From a Release, By Lilian Schaer for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association
A new automated irrigation system is yielding some big savings for an Elgin County nursery – and paying off with environmental benefits too.
Since the system became fully functional this spring, Canadale Nurseries’ water consumption has dropped by 40 per cent, their fertilizer use is down 25 per cent, and they’re using less electricity because their water pumps don’t have to run as many hours each day.
“We are surrounded by residential areas and we wanted to minimize our environmental footprint and maximize irrigation efficiency,” explains nursery manager Robb Parmeter. “We want the water that crosses our property to be the same quality or better when it leaves our property.”
Canadale Nurseries Ltd. is a family-owned business on 110 acres in St. Thomas. They grow and supply a wide variety plants including ornamental trees, flowering shrubs, evergreens, and perennials to retail customers, independent retail garden centers, and wholesale nurseries across southwestern Ontario.
To improve watering efficiency, they needed to increase their system’s capacity and capability. At the same time, says Robb, they also wanted to reduce production costs, improve the health of their irrigation pond, and better manage their nutrients so they could contribute to the protection of the local Kettle Creek watershed and the surrounding environment.
The solution was the installation of a new automated pumping system that can be controlled electronically – and even remotely via smartphone. That means if it rains during non-work hours, for example, the irrigation system can be turned off without staff having to go to the nursery.
Canadale now has the ability to direct its irrigation to a single zone or multiple zones in the nursery depending on the requirements of each crop. This flexibility in watering, something that wasn’t possible with the previous system, has greatly increased water conservation and efficient water use.
The system can track the amount of rain, sunshine, and outside temperature and adjust irrigation levels accordingly. It is now also possible to water using a method called pulse or cyclical irrigation.
“We have more capacity now so we’re watering faster. The leaf wetness period is shorter, so there is less risk for fungal disease, which equates to a reduction in fungicide use” explains Robb. “And because we now have the ability to pulse water, the growing media absorbs and holds more moisture. This reduces the amount of water running out of the pot, so we have little to no fertilizer leachate, which is another environmental benefit.”
They have also seen improvements in their irrigation pond and their plants are healthier, showing better rooting and better growth than before.
To help make the project a reality, Canadale turned to the Implementation funding assistance program under Growing Forward 2 (GF2), which Robb says was a tremendous help to the nursery.
To prepare for the application process, senior Canadale staff attended numerous seminars on environmental stewardship for nurseries and Great Lakes water quality, completed an Environmental Farm Plan and attended a workshop where they learned about GF2 funding assistance.
“We have wanted to do this for a long time and we’ve been going to seminars about water for four to five years,” explains Robb. “It’s a huge expense from a business standpoint, so we wanted to make sure it was well-researched.”
Doing the necessary research and planning homework is Robb’s key tip for other farm businesses thinking about applying for GF2 cost-share funding through the Implementation program.
Knowing what you’re eligible to apply for will help ensure you can take full advantage of available opportunities and creating a plan with detailed timelines will help make sure a project stays on track, he adds.
“It takes a bit of time to learn the process, but it is definitely worth it,” he says. “This is a great program, so we’ll be applying for other projects as they come up.”
Growing Forward 2 cost-share of up to 35 per cent is available for farm businesses under the Implementation program in six key areas: Environment and Climate Change, Assurance Systems, Market Development, Animal and Plant Health, Labour Productivity Enhancement, and Business and Leadership Development.
Implementation uses a merit-based competitive application process.
Cost-share opportunities are also available under the Capacity Building program of GF2 to help off-set expenses related to audits, plans, work shop participation, training costs or consulting work.
Much of the research and preparatory work needed for successful Implementation applications can come out of this step. Capacity Building cost-share is available at 50 per cent and is determined based on set eligibility criteria; there is no merit component to this level of funding.
GF2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative aimed at encouraging innovation, competitiveness, market development, adaptability, and industry capacity in Canada’s agri-food and agri-products sector. The Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association delivers educational workshops and funding assistance supported by GF2 to producers.