From the Editor: March 2010

February 28, 2010
Written by
The date of April 3, 2007, should be remembered as a special milestone in Canadian horticultural research and consumer studies.

It was on that date that the federal and Ontario governments officially confirmed their support – backed by significant funding pledges – for the soon to be revitalized Vineland Research and Innovations Centre (VRIC).

It was just eight months earlier that then Ontario agriculture minister Leona Dombrowsky announced the appointment of a Vineland review panel. The members were asked to assess the future of the centre. The facility, which had celebrated its centennial in 2006, had not received its share of attention from either level of government for many years. It was understaffed and underutilized. The facilities were adequate, but far from leading edge. Was it still meeting the needs of growers?

The panel conducted extensive industry consultations and was buoyed by the support for a new vision for the centre. The consensus was that “a significant investment in the Vineland Renaissance Project” would provide an ability to “grow the Ontario and Canadian agri-food competitive capacity through research, innovation and technology transfer.”

In accepting the panel’s report and recommendations, Dombrowsky emphasized how much “research and innovation are crucial to the future success of Ontario’s agri-food sector. By making this investment, we are signalling a new day and innovative approaches to capturing new opportunities.”

VRIC will be studying ways to expand markets through product innovation, applied genomics, and by driving down production costs to grow – or simply maintain – profit margins. The various team leaders have been in place for some time, and their staff are being recruited.

Designating consumer studies a core program will pay major dividends. The marketplace is constantly changing, with trends quickly emerging or plummeting to the wayside. The industry needs to be on top of new opportunities, and wary of fads.

If the poinsettia market isn’t as profitable as it once was, what other plant would consumers look for, and can growers capitalize on it? We’re not aware of any research on alternative yuletide holiday plants.

How much importance do consumers place on fragrance in flower selection? Should it have a higher value in traits used to develop new varieties? Could this be our advantage when working to deal with the rise of South American cut flower imports? Many people outside of the industry often comment that flowers aren’t as fragrant as they used to be. Are we missing a potential new market because of this?

Are consumers fully aware of the health benefits of plants and produce? Is the industry ignoring this sales angle with its marketing? We come across considerable research in other countries touting the health benefits of plants, but nothing of recent note originating from Canada, except for the Cold-fx people with their North American ginseng extract that’s become so commercially successful. Could a similar type of plant extract be a research focus?

VRIC is certainly unique among hort research centres with such a high focus on consumer studies. That work will bring significant benefits – and many new market opportunities – to growers throughout Canada. ■

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