Peas in a pod

Industry-leading initiative enables integrated precision ag in processing vegetable production

More data than ever is being collected in agriculture and the industry is challenged with how to best put it to use to support profitable and sustainable food production.

To help Ontario’s processing vegetable industry put all of its collected data to use, vegetable processor, Bonduelle, has joined together with the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers and In-Green Valley Foods Cooperative to access project funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

“The Government of Canada continues to support advances in innovative technology that give farmers the tools they need to make the best crop management decisions,“ said Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Investing in projects like this through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership will ensure Ontario vegetable growers and processors are well positioned to meet the world’s growing demand for our high-quality products.”

“Ontario’s farmers embrace technology to help them keep them safe and productive through traceability,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Our government is proud to support innovations in technology like this that can increase profitability and sustainability for our farmers through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.”

Bonduelle uses AgPOD, a system it created to collect traceability information as well as manage seeds and contracts. Today, that system can’t process all the additional data that is now being collected.

Use of low-cost sensors means location-specific field data related to wind speed, air and soil temperature, rainfall, soil moisture, soil and tissue nutrient levels, insect trap counts and more can continuously be collected and transmitted in real time.

Drone technology enables location-specific assessments of field conditions including hot spots where pest or disease pressures can be observed and tracked. A lot of modern farm equipment tracks seeding rates, spray applications and harvest yields correlated to GPS locations.

“All of those pieces aren’t fitting well within our current system and we also don’t have a phone-based app for our in-field staff or connectivity on-the-go,” explains Jennifer Thompson, Agriculture Manager at Bonduelle in Ingersoll, adding that there is also a need to be proactive so that the industry can meet future requirements for traceability and block chain system integration.

Bonduelle is working with DoubleLeaf Development on the new system to enable complete traceability from final product right back to the field, including everything from contracting to crop history like planting, scouting, spraying, nutrient application and record verification.

“Inter-connectivity is the current theme in precision agriculture, so if we can open some pathways to other systems, that will make growers’ lives easier,” says Rob Parkhill of DoubleLeaf Development.

This means, for example, a grower can enter their crop protection application information right into the sprayer, which sends it to the cloud from where Bonduelle will incorporate it into their system. This reduces duplication, boosts the accuracy of the collected information, and ultimately, will make growers more efficient, according to Parkhill.

The project includes creation of a central hub that can receive data from different inputs and have the ability to organize and store the data. It will be inter-connected to retrieve data from various sources and its mobile solution will enable on-the-go connectivity.

“This will let growers use precision ag information, which will be industry-leading in North America – in vegetables, no one is doing what we are doing,” says Thompson.

A truck tracking system will help ensure processing production flows smoothly, as well as reducing emissions. Tracking crop protection application will not only boost food safety, but it will also make crop scouting activities safer for field staff if they know what products were applied and when. The new system will also be based on geography to enable field-level decision making; the inclusion of weather information will provide added value to both Bonduelle and growers.

“All the produce we process is grown here in Ontario and this system will help us build better relationships with growers and partners,” says Thompson. “It’s a step in the right direction for customer service.”

Ontario farmers currently grow 11 different crops for processing: peas, snap beans, yellow and green wax beans, sweet corn, Lima beans, carrots, butternut squash, turnip, Brussel sprouts, and parsnips. Bonduelle has three processing locations in Ontario and contracts approximately 43,000 acres of vegetable crops annually from 264 Ontario farmers.  

Funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership has played a key role in getting this initiative underway and in bringing together the three partners into this project collaboration.

“We are all partners and if we do it alone, the progression isn’t as quick or as thoughtful as when we all work together,” says Thompson. “The funding has enabled us to start this project and dive into it on a much deeper level.”

System-wide connectivity is expected by 2020.

This project was funded in part through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (the Partnership), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of the Partnership in Ontario.