We’re struggling financially. We’re also alarmingly reliant on the outside world for our food supply. The provincial government has been addressing both of those concerns with its new “Business Innovation Agenda,” better known as InnovateNL.
InnovateNL aims to accelerate business growth in the province, by helping companies capitalize on new ideas, products, or processes that will enable that growth. A fair amount of these Business Innovation Agenda projects have focused on our agricultural businesses.
Most recently, InnovateNL seeded a local farm with $140,000 to expand its operations. The $140,000 will support Bickerstaffe Farms and Nurseries in developing ways to grow small fruits and green crops year-round, despite our climate.
Bickerstaffe Farms has been in business since 1994, and their head honcho Ian McDonald is convinced Newfoundland can feed itself, and grow various crops all year long, if we invest enough money in achieving this goal of self-sufficiency. In fact, MacDonald has already found a way to grow fresh strawberries year round.
On government’s end, Gerry Byrne, Minister of Fisheries and Land Resources, says the investment is about working with agribusinesses to increase economic activity. It’s a sentiment echoed and elaborated upon by the Minister Mitchelmore. “By reducing our reliance on outside food sources,” he says, “we will help create a vibrant local food economy and provide a high quality product year round.”
Bickerstaff plans to install custom designed tunnels, dubbed “hoop houses,” to provide shelter from the kinds of weather conditions our rock-in-the-sea province is known for. The greenhouse-like structure will provide extra durability on account of its framing span, heavier grade of steel, and ability to anchor into the ground.
McDonald says Bickerstaffe hopes to achieve commercial production of small fruit by the end of 2018. Bickerstaff also grows hydroponic vegetables on site, and was considering a venture into marijuana production, upon hearing it was being legalized, but the daunting amount of red tape involved in growing medicinal marijuana turned him off of pot and onto small fruit.
The mid-November announcement of $140,000 for this project came hot on the heels of another 43 actions by the provincial government, in its attempt to double our province’s food self-sufficiency. They announced those 43 actions at a new Centre for Agriculture and Forestry Development in Wooddale.
The new facility includes a tree nursery, fruit and vegetable crop development, bee keeping, and research activities to advance and diversify our agriculture sector. In addition to the new facility, there are new supports in place for the food industry to leverage the competitive advantages we have in global markets. For example, as a result of our climate, we use less use of pesticides than other jurisdictions, which is obviously a sellable feature of any produce we could manage to export out of here.
We also have one of the last remaining healthy bee populations in the world, and we have nationally lamb, on account of their being raised near saltwater.
While many might find the financial promise of agriculture bleak in our province, one need only to consider the popularity of our lucrative berry offerings, in the form of things we already grow and sell here, like partridgeberries, cranberries, and blueberries. (All of which pair well with that tasty lamb.)