Message from the Chair
This year has been an especially challenging but rewarding one as Board Chair of Perennia.
While Perennia never stopped fulfilling its mandate of working with industry and our partners to grow the province’s agriculture and seafood sectors, doing so successfully meant adapting to some very unexpected changes.
Just before the end of the last fiscal year, COVID-19 shut industries down for months and we are still adapting to this day as the pandemic continues to impact our daily lives. Many of our producers are considered essential services, providing food for Nova Scotia and beyond, which meant Perennia’s services were more important than ever to help solve important challenges, like seasonal workers, working safely and helping businesses continue to grow.
The incredible team at Perennia is committed to our economy and has always brought a wide variety of specialized skills to the table. This year especially, their creativity shone as they quickly adapted to support our clients and industries. Whether through finding ways to safely continue research, creating webinars to share important information, or developing technological solutions to current challenges, they have gone above and beyond to support our agriculture, seafood and food processing industries.
I would like to personally thank our Board members, who never cease to demonstrate their value in guiding our strategic and business planning at Perennia.
Thank you to the Perennia team and clients for acting quickly and adapting during this extraordinary year.
Chair, Board of Directors
Message from the CEO
Our number one goal is helping agriculture, fisheries and food and beverage-related companies grow and take advantage of new opportunities locally, nationally and internationally. In doing so this year, our team had to think outside of the box and find new, innovative ways to support our industries and clients.
Each year, Perennia employees collaborate with clients and offer services and expertise in the areas of food safety, new markets, research solutions, production support, product development, analytical testing, information, programs and services. Our team prides itself on being ahead of the curve through applied research, innovative and new technologies and emerging trends. It is this inclination toward being proactive and pioneering that enabled them to adapt, even with incredible effort. They took their lead from the clients and industries we serve – who worked to adapt to sustain their livelihoods under incredibly stressful situations.
Many people and organizations across the globe were left with no choice but to adapt to the developments throughout a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic. What I believe sets Perennia apart is that our team did so with ingenuity and passion, understanding the immense impact on clients’ businesses and being there to help as we could.
From bringing balance to disrupted ocean ecosystems to helping producers adapt to market and consumer demands, Perennia’s team was at the forefront of the challenges facing Nova Scotia’s important industries. We have captured some of this work throughout this report.
If ever there was a time for people to come together, it was this past year. Partnerships with the provincial and federal government, Mi’kmaq communities, our local industry organizations and of course our clients, made much of our work possible.
Thank you to all team members for your outstanding work in helping farmers, fishers and food processors in the province adapt. I would also like to sincerely thank our Board of Directors for all their support and hard work this past year.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” I can say without a doubt, that the Perennia team’s ability to adapt has demonstrated just how skilled and accomplished they are.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Nova Scotia, it fundamentally changed how Nova Scotians lived and worked. Perennia worked with government and industry partners to adapt and support our vital seafood, agriculture and food and beverage processing sectors.
Temporary Foreign Worker Program
In March 2020, Perennia was tasked by the Province of Nova Scotia to develop and oversee a process to support temporary foreign workers coming into the province as they completed their 14 day self-isolation period. These workers are a vital workforce to keep our food system working. They are valuable members of operation teams, and many have been working on farming and seafood operations in Nova Scotia for more than a decade.
During this incredibly stressful time for the industry, Perennia worked tirelessly alongside businesses and its partners – the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture — to ensure these highly skilled workers could arrive, quarantine and work safely in Nova Scotia.
“It’s no secret around here that without workers from Mexico and Jamaica, we don’t farm. I am grateful that we had Perennia on hand to support their return to Nova Scotia during the pandemic. A lot of them are very proud to work here, and some have been here for over ten years. Many of the workers return year over year over year. Just last week, a worker was telling us that because of having the opportunity to work here, he was able to put his daughter through college, and now she’s going to become a registered nurse.” ~ Greg Gerrits, owner of Elmridge Farms
COVID-19 Seafood Response
In 2020-21, Perennia worked with the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture to establish the Seafood COVID-19 Response Program.
The program provided financial assistance to eligible applicants in the Nova Scotia fisheries, aquaculture, marine plant harvesting and seafood sector to develop and implement operational changes needed to continue operations during the pandemic.
The program was funded through a contribution from the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, which is jointly funded by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Up to 70 percent of eligible costs were reimbursed, including funding for signage, protective barriers, personal protective equipment, engineering to re-orient processing lines and workflows, employee productivity technology, development of new work policies and training employees on new work procedures.
The program has been extended and continues until February 28, 2022.
Accelerated Direct Sales Pilot Program
Perennia was pleased to offer and co-ordinate the Accelerated Direct Sales Pilot Program for the province in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with Local Line Co., this program provided Nova Scotia agriculture and aquaculture operations and food businesses a quick and convenient way to create an e-commerce platform or add an online store to their current website.
Agriculture Emergency Processing Fund
In response to the pandemic, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada created the Emergency Processing Fund (EPF). Perennia was pleased to be selected as the agency responsible for delivering the program in Atlantic Canada to eligible applicants requiring less than $100,000.
The EPF was a one-time federal investment of up to $77.5 million to help agricultural food manufacturing, and processing companies implement changes to safeguard the health and safety of workers and their families due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund also helped companies improve, automate and modernize facilities, increasing Canada’s food supply capacity with a priority focus on the meat and greenhouse sectors. Up to 50% of eligible costs were funded.
$4,319,454 of the $4.5 million available for Atlantic Canada claimed and disbursed
Nova Scotia – more than $2.45 million claimed
New Brunswick – $928,128 claimed
Prince Edward Island -$569,076 claimed
Newfoundland and Labrador – $364,967 claimed
NUMBER OF PROJECTS FUNDED PER PROVINCE
Type of Projects Funded
EPF Helps Keep Employees Safe and Food Moving During Pandemic
Since 1963, family-run Den Haan Greenhouses has grown tomatoes and cucumbers in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. CEO Luke den Haan is a third-generation farmer and sells his products to retailers across Atlantic Canada, including Sobeys and Loblaws. The pandemic presented challenges unlike any the company had dealt with in the past.
The Emergency Processing Fund (EPF), administered by Perennia in Atlantic Canada for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, helped Luke keep his business operating safely through the pandemic, providing continuous employment to his 55 employees and keeping food on customer’s tables.
“Perennia and the human touch they brought was comforting and a big help. I felt like they understood the challenges I was facing,” says Luke. “Workers were scared, we had new regulations and safety measures to follow, but Perennia was there and very easy to work with. They helped us navigate the new rules and procedures and the Emergency Processing Fund helped us keep people safe at work.”
With the help of the EPF, Luke was able to install additional break rooms, bathrooms and handwashing stations and expand facilities to allow for social distancing within his greenhouses.
“It’s a real source of pride knowing our employees can come to work and feel safe. Perennia was a big part of that.”
Taking Hand Sanitizer on the Road
In March 2020, demand for disinfectant products such as hand sanitizer skyrocketed. When our client Nova Scotia Spirits asked if we could help them bottle hand sanitizer and not their usual beverages, we saw it as an opportunity to ensure a much-needed product made it to market.
In April 2020, Perennia’s mobile bottling team bottled 50,000 bottles of Nova Scotia Spirits-made hand sanitizer destined for retailers and into the hands of Nova Scotians when they needed it the most.
While virtual meetings, conferences and training sessions have become increasingly common in recent years, the pandemic quickened their adoption rate. Being able to provide first-class, professional sessions to industry virtually was a source of pride for us. We moved quickly to adopt the necessary tools to not miss a step in sharing knowledge.
Perennia’s Food Safety team has offered in-person food safety training to the Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council for many years. This sector-specific training focuses on the Safe Food for Canadian Regulation changes and the differences between a Quality Maintenance Plan and a Preventative Control Plan.
Knowing how important food safety training is, when faced with the challenges of the pandemic, Shelly MacDonald, our Co-Manager of Quality and Food Safety, quickly adapted to offer training in an online format.
In addition to this training, Perennia also saw an increase in other sectors requiring online learning for their clients and members. This included conducting virtual training and developing training materials for the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation and the Newfoundland Beekeepers Association.
Online Self-Directed Cattle and Sheep Course
In 2020-21, the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture asked Perennia to convert an in-person workshop into a self-directed online course. By summer, the Safe Handling and Transport of Sheep and Cattle Course was completed and ready for participants.
The course takes learners through numerous modules surrounding the safe and humane handling and transport of sheep and cattle. A certificate of completion is issued upon completion of the course and is a prerequisite for certain provincial funding programs.
Our team understands the importance of having access to educational opportunities, and 2020-21 was no exception. We offered more than 40 unique webinars on a variety of topics related to agriculture, food safety and product development.
We also offered four webinar series that allowed participants to focus on a specific theme over the course of several weeks.
In an unprecedented year, Perennia staff adjusted their approach and offered accessible and informative learning opportunities to over 1,600 attendees.
Virtual Field Days
While in-person field days were cancelled, our Agri-Services team wasn’t deterred by the pandemic. We took on the challenge of creating online events that allowed growers to connect safely. For three days, staff presented on topics including insects and pests, production systems and weed management.
Virtual field session at Nick and Tim Lamb’s dairy farm in Berwick, where Perennia is hosting corn trials
Minister’s Digital Series
Due to the pandemic, the annual in-person Minister Conferences for Agriculture, and Fisheries and Aquaculture, were replaced with a Minister’s Digital Series in 2021.
Perennia had supported previous in-person conferences and was asked to work with the Nova Scotia Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture to host and produce the new digital series. The virtual events ran from January to April 2021 and are now accessible on our YouTube channel.
Blogs and Podcasts
In 2020-21, we redesigned most of our existing blogs and added some new ones, including the Nova Scotia Tree Fruit Blog. We also continued with our popular Orchard Outlook podcast and added one on bees and wild blueberries.
Technology, Intelligence and Data
Emerging and innovative technologies provide the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage and refine products, processes and operations. It is one of the keys to future growth and success in agriculture and seafood.
In 2020-21, Perennia’s teams worked on initiatives across sectors with the aim to empower and enable companies here to take their business to the next level using new technologies and increased access to information and data.
Cost of Production Cost Tracking
Using smart farm technology to reduce costs and track operations ensures the competitiveness of Nova Scotia’s agriculture and seafood operations. With tighter than ever margins, production efficiency is the key to remaining profitable.
Manually tracking and entering operating costs can be time-consuming. With the support of the province’s Building Tomorrow Fund and in-kind development services from Amazon Web Services team, Perennia has been developing smart farm software to automatically track and share production costs with farmers and processors using cloud technology. The technology uses smart sensors attached to equipment such as electric power panels and water pipes to track the usage of resources such as fuel, water and power. Metrics are accessible via Amazon’s cloud service.
This technology provides business owners with a clearer understanding of costs so they can make more informed business decisions. The software has a flexible modular design to meet the unique needs of each operation, and its responsive web design is easily accessible on any device.
In 2020-21, Perennia established a wide variety of beta testing field sites to gather information to shape future development and commercialization of the software.
Improving Data Quality and Quantity for Aquaculture Development
There is a surprising lack of information about Nova Scotia coastal waters, with most historical data is inadequate or outdated. To improve data quantity and quality, water monitoring was a primary focus for Perennia’s Centre for Marine Applied Research (CMAR) in 2020-21.
Since the launch last year, CMAR has seen tremendous growth in its Coastal Monitoring Program. This program aims to provide information to aquaculture growers to select suitable farming areas based on the data collected for three environmental conditions for fish and shellfish – temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen levels.
Over 13 million data points from 150 deployments at 68 stations located in our coastal waters have been processed. CMAR’s website hosts 10 county reports summarizing this data with processed data publicly available on Nova Scotia’s Open Data.
In 2020-21, CMAR also launched a project to explore water sample collection using aerial drone technology. The initiative aimed to improve water monitoring processes to support shellfish harvesting.
Traditional vessel-based sampling methods are time-consuming, expensive and require accessible boat ramps and multi-person crews. Consequently, many coastal areas that could be suitable for culture remain unsampled due to a lack of capacity.
Project results suggest drone technology has proven an effective method for sampling, enabling the collection of samples in a more timely, safe and efficient manner.
CMAR found that water sample results collected in 2020-21 via drone were no different than those collected via boat. With proof of concept established, CMAR has presented its findings to the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program to request acceptance as an approved sampling method to assign water classifications.
Apple Thinning App
In June 2020, Perennia launched its Orchard Tools app, a mobile app that allows users to input data digitally from the field via their smartphone. The app helps growers and researchers move away from the clipboard, embracing more efficient technology.
We’ve heard from users about their experience, including Joseph Ferri, co-owner of T&K Ferri Orchards in Clarksburg, Ontario, who purchased the tool to monitor fruit growth rates.
“The app definitely saved a lot of time,” said Joseph in an article by Good Fruit Grower. “Our old method of entering the fruit sizes involved entering the data on a paper field sheet and then re-entering the data into Excel. This would typically take about 20 minutes to re-enter the data for each variety.”
Weather Intelligence for Proactive Management Decisions
Nova Scotia is known for its high value crops that grow in micro-climates with variable terrain and weather. The key to future sustainability and growth is in using weather-focused data to create easy-to-use crop risk mitigation tools. Such technology enables producers to make proactive management decisions and support continued efforts toward being an environmentally-conscious industry.
In 2020-21, in cooperation with the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association (NSFGA), Perennia undertook a pilot project with apple producers to develop a prototype of a weather-integrated alert model for fire blight, placing 10 new weather stations on farms across the province. Fire blight is a disease affecting apples and pears that can cause severe economic loss to producers.
Data from the new weather stations was integrated into Maryblyt™ testing model, a computer model used to predict risk of fire blight. With advanced alerts from Maryblyt™, apple producers can take measures to reduce the risk of damage to crops.
Work will continue into the 2021-22 season to launch the pest model and make it accessible to Nova Scotia apple growers. Perennia also has plans to develop an online space to provide growers with more precise data and decision-making tools to respond to weather-related threats.
Perennia Research Associate Jon Bent during the installation of one of the NSFGA new weather stations
Moving to the Next Level.
Sometimes professionals have the opportunity to work on projects that can move industry sectors to the next level and truly move the needle. Here are some of those next-level projects Perennia worked on in 2020-21.
Seafood Quality Standards
Nova Scotia seafood faces ever-increasing competition in global markets. The growth of e-commerce is adding to this competition by simplifying global market access. To stand out from the competition, the Nova Scotia seafood sector must concentrate on the development and promotion of top-quality seafood products.
To date, Nova Scotian fishers have focused on catching as much product as allowable and selling to ready buyers. Money is made by the volume sold. Future profitability may require a change in focus.
Perennia has a team working on creating quality standards for up to 15 Nova Scotia seafood species. The work accelerated in 2020-21 with a focus on value chain assessment, industry outreach on quality standards and quality assessment methods, and doing applied research to determine species-specific Quality Assessment Indexes (QAI).
QAI is a set of systematic, objective guidelines used in the assessment process to objectively evaluate seafood freshness by assigning points for colour, texture, odour and other parameters. Looking forward, industry validation and testing will be carried out before the standards are finalized.
This project is funded under the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, which is jointly funded by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The project ends in October 2022.
Developing Long Cane Raspberry in Nova Scotia
Berries are popular among consumers for their taste and nutrition. Nova Scotia’s fresh raspberry season is short, with room to grow market share if the season can be extended. The key to this extension is new production methods, growing long cane raspberry varieties in pots under the cover of a greenhouse or production tunnel.
In 2020-21, Horticulture Nova Scotia received funding from the province to undertake a multi-year project to:
- Develop an intensive berry industry in Nova Scotia with a primary focus on raspberry and a secondary focus on blackberries
- Screen varieties for suitability to intensive production in Nova Scotia
- Develop effective integrated pest management strategies to optimize production
Perennia is the technical and research lead on the project, working alongside Horticulture Nova Scotia, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, consultants from the Netherlands and grower participants. In 2020-21, tunnels were ordered, and initial foundational work was completed to prepare for the acceleration of the project through the 2021-22 growing season.
There has been increasing consumer demand for fresh fruit throughout the year, which is expected to continue in the near to medium term. And there is significant market potential to displace raspberry imports.
Community Pasture Project
Community pastures have a strong tradition in Nova Scotia’s cattle industry. At the request of the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, in 2020-21 Perennia undertook an assessment and evaluation process for the eight existing pastures owned by the Board.
The aim was to develop a roadmap for the operation and future development of Nova Scotia’s community pastures. Data and recommendations have been provided to the Farm Loan Board for review and further action.
Accelerating our Cannabis Game
Perennia’s Bloom Labs has been conducting analytical testing since 2019 as Nova Scotia’s only Heath Canada licensed testing lab. In 2020-21, Perennia received its research license, opening the door for the development of cannabis edibles. Perennia had also identified opportunities for agriculture crops, including cannabis, that are grown under cover. In response to these developments, we created the new position of Protected Crop Specialist.
With these licenses and our talented team, we became Canada’s only fully integrated, collaborative space in cannabis, where licensed producers and entrepreneurs can work with a holistic team on their business needs.
In 2020-21, the foundation was laid to transition Bloom Labs into Bloom Labs Cannabis Solutions as a fully integrated team focused on accelerating cannabis businesses with four main service areas: production support, analytical testing, edibles development and shelf life.
The Bloom Labs Cannabis Solutions website, blog and resource centre will be launched early in 2021-22.
Buy Local Program Supports Nova Scotian Businesses through the Pandemic
There has long been a desire to support local in the province. Armed with this knowledge, in 2020-21 the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture (NSDA) led an initiative to grow markets and demand for local products, with an emphasis on agri-foods, seafood and beverages. NSDA, along with Perennia, the provincial Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and Taste of Nova Scotia, launched the “Get Your Hands on Local” campaign to help Nova Scotian producers tap into the demand for local and identify Nova Scotia products to buyers.
“Nova Scotians want to buy local products. The challenge for them was walking into retailers and easily identifying what was produced here,” says Patrick Kelly, Buy Local Development Officer at Perennia.
In its first year, Get Your Hands on Local tags appeared on more than 800 local products in retail locations across the province. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Buy Local team adapted the program, creating an online directory helping Nova Scotians stay informed on how to support local through takeout and e-commerce options.
Nova Scotia is a leader in supporting local, particularly among Canada’s smaller provinces, and Kelly is excited to watch support for local grow as more producers are added to the program and Nova Scotians return to in-person shopping.
Launching Flexible Wine Service Offerings
In 2020-21, Perennia launched a suite of winemaking services to the growing wine and craft beverage industry in Nova Scotia, the region and across Canada. Lead by our Winemaking and Innovation Specialist Neslihan Ivit, the service provides advice and information on a number of wine and grape-related matters focused on producing unique and high quality wines, or taking current wines to the next level.
Since the service was launched during COVID, Ivit adapted and offers a number of consultations virtually to clients. Services include interpretation of lab results, enological support and review, sparkling winemaking, blending assistance and troubleshooting.
I Scream for Icecream! Stepping Up Production of this All Natural Treat
Daniel Curren started Tatamagouche Ice Creamery not to sell ice cream, but to create an experience for his customers.
“Ice cream is embedded in our cultural memories – it reminds us of sunny warm days and happy times,” Curren says. “It’s a special product that has special memories associated with it.”
When Curren started selling his premium, all-natural ice cream in Tatamagouche, he started the venture as a side project.
“Cooking was always a passion and I had developed a love for making ice cream.” Since the shop opened in 2020, it developed a cult fanbase. “We figured it would take a few years to establish a brand but in the first year we had lineups and sold out most days,” says Curren.
His biggest challenge was keeping up with production. That’s when Curren reached out to Perennia to help him adapt his business to meet growing consumer demand.
Curren needed a suitable kitchen to meet the robust requirements of being a licenced dairy processor – a regular commercial kitchen would no longer suffice. He had to adapt quickly if he wanted his business to grow.
Leasing space at the Perennia Innovation Centre in Bible Hill – Perennia’s incubator for food product development – Curren was able to scale up his production to meet demand. In addition to the ice cream shop in Tatamagouche, the business launched an ice cream subscription service last summer and is on track to sell its ice cream in 12 different stores by the summer of 2021.
Perennia also helped Curren add colour to his ice cream using all-natural products. “We wanted to maintain a clean label product, but all our ice creams ended up looking very similar.” Curren says the staff and other tenants at the Innovation Centre were able to help him incorporate the eye-catching colours he wanted without artificial colouring. “Nowhere else could we be a food start-up and have that expertise and knowledge at hand.”
Looking forward, Curren is excited to watch his venture grow while producing a healthy local product.
“Having producers who add value to the local agricultural product to create a healthy end product is key. It’s exciting to see how Perennia is using its expertise to foster healthy food business in the province.”
Perennia Helping Wild Blueberry Growers go to New Levels with Eco-Friendly Packaging and Extended Shelf Life
When the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia (WBPANS) wanted to expand market opportunities for small and medium-sized blueberry producers, they turned to Perennia to help them adapt to consumer and market trends.
“Wild blueberries are one of the biggest crops we have in Nova Scotia. Looking at alternate presentations and formats could lead to more viable feasible business opportunities for these farmers,” says Nancy Tregunno, Food Scientist at Perennia.
In the summer of 2020, Perennia began to evaluate opportunities and challenges presented by alternative blueberry packaging. Much of the packaging currently on shelves is not recyclable or compostable. Perennia hopes to find eco-friendly solutions that also provide the best possible shelf life of blueberries – two outcomes that don’t always go hand in hand. “Fresh wild blueberries are very sensitive,” says Tregunno. “Any packaging solutions that are considered must provide a marketable shelf-life.”
Perennia is also exploring the possibility of alternative freezing methods, examining the safety of a “fresh-frozen” method. Blueberries are not washed before being frozen using this technique, which allows them to retain better shape and appearance. “The quality is better retained if the berries are not washed because it retains their bloom, or waxy coating,” says Tregunno. The bloom helps seal in moisture and keep out bacteria.
However, it is important to understand any potential risks of unwashed frozen blueberries. Perennia will partner with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to do an environmental scan of several wild blueberry farms around Nova Scotia in summer 2021, gathering samples that will be tested for microbial quality. Perennia’s research will help identify what mitigation strategies are required to safely harvest, process and pack this type of frozen blueberry.
Partnering with SKUFood, this project is also examining marketing opportunities and consumer appeal of eventual solutions developed by the Perennia team.
“Wild blueberries are a much-loved product that have so much potential,” says Tregunno. “I hope that we will be able to identify viable options for new packaging formats that help farms get to the next level.”
As Nova Scotian producers seek ways to specialize, enter new markets and produce niche food products, Perennia has worked closely to support them. A key tool to do this and mitigate risk of new ventures and help agriculture, seafood and food and beverage processors learn new skills to thrive, Perennia continued to offer impactful programs in 2020-21.
Seafood Accelerator Program: Supporting Export Markets and Diversification in Nova Scotia Seafood
The Seafood Accelerator Program aims to strengthen Nova Scotia’s seafood sector by developing and implementing new products and processes and entering new markets.
In 2020-21 market research reports were completed on marine plant-based fertilizers, marine collagen snack bars andmeal kit opportunities for whitefish. An industry workshop, “Making Money with Seafood in Retail,” was held to share the results of the report with producers and industry.
The Seafood Accelerator Program has been extended, with funding now available until March 31st, 2023.
Twenty-one projects by 14 companies were supported over the course of the year. One company was Mersey Seafood, who our team helped attain BRC (British Retail Consortium) certification, opening new international markets for their products.
Agri-Food Accelerator Product Development and Market Access Accelerator Program
This past fiscal was the final year for the Agri-Food Accelerator Program. Perennia developed and implemented the program with funding under the federal/provincial cost-shared Canadian Agricultural Partnership Program.
The intent of the program was: increasing the knowledge and skills of Nova Scotia agriculture-based food and beverage processors in food safety, product development and succeeding in retail and the food business; supporting the opening new markets through food safety certifications; supporting the market success of improved or new products; and sharing information and piloting new packaging options.
One of our clients for the Agri-Food Accelerator was Shavani’s Kitchen which makes spice blends and frozen sauces. The program supported Perennia specialists in working with the company on a HACCP plan, a food space compliant with Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations, and Nutrition Facts Tables.
“This has had a big impact on me as it has taken me from a small restaurant to a larger production facility. Perennia was there through every level to help me build my new production plant. The work done with the Nutrition Facts Tables was a huge step in getting into retail. Perennia helped us with the CFIA-approved labels, and we are now working on FDA-approved labels. We are currently in many retail stores, including all across Sobeys, planning to get into Loblaws and are currently in a few stores in the US. This has helped us access new markets and find new opportunities to sell our product.” ~ Shivani Dhamija, founder of Shivani’s Kitchen Ltd.
Agriculture Production Extension Program
For 20 years, Perennia has been helping farmers learn new skills, gain new knowledge and grow their farm operations under the Agriculture Production Extension Program. The program is funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and offers one-on-one and group training. The program aims to support farmers in developing innovative, profitable and sustainable farms. Another key component of the program is working with industry associations to advance initiatives that require our specialized production advice and knowledge and to provide agronomic support to the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture.
Through the pandemic, our specialists faced the challenge of delivering high-quality services while remaining safe and compliant with COVID-19 restrictions. Working as a team, we adapted to develop protocols, personal protective equipment field kits and a COVID Partnership Form that all producers and co-operators were asked to sign before we came onsite. We also shifted heavily to using calls, email, text and video chat to provide support for farmers who were uncertain as to what the season would hold for them. Our team remained focused on doing what they could to safely support industry and partners.
In 2020-21, we welcomed some new specialists to our team including Talia Plaskett as a Protected Crops Specialist, Katie Trottier as a Ruminant Specialist and Shane Wood as a Forage Specialist/Research Trial Co-ordinator. It was also the first field season for our new Plant Pathologist, Dr. Sajid Rehman.
Perennia worked with clients across sectors to address the need to find new ways to encourage and support sustainability, focus on full utilization of our natural resources, and find new and inventive solutions to broader environmental challenges in Nova Scotia.
Pilot Project builds capacity of sealing industry
Between the 1960s and today, the grey seal population in Atlantic Canada has exploded, growing from 8,000 seals to nearly half a million. The growth of the grey seal population has disrupted the balance of the ocean ecosystem, threatening some of the region’s wild fish populations – to the point of extinction.
In response to this problem, Perennia launched an initiative to explore opportunities to harvest grey seals for full utilization purposes. Grey seals are a known source of lean, iron-rich protein, fit for consumption by humans, pets and farmed fish. Grey seals are also a source of oil and omega-3 superior to fish oils on the market. Modern seal harvesting is a highly regulated fishery that requires strict humane harvest training and in-field observation by Federal Fisheries officers. If fishers are able to adapt and markets can be identified, harvesting grey seals presents economic and ecological benefits for the region.
The project aims to build the capacity of Nova Scotia’s sealing industry and develop economic opportunities to fully use the meat, oil, organs, carcasses and pelt of grey seals. The project has resulted in a unique partnership between Perennia, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Seal and Sealing Network and local communities.
“We are taking an issue caused by overpopulation of grey seals and turning it into a sustainable and viable economic opportunity for rural and First Nation communities in Nova Scotia,” says Ashley Sprague, Manager of Seafood at Perennia.
Perennia has worked with First Nation and commercial fishers in its efforts to build capacity for sealing on Cape Breton Island. “Having a seal hunt revives communities, provides sources of income that people traditionally had, restores the ecosystem and provides potential to use this resource as a source of food, clothing, crafts and income,” says Hubert Nicholas, Director of Fisheries at Membertou First Nation.
Perennia hopes that this initiative will open up market opportunities for grey seal products in Atlantic Canada and beyond, while forging new relationships and addressing a pressing ecological and economic concern.
Sustainable Packaging Best Practices for Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia
In 2020-21, Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia (FMNS) vendors and market managers sought to reduce or eliminate packaging and work toward improved sustainability. Perennia undertook a study in partnership with FMNS to assess theconcerns of vendors and managers, investigate current best practices, obtain samples of compostable/recyclablepackaging and assess the suitability of this packaging for market use. The study was funded under the Agri-Food Accelerator Program, which was funded by the federal-provincial cost-shared Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
Enabling Traceability Options for the Nova Scotian Strawberry Industry
Horticulture Nova Scotia recently recruited Perennia to help strawberry producers find an effective method of labelling their boxes to meet the Safe Food for Canadians traceability requirements.
New changes to regulations require each consumer package to contain traceability information. Unfortunately, traceability labels do not adhere well to the quart baskets currently used by Nova Scotian producers.
Packaging materials are often ordered in advance of the season, so a short-term solution was required for the 2021 harvest while growers considered what might work best in the future. Through the Agri-Food Accelerator Program, a consultant was hired to research both short and long-term solutions.
Five short-term and six long-term solutions were presented. The best option will vary by farm depending on size and how berries are handled through the production process. To assist producers in making the best choice for their operation, a decision-making matrix was developed and presented.
Focusing in Ag Sustainability with New Three-Way Partnership
The Agri-Environmental Program is a three-way partnership between the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Perennia. Launched in 2020-21, the program builds on the strengths of its partner organizations.
Through four foundational pillars, Environmental Farm Plan, Market Access, Research and Forward Thinking and Resources and Information Sharing, the program provides comprehensive and relevant information to help reduce environmental risk on farms, increase public trust and expand market access. Perennia’s work will focus on developing and extending information, applied research and identifying future industry needs and opportunities. In 2020-21, we recruited Thomas Harrington to fill the new position of Agri-Environmental Specialist to work closely with our other program partners, producers and industry and environmental groups to make advances in this key area.
The program is funded by the federal-provincial cost-shared Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
Perennia worked with clients across sectors to address the need to find new ways to encourage and support sustainability, focus on full utilization of our natural resources, and find new and inventive solutions to broader environmental challenges in Nova Scotia.
Strawberry Nurseries and UV Light Technology
For years, the strawberry industry has dealt with fungal diseases and insect pests. A recurring issue has been powdery mildew, a devastating disease that impacts plant size and development. The chemical treatments available are often cost-prohibitive and are not always effective.
Perennia partnered with Cornell University and facilitated a pilot project testing the effectiveness of UV light in preventing powdery mildew. Trials carried out during the 2020-21 season indicate that UV light is just as effective as other pest control methods.
This technology is more cost-effective and eco-friendly than other methods and allows farmers to produce a higher-quality product, keeping Nova Scotian producers competitive within North American and global markets.
We expect to see interest in this technology grow and are pleased to be a leader in this marketplace in Canada.
Supporting Honey Bee Health in Atlantic Canada
A significant aspect of the work of the Atlantic Tech Transfer Team for Apiculture (ATTTA) is to undertake applied research into honey bee health towards increasing pollination capacity. Beekeepers in this region put very specific demands on their honey bees due to our climate and migratory beekeeping practices. These demands results in increased disease pressure for the honey bees.
One serious disease, possibly linked to pollination, is Nosemosis. This is caused by a microsporidian, fungal organism, Nosema. Work was undertaken in 2020-21 to identify the prevalence, seasonal variance and species profile in Maritime Canada of this pathogen. The results provided new insights into Nosema for our region’s beekeepers and determined that this disease follows clear seasonal patterns, is ubiquitous and one species (Nosema ceranae) now dominates in our region. These results complement ATTTA’s previous work on Nosemosis and, through better application of the drug treatment Fumagilin-B, have resulted in economic benefits for beekeepers.
For the third year, applied research into honey bee queen production practices in our region was undertaken in 2020-21. A project was established to compare imported queens from California with queens reared using grafts from local colonies. The colonies and their queens were followed through the 2020 season and into the spring of 2021. Results are currently being compiled, which compare colony build up, overwintering success, brood pattern and temperament. These results are expected to enhance local production of healthy, regionally adapted stock and ultimately reduce our reliance on imported bees.
Additionally, during pollination of wild blueberries in 2020, research was undertaken on nutritional supplementation, honey bee foraging behaviour, and bacterial disease incidence in order to improve beekeeping practices. This work allows ATTTA to continue supporting our farmers and ensure healthy, viable honey bees for our growing pollination industry.
Evaluating the Performance of Haskap Berry Varieties in Nova Scotia
With little to no scientific data nor had any applied research been conducted in the province, many producers had been left to speculate what varieties would perform best in Nova Scotia’s climate.
In 2018, Perennia, in collaboration with the Haskap Growers Association of Nova Scotia developed a trial to generate basic data and understand what haskap varieties grow best in Nova Scotia. This work continued and in 2020-21, the second year of a new three-year trial, Perennia assessed winter survivability and measured plant development and growth parameters such as growth habit, bloom date and plant height and vigor. Winter survivability was promising, with only two percent of trial plants being lost across the board, with no observed trend by variety.
Other factors such as disease resistance and susceptibility, pest pressure, overall plant health and vigor and yield, are also important factors that will impact growers’ decision in choosing varieties.
Certain varieties appear to show promise for Nova Scotian growers based on plant development. As Haskap bushes in the trial approach maturity and begin yielding, specialists and the industry look forward to having important data from the trial.
Upping Nova Scotia’s Christmas Tree Game Through Applied Research
In 2020-21, under the direction of Perennia’s Christmas Tree Specialist, the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia (CTCNS)’s research team undertook a number of applied research projects to advance the industry and address key research questions.
Though soil and weather conditions in Nova Scotia lend themselves well to balsam fir production, commercial Christmas tree production requires more carefully managed soil environments. Unfortunately, much of the information available surrounding fertilizer application is optimized for growing conditions in the United States.
Starting in 2019 and carrying through to 2021, the research team collected 1,098 soil and tissue samples from trees between the ages of three and five from 44 lots across the province. The project was supported with funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal/provincial cost-shared funding program.
Using data collected, Perennia and its partners generated customized nutrient recommendations for growers and identified optimal tissue and soil conditions for Nova Scotia Christmas tree lots.
Two other projects related to the SMART Tree Project at Dalhousie University – a project aimed to produce higher quality Christmas trees. During the development of the SMART Tree, select genetically modified seedlings were distributed for field planting. To date, these trees have grown to be four to five feet tall.
In the summer of 2020, CTCNS and Perennia’s Christmas Tree Specialist tagged every tree with a custom barcode. The barcodes are tree-specific and allow for ongoing measurement and evaluation over time. CTCNS and Perennia measured various other quality indicators, including tree growth, flush date, colour, bottling of brush, budding, needle length, branch angle and overall ranking.
In 2020-21, CTCNS received funding to undertake a three-year field evaluation trial on SMART Tree field performance. CTCNS planted 396 genetically modified SMART seedings across nine evaluation sites in Lunenburg County, Cobequid region and Nova Scotia’s northeastern region. Forty-four SMART seedlings and four control seedlings were planted at each site.
CTCNS and Perennia will monitor the sites and additional evaluations will take place throughout 2021. More evaluation sites will be developed as more seedlings become available or as further trials are needed.