Any way you slice it, this isn’t your grandfather’s apple orchard.
The orchards being developed by the Haynes family in and around Harrow are using cutting-edge technology to lower the risk of disease and increase both quality and quantity.
“Farming is changing rapidly and we’re getting five times more production on an acre than we’ve ever got,” said Robert Haynes, president of Upper Canada Growers from his office at their Ridge Road facility just east of Harrow.
Working in collaboration with agricultural researchers primarily from Cornell University and the University of Guelph, Haynes said UCG is the only fruit tree nursery in North America doing tissue culture propagation right through to tree production.
“We’re the only place doing the whole chain,” said Haynes, who along with daughter Megan and son Jason oversee a sprawling operation that’s closing in on 1,000 acres with plans to double that in the not-too-distant future.
The Haynes family invited local media Tuesday to tour the tissue culture labs, grafting greenhouses, warehouse and worker bunkhouses they’ve built over the last six years since relocating much of the operation from the Niagara region.
Robert Haynes is a seventh-generation farmer whose family came to Canada from the US in 1784 as United Empire Loyalists who were given 100 acres of government-issued land in the Niagara region. A desire to expand pointed Haynes towards Essex County.
“You can’t get lots of land in Niagara anymore,” said Haynes who also noted it’s $60,000 per acre in Niagara compared to $16,000 to $20,000 locally. “This nursery is positioning itself as an agri-research center. This country has the potential to be a leader in food production.”
Canada only produces 30 per cent of the apples consumed within the country and only provides one to two per cent of the global supply according to Haynes.
“We have the water and we have the land to do more,” Haynes said. “They don’t have that in other parts of the world. Why aren’t we going after this? We’ve entered the market at a very good time because people are very concerned about food security. Right now, there’s an extreme shortage of tender fruit in Canada.”
In addition to apples, UCG is growing plants that will produce hazelnuts, peaches, nectarines and wine grapes. They supply winemakers, vineyards and professional growers in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.
Haynes said almost half of Canada’s existing grape vines are affected by viruses.
“The industry needs to be replaced in Canada because of disease,” he said. “We’re working with the University of Guelph to get upwards of six million grape vines in the ground.”
Chris Lewis, Conservative MP for Essex, was on hand for Tuesday’s tour as were members of Essex town council.
“Government needs to sit at the table with us,” Haynes said. “One of our biggest challenges is a skilled labor shortage.”
UCG has foreign workers from Jamaica and Mexico but is in need of PhD research technicians from places such as Iran and India. Jason Haynes said they’ve been trying to get a work permit from the Canadian government for a technician from India for a year and a half.
“It takes a long, long time,” he said.
“We are rapidly expanding and we want to see the government support us,” Robert Haynes said.