Prepared by Lois Harris for Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association

Guelph, ON – Three years ago, Bill Nightingale’s fruit and vegetable operation was in financial trouble. Today his $10 million dollar business is thriving and he credits the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) program for helping get it there.

Back then, Nightingale Farms had gone through a rapid expansion, labour and energy costs were going up, profits in the fresh produce sector were dwindling due to global competition and on-farm productivity was not up to where it should have been. His company grows 24 crops, including peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash on more than 1,000 acres in La Salette in Norfolk County, Ontario.

When things got tough, Nightingale got going by obtaining a farm financial assessment with the support of GF2. Knowing the numbers meant he could figure out the business’s weaknesses and strengths, do proper business planning and target how to optimize his bottom line profits.

“Margins are so slim and the risks are so high, you really need to make sound decisions with numbers instead of by the seat of your pants,” he said. “As a result, we were able to reposition the business in a better direction for the future.”

GF2 is a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative that encourages innovation, competitiveness and market development in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector. In Ontario, GF2 offers workshops, tools and funding assistance for producers and is administered by Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

“We’re very pleased with the number of producers who are committed to improving their business by participating in Growing Forward 2,” said OSCIA President, Alan Kruszel. “We look forward to even more producers taking the opportunity to assess their operations, plan for a better future and implement projects that will help protect the environment, food safety, animal health and welfare and boost everyone’s bottom lines.”

Since 2013, GF2 has supported more than 1800 projects through cost-share funding totaling $17.6 million from the government and producers pitching in another $32.9 million. GF2 supports projects in six areas of focus: environment and climate change adaptation, assurance systems, market
development, plant and animal health, labour productivity enhancement and business and leadership development.

Producers from across the province have taken advantage of the program. Of the producers who participated, 30 per cent were grains and oilseeds producers, 20 per cent were dairy producers, 16 per cent fruits and vegetable growers and 11 per cent had greenhouse, nursery or floriculture operations. Business and leadership development—the area in which Nightingale received his financial assessment funding—has been the most popular, with 52 per cent of the projects.

In addition, cost-share funding was available in 2014 to help pork producers contain the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus. More than 960 projects totaling $13.4 million under the animal and plant health area of focus were completed.

OSCIA offers free workshops throughout the year including the Environmental Farm Plan, Growing Your Farm Profits and Biosecurity workshops – prerequisites for applying for GF2 funding. The Food Safety and Traceability workshops are recommended to strengthen producers’ applications.

Nightingale was so impressed with his initial success with GF2, he has completed more projects, including:

New technology and equipment. This included a customized melon harvester that brought the cost of production down 15 per cent for that crop, bulk bean harvesting wagons that reduced labour by 18 per cent, and precision planter upgrades that increased yields by 20 per cent.
Upgraded packing house. Nightingale put in a new asparagus grading line from Germany that brought the cost of grading and packaging down by 24 per cent, and a mechanized tray wrapper and sealer that brought labour costs down by one-half.
Food safety systems and staff training. A system of Standard Operation Procedures was put in place, staff trained to use them, and as a result Nightingale Farms exceeds the standards of the Canada GAP certification. This move opened new markets with big grocery chains in Canada and the U.S. that demand strict food safety procedures.

Over the past three years, the business has received $110,000 from the program while investing an additional $400,000. Nightingale continues to work with the program, and has an application in for equipment to improve product traceability on the farm.

“We would highly recommend this program to all farmers as it is the best tool available to improve one’s farming business,” Nightingale says.

“The program makes the farmer think deeply and be creative and innovative about how to propel their business forward, based on real numbers instead of just staying in survival mode, as so many of us are accustomed to,” he added.

Producers can get more information on the program and workshops at www.ontariosoilcrop.org

Growing Forward 2 by the numbers (rounded figures)

Overall
• Over 1,800 projects worth over $52 million
• $17.6 million paid out in government funding
• $32.9 million invested by producers
• 17% paid to grains and oilseed producers, 16% dairy, 20% fruit and vegetable, 19% greenhouse, nursery and floriculture, 11% poultry, 6% hogs, 3% beef, 1% sheep and goat, 7% other.
• A special Biosecurity intake to help pork producers contain the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PED) for an additional 968 projects worth $13.4 million.

BoostBottomLine

Upcoming Application Intakes
Now in its fourth year, producers can apply for GF2 cost-share funding during the next 3 intakes:
February 5, 2016 to February 25, 2016
June 17, 2016 to July 7, 2016
October 14, 2016 to November 3, 2016

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