and disease, and promoting soil fertility through integrated management systems.

Activities in Theme B

  • Activity B.10: Integrated organic practices in apple orchard management
  • Activity B.11: Exclusion nets for organic apple production in Eastern Canada
  • Activity B.12: Microbial management in organic viticulture: Pre-inoculating vines with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal inoculants
  • Activity B.13: Using high tunnels to produce high-value organic vegetable and nutraceutical crops in Canadian climates
  • Activity B.14: Optimization of a non traditional cooling and dehumidifying method for a semi-closed organic tomato greenhouse
  • Activity B.15: Increased productivity and better quality of greenhouse grown organic vegetables
  • Activity B.16: Impact of green and organic fertilizers on the yield and safety of organic carrots grown in muck soil
  • Activity B.17: Production of organic mother plants under LED artificial light for the production of cuttings and potted flowering plants
  • Activity B.18: Impact of organic fertilization on growth and yield of secondary hop compounds intended for food and nutraceutical processing
  • Activity B.20: The health benefits of soil management techniques to improve flavor and phytochemical content of carrot: Linking healthy soil, healthy plants & healthy people