Understanding Transitions in Ontario’s Potato Production Sector

A study of Best Management Practices for the health, productivity and longevity of potato production in Southern Ontario

About the project

Funded by OMAFRA and Supported by the University of Guelph, the Ontario Potato Board, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, and the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario

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This project investigates Ontario’s potato production sector, working directly with large and small scale farmers, industry groups and organizations, processors, and local and regional levels of government, we aim to support farmers through knowledge mobilization, policy recommendations, and enhanced understanding and practical support for farmers in scaling and adopting sustainable Best Management Practices. To achieve this goal, our study poses 3 main questions:

What social, economic and environmental challenges do farmers face in production systems?

What are the social and systemic barriers and opportunities which encourage or discourage farmers from applying alternative, sustainable BMPs?

What innovative solutions are farmers in this sector practicing to improve sustainability and productivity, and how can other farmers be supported to learn from these champions?

What is a Best Management Practice?

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are “practical, affordable approach[es] to conserving a farm’s soil and water resources without sacrificing productivity” (OMAFRA, 2021). BMPs are selected by farmers, researchers, extension staff and agri-business professionals, and will vary from region-to-region, and across farm types. BMPs are essential for sustainable agricultural production systems.

Geography

Southern Ontario: Dufferin Essex, Grey, Simcoe, and Waterloo Counties

Phases and Next Steps

Phase 1: Literature Review and Secondary Research

September 2021 – January 2022: Our team reviewed existing research and policy documents on potato production BMPs and behavioural drivers influencing farmers to change their production systems in a variety of contexts (in Canada and Internationally)

Phase 2: Farmer Field Survey collection and analysis

May 2022 – August 2022: Our team shared and collected survey responses from a range of farmers in this sector to understand what challenges they face currently, what solutions they adopt to address them, and where they get their information and innovative approaches?

Phase 3: Semi-Structured Interviews and Field Visits

September 2022 – Spring 2023: In fall 2022 / Winter-Spring 2023 we will meet and engage with local producers and game changers in the sector, visiting their farms and speaking with them to learn about the practices, approaches, motivations, and situations that characterize and influence their innovative production methods

Phase 4: Knowledge Mobilization and Outreach

September 2022 – Ongoing: In fall 2022 / Winter 2023 we will host a series of webinars and field visits as well as publish and present up-to-date project findings across a multitude of platforms in order to interact with local producers, share knowledge on BMPs for potato production, and build a community of collaborators who are all committed to improving the health and longevity of this sector

Phase 5: Writing, Analysis, Policy and Industry Recommendations

Fall 2023 – Winter 2024: While knowledge mobilization will be ongoing throughout the project, in the later phase of our study, we will produce policy and academic literature with outcomes and results of our study, broadening its reach and making recommendations (informed by project findings) to support and encourage the uptake of sustainable management practices

Key Findings and Insights

  • Ontario’s potato production sector is a complex network of agri-food system actors including: producers, processors, consumers and governments
  • These actors have varying levels of impact on farmers willingness / ability to adopt alternative management practices.
  • Industry, corporate, and governmental structures and policies at different levels (local, regional, national) differentially impact farmers’ ability to manage their farms sustainably.
  • Many large-scale producers manage multiple, dispersed plots of land, meaning they will apply various diverse and (sometimes conflicting) management styles, depending on the site-specific conditions, and their seasonal needs and goals

Research Team

Silvia Sarapura: Principle Investigator, Associate Professor, School of Environmental Design and Rural Planning, University of Guelph

Charlotte Potter: Student Research Lead, PhD Candidate, Rural Studies, University of Guelph

Nicole Cupolo: Student Researcher, Masters Student, Rural Planning and Development, University of Guelph

Janielle Duffus: Student Researcher, Masters Student, Rural Planning and Development, University of Guelph

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