Jan. 25, 2016, Jordan Station, Ont. — Ontario flower growers paid tribute to two of the specialists who contributed so much to the expansion of the industry over the past few decades.
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs retirees Wayne Brown and Graeme Murphy received “Outstanding Contribution to the Industry” awards this week during the winter meeting of Flowers Canada Ontario. (Click on photo for more information.)
Brown, who had a 35-year career as the greenhouse floriculture specialist, received the 2015 award.
The two had offices at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, next door to one another, and collaborated on numerous research projects and workshop presentations.
Both were quite humbled with the awards, noting they learned as much from growers as the growers did from them.
Past winners include Terry Colasanti (2009), Cole Cacciavillani (2010), Rej Picard (2011), Andy Kuyvenhoven (2012), and Dr. Theo Blom (2013).
Wayne Brown was quite persistent in his problem-solving. “Wayne became fully immersed in our industry, bringing his keen sleuthing skills to any production problems a grower could throw at him,” said Blom, the award presenter.
Brown completed his master’s degree at the University of Guelph and headed west to teach at Olds College in Alberta. A year later, he applied for and was selected to be OMAFRA’s greenhouse floriculture and mushroom specialist.
He took over from Blom, who had transferred to the newly created position of floriculture scientist at the Horticultural Research Institute of Ontario.
Brown started his new duties late in the summer of 1979. In November of that year, the Canadian Greenhouse Conference debuted at the University of Guelph.
“This did not give Wayne much time to devote to planning the first conference,” Blom noted, “but he has been very actively involved in the CGC board for every conference since. Even in his retirement, Wayne still sits on the executive and trade fair committees.”
Brown has always found growers to be hungry for new information and keen to look at new technologies. However, some of the new systems were developed without the plant in mind. He was able to work with growers to adapt the way they grew plants so that the technologies worked for them.
“Early supplemental lighting, early flood floors and ebb and flow systems all presented challenges to growing that Wayne enjoyed solving,” said Blom. “Solving problems, Wayne learned, comes down to asking the right questions, which meant it sometimes took three or four visits to the farm to find that right question.”
Brown is well known for his annual poinsettia and vegetative annuals variety trials. The poinsettia trials began in 1999 when poinsettias were the number one potted flowering crop in Ontario and were also grown by the largest number of growers.
In 2008, the trial became part of the North American Poinsettia Trial Group. There are two other sites in North America supported by breeders – one at the University of Florida and one at North Carolina State University.
The OMAFRA trials allow growers to see new varieties grown under Ontario conditions, thereby greatly assisting their decision-making on which ones to add to their product list. “His trials were an unbiased source for variety information for growers,” said Blom.
It was more than a job or a career to him, and what stands out most are the many friendships that developed over the years. “There is a real sense of community,” Brown says. “When I was working with growers to solve production issues, their issues became my issues.”
In addition to his extension work, Brown served on many committees and was constantly involved in research projects. Though he retired early in 2015, he still coordinated last year’s poinsettia trials.
Graeme Murphy was a key OMAFRA resource over the years until his retirement in late 2014, said award presenter Lou Schenck, of Schenck Farms and Greenhouses.
“His expertise provided support to growers when new and invasive pests arrived. He still remembers, as many of us do, when western flower thrips were not a big concern here in Ontario.”
Murphy provided behind-the-scenes support by working on the registration of new pesticides, researching new pest control strategies, and developing educational programs and publications for Ontario growers.
“And of course,” said Schenck, “if you ever had a pest problem, he would answer your calls and come out to offer advice on control and management strategies.”
Murphy developed and delivered one-day and two-day IPM courses for growers and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) staff. As well, he was involved with FCO’s night school program for growers for many years.
Murphy has written extensively in grower trade publications throughout North America, including Greenhouse Canada. He has also spoken at numerous conferences and workshops, both locally and internationally.
In the late 1990s, he was asked to make a presentation at the annual meeting of a forest seedling company in the north. While there, he met its research coordinator, Dr. Irwin Smith. When FCO was looking to fill the executive director’s position following Gary Gander’s term, Murphy sent Smith a note to see if he would be interested.
“As we know, that note helped FCO secure Irwin’s leadership as executive director in 1998,” said Schenck.
When Murphy began at OMAFRA in 1988, it was all pesticides, all the time. However, today almost all growers go to biocontrols as their first line of defence. “His expert entomological experience and knowledge helped many growers in Ontario as they managed that transition.”
Schenck noted that Niagara is widely regarded as a world leader in biological controls. This is largely due to a lack of registered chemicals in Canada, but also to the research at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, along with the dedication of industry suppliers, and to “Graeme’s leadership.”
Murphy is now a consultant, helping growers fine-tune their pest management programs, focus on in-house research projects, develop a better understanding of pest management economics, and present staff training sessions.
Among those congratulating the award winners were their replacements – Drs. Sarah Jandricic (greenhouse floriculture IPM) and Chevonne Carlow (greenhouse floriculture).
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