Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 24, 1999

Agri-Food Research News: Ontario seeing better tomoato crops; sugar beet disease investigated; new program helps manage manure waste


In the past 10 years, Ontario's tomato industry has chalked up impressive crop increases with average yields doubling from about 18 tons to 37 tons per acre.

This growth stems from many factors, including better varieties, added incentives for growers, increased investment, and improved technology, said Steve Loewen, a researcher at the University of Guelph's Ridgetown College.

The dramatic increases in yield have occurred while the numbers of growers and acres have declined. In 1998, processors took in approximately 560,000 tons of tomatoes grown on 15,060 acres in southwestern Ontario, compared to about 539,000 tons on 19,834 acres in 1994. The number of growers has declined, from 533 in 1988 to just under 200 in 1998.

The industry is becoming more focused and better managed, said Loewen, who works with growers and processors to identify, evaluate and recommend new varieties. And the success of Ontario's $59-million processing tomato industry is making other countries sit up and take notice, including the Mediterranean Association of Tomato Producing Countries (AMITOM), which is following Ontario's lead.

"Everyone except the rest of Ontario seems to know about it," Loewen said. "Processing tomato production in Ontario is a big success story."

This year's production is projected to be about 580,000 tons. Consumer demand for tomatoes is expected to rise as well. Growing awareness of tomatoes as a rich source of lycopene, a natural food pigment with antioxidant properties, could mean more consumption and the development of new products.

Contact: Steve Loewen, Ridgetown College, (519) 674-1629


A fungal disease affecting Ontario's fledgling sugar beet industry is being treated with a program developed by the University of Guelph.

The disease, known as Cercospora Leaf Spot, has been building up since 1996, when Ontario started growing sugar beets for export to Michigan. The crop is worth $7 million a year to Ontario growers.

Guelph's treatment program, based on measuring leaf wetness levels and temperatures, is both affordable and accurate. "It's a unique crop and a unique situation," said Ron Pitblado, associate director of the U of G's Ridgetown College, which is developing the program. "We are trying to find answers for controlling the disease."

Cercospora burns the leaf of the sugar beet and reduces the root's yield and quality. The fungus germinates in moisture droplets on the leaves and as temperatures increase, so does disease activity. Fungal treatments will control the disease, but growers in Ontario are reluctant to pay for frequent fungicide spraying. The goal of the U of G project is to manage the disease by limiting the number of sprayings to two per season at optimal times.

The treatment program uses a leaf wetness sensor, originally developed by U of Prof. Terry Gillespie, Land Resource Science, for detecting fungal disease in onions.

Ontario growers may use a restricted number of fungicide products to comply with Canadian and United States regulations. The fungicide trials at Ridgetown are looking at 19 different products to assess reductions in foliar damage and yields. This year's trials will test the effectiveness of various fungicides and record data from the sensor and various weather stations to come up with recommendations for best spraying times.

So far, all sugar beet varieties in Ontario have proven susceptible to Cercospora, says Pitblado. Cercospora is established in Kent County, where most of the 7,000 acres of sugar beets in Ontario are grown under contract with Michigan Sugar. The beets are used in sugar production in the United States.

"Over time, this treatment program will be useful in both Michigan and Ontario," Pitblado said. "It will predict the ideal time to spray based on the accumulation of disease severity values."

Contact: Ron Pitblado, Ridgetown College, (519) 674-1605


A new computerized decision-making system for manure management on the farm, developed by University of Guelph researchers, is designed to save money and protect the environment.

MCLONE4 is a software package for farmers and consultants that evaluates cost, labour, odour, nutrients and environment to rate agricultural manure systems. It calculates environmental risks, and makes manure application recommendations and calculations designed for Ontario farms. The program includes extensive on-line help and advice on how to use the program and interpret results. MCLONE4 is unique, dealing not just with manure nutrient management but with economics and environmental risk.

"MCLONE4 will be a valuable tool for farmers who want to evaluate their manure systems and make improvements to reduce input costs and environmental risks," said Mike Goss, leader of the Manure Systems Research Team.

MCLONE4 users enter details about their manure management system, animals, feed, fields and crops. The program asks the user to assign values to five environmental risks and to five rating criteria (cost, labour, odour, nutrients and environment) to reflect their own situation and concerns. The system then provides detailed information on manure production, storage capacity, crop nutrient requirements, recommended manure application rates and economic costs and benefits. Environmental risks are evaluated and summarized as an environmental quality profile, and an overall rating on a one-to-ten scale is given. The farm details may be stored and a single mouse click allows cropping changes for next year's manure application to each field.

MCLONE4 is available for $60 from Jo-Anne Scarrow, Centre for Land and Water Stewardship at the University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1.

Contact: Mike Goss, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 2491

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338

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