by SUSAN MANN
When Leamington-area processing tomato growers started working out a pipeline system to bring Lake Erie water to their fields they never dreamed that one day they’d be accepting a $100,000 prize.
Leamington Area Drip Irrigation Inc. received the money Monday for winning the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. It was presented during the sixth annual Premier’s Summit on Agri-Food in Toronto.
The Minister’s Award of $50,000 was given to Tigchelaar Berry Farms for adopting a new production technique so they can provide fresh Ontario strawberries to consumers for almost six months of the year. Fifty-five regional winners will get $5,000 each and they’ll be announced at regional award ceremonies this spring.
The Tigchelaars couldn’t be reached for comment before the deadline for this posting.
Wayne Palichuk, chairman of Leamington Area Drip Irrigation Inc., says when Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell called a week ago and told him they had won he was really shocked. “It is quite an honour.”
The Municipality of Leamington nominated them for the award.
Palichuk says they’ll use the money to improve the system. “We are looking into telemetry, which would help us monitor our flows and our water usage on the crops so we can be more competitive.”
Telemetry is transmitting readings to a distant receiving set or station. Palichuk says once the system is in place the 15 farmer members of Leamington Area Drip Irrigation will be able to access information about how much water they’re using through the Internet.
He says this would be a way to help monitor the water flow and ensure they don’t exceed their water-taking permit.
Leamington Area Drip Irrigation started pumping water in April, 2009 through a 36-kilometre pipeline that irrigates 2,500 acres of mainly processing tomatoes. The system is capable of pumping up to 7,000 gallons a minute.
The Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence has attracted more than 700 applications since 2007. The five-year, 2.5-million award program was established to recognize innovators who contribute to the Ontario agri-food industry’s success. BF