Sept. 1, 2010, will be remembered as an important milestone in the history of the Canadian ornamental industry.
It was on that date the federal government committed $1.5 million towards the creation of an Ornamental Horticulture Cluster to increase profitability through improved efficiencies and new marketing opportunities.
After years of using this commentary space to bash Ottawa for its lack of formal commitment to ornamental growers for the last decade and a half, it’s only fair that we now commend those federal officials involved for this renewed investment. (Our last brickbat was hurled only last month, the latest in a series of funding criticisms going back to the mid-1990s.)
The Cluster will be located at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre near St. Catharines, Ontario. VRIC has only been in business since mid-2007; the hiring of key researchers is still underway as programs are being rooted.
VRIC is quickly establishing itself as a leading international centre for horticulture research. The greenhouse sector is a key component. The Cluster designation will accelerate its work with ornamentals.
Core areas of research at VRIC include Consumer Insights and Product Innovation, Applied Genomics, and Horticultural Production Systems. All three will get a workout under the Cluster model. Its research will focus on a number of key areas, including developing best practices for pest and weed control and fertilization, optimal production conditions to reduce energy consumption, and improved product development.
The Ornamental Horticulture Cluster will not be regional in focus. It will combine the expertise of the Vineland team with research colleagues across the country.
We hope the Cluster will host a number of cut flower projects. The new Free Trade agreement with Colombia has made this sector more vulnerable to imported products. How can domestic growers more effectively compete with the new supply of products? Are there cut flowers that don’t ship well that would benefit from improved consumer marketing efforts? VRIC can use the Cluster designation to help this sector regain its footing and explore new opportunities.
Growers have a key role to play with the Cluster. Researchers are keen to follow up on current challenges and needs, and grower associations and individuals should send in their ideas and suggestions. The VRIC has an excellent website (www.vinelandresearch.com ) on which to track developments and communicate with researchers.
The federal government will watch closely the impact this Cluster has on the industry. Its success can only lead to further (how about, “permanent”?) funding support. The Cluster should be only the first of many funding milestones for Canada’s ornamental horticulture industry.