Canadian crop farmers are the ultimate entrepreneurs. They navigate the weather, pests, consumer interests, domestic regulations, export opportunities, family staff members and more! I had the opportunity to talk to a local farmer supplying to Canadian Prairie Garden Purees to find out what important measures they take to ensure they grow the optimum crop. Let’s meet Todd Giffin of Mayfair Farms in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba.

Weather Variability
Make hay when the sun is shining. You bet! Weather variability during the growing season can cause produce to mature earlier or later than planned. If the produce is not harvested at the optimum time, losses will occur. “When we had a heat wave a few summers ago, our hand harvested crops, such as cauliflower, were at risk. That is when we decided to update our on-farm cooling practices and systems. This allowed the produce to be harvested and stored to extend the shelf-life and guarantee high quality produce for our clients,” Giffin explains.

Cooling Produce is Must for Shelf-life
Rapid cooling just after harvest improves shelf-life and quality, as fresh produce starts to deteriorate immediately following harvest. Giffin says, “Strawberries are a good example of this. If they are not cooled immediately, spoilage can occur rapidly.” Respiration due to enzymatic oxidation in the growing produce continues after harvest, while excess heat can cause the growth of moulds, loss of moisture and a lower nutritional value. When these losses occur, the produce is generally considered to have lost its freshness and quality. Rapid lowering of produce’s temperature and then maintaining it at a constant low temperature minimizes the enzymatic and other processes that cause these losses. Surprisingly, not all farmers do an effective job of cooling due to the initial costs of equipment and system changes. “Our forced air cooling system lowers the temperature of the produce to 2°C within three hours. It has been very valuable and actually cost effective in making sure we provide fresh, high quality produce to your clients,” Giffin notes.

Handling and Storage
If you want top quality produce with a longer shelf life, it needs to be handled and stored properly. For example, on the Mayfair Farm, cauliflower is grown all summer long. It is carefully tied up in the field before harvest, and is then hand-trimmed with the visible dirt removed before being cooled and packaged in a reusable container. Todd emphasizes, “Cold storage is also a must to maintain the integrity of the produce.”

Produce Transportation
Now let’s think sustainability. The Mayfair Farm is about 5 km to Canadian Garden Prairie Purees plant. Now that’s local! This is truly a vertically integrated approach with such a short drive to the client, not to mention the low transportation costs with these deliveries. Giffin is thrilled about this sustainability factor. However, when distances are longer, cold transportation is a necessary measure to maintain quality and extend shelf-life, minimizing losses and contributing to cost savings in the long term.

Final Thought
Cooling and cold storage are valuable tools that better allow produce to be harvested on time and sold in high quality condition.

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Jane Dummer, RD (www.janedummer.com), known as the "Pod to Plate" Food Consultant, collaborates with the food and nutrition industry across North America.