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We learned recently that McCain Foods has upped the ante in TruLeaf Sustainable Agriculture and its wholly-owned subsidiary GoodLeaf Farms, Canada’s largest commercial vertical farming operation.

McCain has invested $65 million in GoodLeaf, making it the single largest shareholder in the venture. The idea is to create a national network of sustainable vertical farms that will bring fresh produce to several urban markets in the country.

These are exactly the type of projects we need in Canada.

GoodLeaf has come a long way from its humble beginnings in an abandoned school in Bible Hill, N.S. It now operates a fully-automated 45,000-square-foot facility in Guelph, Ont., and is looking to expand its operations nationally, with McCain’s support.

These are highly capital-intensive projects and getting a private sector leader in partnership is nothing short of a coup. The company has the technological experience and expertise to do well.

McCain brings to the table far more than just cash. The company is probably one of Canada’s best agri-food vertical integrators. It understands supply chain economics very well. The potato industry in Canada is amazingly well-co-ordinated, mostly due to McCain’s leadership. From farm to fork, farmers, distributors and even food service, including players like McDonald’s, all work together to improve efficiency and quality.

Last year, McCain had to deal with a 300-million-pound glut of potatoes due to the closure of thousands of restaurants. More than 75 per cent of fries are consumed through food service. Most of the glut was rerouted or repurposed within months, and 12 months later, the industry is back on its feet.

While milk was being dumped everywhere, the potato industry regrouped and got it done. It was an impressive feat.

McCain’s ability to work the food chain will help GoodLeaf. Since these projects are about generating business in a high-volume, low-margin environment, risks can be high. Dealing with grocers is never easy but understanding the stock-keeping unit (SKU) game and what happens in grocery stores will be critical. These partnerships are key for Canada’s ongoing pursuit of more food autonomy.

Food autonomy is about moving the needle on domestic production. It’s not about food sovereignty, which fosters the desire to produce and regulate everything within our borders. An autonomous food system is about building production capacity in an open economy.

Investing in controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) is about optimizing growing conditions for any crops, throughout the year, regardless of weather patterns. CEA technologies have come a long way to include hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaculture and aquaponics.

There are several ways to grow crops effectively and safely. GoodLeaf uses hydroponic techniques to produce sustainable, safe, pesticide-free, nutrient-dense leafy greens, very much what a growing number of consumers are looking for.

Vertical farming also knows no limitations when designing a supply chain. To reduce logistical requirements and increase product quality and freshness, vertical farms can be built in cities, in suburbs, anywhere. Growing microgreens or produce generates no smell, unlike livestock.

The potential is substantial, especially for a country like Canada where produce price volatility has historically given consumers sticker shock. According to NielsenIQ numbers, vegetable prices over the last 12 months have increased by almost 11 per cent. Some products, like tomatoes and cauliflower, have seen higher increases.

When healthy food is perceived as financially out of reach, some consumers will walk away and their nutrition will suffer.

With climate change, CEA and vertical farming can become humanity’s best friend, no matter where you live in the world.

Conventional outdoor agriculture has also come a long way but it remains highly vulnerable to a variety of uncontrollable factors. So the McCain-GoodLeaf partnership is a step in the right direction. We have access to clean water, clean energy and affordable land in Canada, compared to other places. All the main elements are there for this growth.

But $65 million is still a very modest sum compared to what we’re seeing elsewhere in the industrialized world.

AppHarvest, an agri-tech company operating one of the world’s largest CEA facilities in Morehead, Ky., became a publicly-traded company in the fall. The transition provides AppHarvest with more than $600 million of unrestricted cash, which will primarily be used to fund operations and the building of many other facilities around the United States.

With climate change affecting crops in Florida, Arizona and California, coupled with the emergence of better soil and plant science, agri-tech clearly has the attention of many investors. The pandemic just made the issue even more obvious. America has now over 50 major vertical farming operations, with more to come.

We have much to do in Canada to catch up. But this new McCain-GoodLeaf venture should be a good case study.

 
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On conveyor systems in the Canadian food processing industry, some powdered and bulk solid materials are ignition sensitive in specific concentrations (i.e.- grains, sugar, creamer, etc.), particularly when exposed to static electricity discharge. A key point of concern is conveyor system connection points such as inlets, outlets, and storage bins. Here, the concentration of dust can become sufficiently high for a deflagration to occur with accidental exposure to an ignition source, such as static electricity, a spark, flame, or even high heat or friction.

So, the characteristics of the material conveyed and the type of conveyor along with its associated component parts and connection points should be considered in the system’s design to avoid a serious risk of dust combustion and explosion. By carefully selecting and integrating the conveyor system and its components, food processors can minimize the risk of dust explosions while safely conveying materials in a hygienic and energy-efficient manner.

“When conveying powders, understanding the requirements is critical because an explosion can injure people as well as destroy essential equipment, causing lengthy downtime. So, any conveyor system that handles such material must be designed and engineered to comply with all safety codes and have dust mitigation procedures in place,” says Gary Schliebs, a Process Engineer and Director of Plus One Percent…Engineered Solutions, a consulting firm that works in the food industry and globally markets food industry conveyor equipment.

Ignition Sensitivity

In food processing, a range of powder or bulk solid products can combust, including grains, flour, and sugar. One of the key factors in determining the risk for dust explosion is the product’s sensitivity to static electricity discharge in specific concentrations and fuel-to-air ratios, as well as its sensitivity to ignition in ambient air or processing conditions.

In general, static electricity can ignite a combustible dust cloud inside a food processing conveyor system if the minimum ignition energy of the dust is very low. Powder and dust conveyed at high velocity speeds through metal pipe or ducting can build up an electrostatic charge in the dust and potentially ignite. Because static charge can accumulate at different points in the system, the equipment should be fully grounded to earth so it does not discharge into the line.

In any food processing conveyor system, the dust explosion hazard is greater at connection points such as inlets, outlets, and ducts. Here, the powdered product is transferred into bins, hoppers, vessels and containers, potentially causing a dust cloud to form. For this reason, all connection points between conveyors and storage vessels should be bonded and grounded so no component is at a different static discharge potential from another, which could ignite the powder.

Conventional open mechanical conveying systems, which utilize many moving parts, can become an ignition source. Bearings and out-of-alignment belt conveyors can be problem areas if they cause sparks or generate heat from friction.

Although some conveyor systems, such as pneumatic powered equipment, are enclosed, the use of high-velocity air can also potentially lead to the creation of a “dust cloud” inside the tube, as well as outside on its exit, although dust collectors and filter receivers can reduce this effect.

One solution is selecting a conveyor, such as a tubular drag conveyor, that conveys powdered material more slowly and gently. Tubular drag conveyors are enclosed systems that utilize a coated, flexible stainless-steel drag cable pulled through on a loop.

Because tubular cable conveyors do not suspend transported powders within high-velocity airstreams like pneumatic conveyors, this imparts “less energy” into the conveyance, which reduces the risk of a dust explosion. Unlike other conveyor systems, tubular cable conveyors operate on low horsepower with less heat and friction, using energy-efficient, variable-speed motors of less than 5 HP each.

“Compared to pneumatic systems, tubular cable conveyors use about a quarter of the energy to move product,” says Schliebs.

With tubular cable conveyors, solid circular discs (flights) are attached to a cable, which pushes the product at low speed through the tube without the use of air, reducing the potential for dust cloud formation and preserving product integrity. The systems can convey up to 2000 cubic feet per hour (56m3/hr.) of powders, granules, etc. with numerous layouts using multiple inlets and outlets.

“Tubular conveyors generate minimal dust due to the gentle, low velocity, so there is often no requirement for a dust handling system at the end, such as a bag station used to filter and clean the air,” adds Schliebs.

Without high-speed contact or scraping, the lower speed, lower energy motors of tubular drag conveyors also reduce sparking risk. In addition, the slower velocity reduces any friction and heat generated to well below an ignition point, limiting it about 10 to 20 °F above ambient temperature.

Preventing Powder Escape

When it comes to minimizing the risk of dust explosion, another challenge is preventing loose powder from escaping into the surrounding environment where it can accumulate and present a combustion hazard when exposed to a spark, flame, high heat, or static electricity.

For this reason, it can be a disadvantage to use open conveyors, such as bucket elevators or flat-belt conveyors.

“Bucket elevator drop zones where the bucket is tipped, or product goes down a chute will always generate dust at those points. Anywhere product enters or exits a conveyor belt also tends to create dust,” says Schliebs.

With pneumatic conveyors, since the air is usually above or below atmospheric pressure, this means powders can escape if there is an unexpected breach in the equipment or ducting.

“When powdery product is mixed with air under pressure, it can become a greater combustion hazard, particularly if you get a line break and it discharges out of the system,” says Schliebs. “Once, I witnessed a situation where a coupling came loose [in a pneumatic conveyor line] and it blew powder into the factory. Fortunately, there was no dust combustion, but the integrity of the whole system is paramount, so connections cannot be loose in pressurized systems.”

Minimizing Dust Accumulation

According to Schliebs, when it comes to minimizing the risk of dust explosions in food processing, even gentler enclosed tubular conveyor systems are not all the same given the two options: chain or cable.

For example, with tubular drag chain conveyors, the entire chain is directly immersed within the powders conveyed so dust and food particles can remain trapped after cleaning. With tubular cable conveyors, the cable has about 80% less area exposed than the surface area of the chain. Further, the cable is nylon sealed, preventing debris and dust accumulation within the cable strands.

Another way to mitigate dust accumulation is through sufficient cleaning to remove any potential powdered debris between batches. For this, Schliebs says tubular cable conveyor systems typically offer more options for dry and wet tube cleaning to remove accumulations of dust and food residue. These include brush boxes, urethane wipers, air knives, in-line sponges, in-line bristle brushes and multi-step, fully automated CIP wet cleaning.

To take advantage of these options, he often recommends tubular cable conveyors from Oskaloosa, Iowa based Cablevey Conveyors, a premium, specialty material moving, mechanical conveyor company. The company has designed, engineered, and serviced enclosed cable and disc tube conveyors for almost 50 years, and is in more than 66 countries including Canada.

With Cablevey Conveyors, the tubular drag cable conveyor is engineered in conformance with EHEDG (European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group) hygienic standards, so that it is completely free of crevices, ledges and dead spots where dust and food particles can reside. Surfaces are designed to be convex, rounded or inclined to 45 degrees to prevent powder and dust residue.

Given the variety of conveyor choices and powdered ingredients that must be conveyed during processing, the potential risks warrant a careful examination of the available equipment options and system design in consultation with experts.

Systems that eliminate potential ignition sources, convey material with less force, and otherwise reduce the risk of dust explosion can help Canadian food processors protect their employees, production, and the brand.

For more information, call toll free: 1 (800) 247-3344; Fax: +1 (641) 673-7419; email: info@cablevey.com; or visit https://cablevey.com.

 
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SAINTE-JULIE, Quebec, April 07, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Group Export Agri-Food is pleased to announce the opening of the application period for the 2021 Alizés Awards, presented by FCC. Canadian agri-food exporters have until June 19, 2021 to apply in either of two categories: Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises, reserved for companies with revenues of less than 50 million dollars, and Large company, for those with revenues of 50 million dollars or more. The winners will be unveiled in September 2021 in conjunction with SIAL Canada.

“Despite the current context, it was imperative for us to recognize the achievements of an industry that has been put to the test over the past year and that has brilliantly risen to the challenge. Canadian exports are increasing, proof that the industry knows how to adapt and face headwinds. The Alizés Awards take on a very special meaning this year,” explains Martin Lavoie, President and CEO of Group Export.

Known in English as trade winds, the Alizés refer to the winds which have helped establish the main maritime trade routes between continents over the centuries and linked Canada to foreign markets. They highlight the excellence of the work accomplished by Canadian agri-food companies that have distinguished themselves in international markets through impressive growth, innovative marketing strategies or structuring consolidation actions.

"I am looking forward to read the applications again this year,” says Louis Turcotte, senior director, corporate and commercial financing at FCC and Chair of the jury. “Every year, companies impress us with their inventiveness and perseverance. I am convinced that the next candidates will be no exception."

Canadian agri-food exporters are invited to visit lesprixalizesawards.ca to register and receive their application form. The application period will close on June 19, 2021 at 5:00 pm EDT.

The Group Export would like to thank, in addition to FCC, the Government of Canada, the Government of Quebec, Inno-Centre, L’Actualité alimentaire, Agro-Québec and SIAL Canada for their support and their contribution to the Alizés Awards.

 
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OTTAWA, ON, April 7, 2021 /CNW/ - Today, Food Processing Skills Canada and the Future Skills Centre announces a new project for the Canadian food and beverage manufacturing industry that will revolutionize traditional training strategies and attract new people to the workforce.

iFood 360° Virtual Reality Training for People in the Canadian Food & Beverage Manufacturing Industry has been designed to support employers, especially in small to medium-sized businesses, in addressing their skills shortage and engaging with job seekers. This project will also support businesses as they respond to, and mitigate, Covid-19 workforce impacts.

Food Processing Skills Canada will deliver nationally-recognized training and upskilling, based on the industry-developed Learning and Recognition Framework, to participating companies using virtual immersive learning experiences.

"Our online technical and social-emotional training has proven effective in responding to the Covid-19 imperative of distance learning. With iFood 360° we are further supporting employers with virtual reality training, and engaging students with career exploration labs that profile career opportunities. With a virtual reality headset, an individual can literally step into a learning scenario that is 3D panoramic. It's an exciting new way to learn," said Jennefer Griffith, Executive Director, Food Processing Skills Canada

iFood 360° will develop 2 streams of virtual immersive learning experiences:

  • Plant operation training including food safety, sanitation and worker health and safety; and essential skills training, including emotional intelligence and adaptability, with employers in multiple regions across Canada.
  • Connect with post-secondary institutions and community organizations to provide virtual career exploration for students and job seekers and others with transferable skills.

An analysis of scale-up options for entry level virtual technology will also be provided for small to medium-sized businesses.

Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, says delivering virtual skills and training in the food and beverage manufacturing sector is a perfect example of FSC's investment in innovative approaches to training to build capacity and fill future skills gaps. "This project changes the way people are trained and supports both workers and industry with the right tools for resilience and adaptability. We want to learn how we can help workers at all levels in the food processing industry to be able to get the specific skills and appropriate training to enter into and progress in this field, as it continues to change. This is just one of the exciting shock-proofing projects that FSC is investing in to build a future playbook for shared prosperity, and help Canadian workers and businesses seize opportunities in our future economy."  

There is a growing body of evidence of the positive impacts of virtual immersive-learning experiences within an employment training context ranging from detailed technical training to advanced leadership training. The positive results include greater skill retention, higher levels of learner engagement, lower training costs and lowering common training barriers.

iFood 360° is funded by the Government of Canada's Future Skills program.

 
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SASKATOON – A multi-agency research team led by University of Saskatchewan (USask) veterinary reproductive biologist Dr. Gregg Adams (DVM, PhD) aims to make rapid strides in improving the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of Canada’s $18-billion beef sector by integrating advances from the field of omics into livestock production. 

“USask has an amazing facility and program centred around the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence (LFCE), and expertise in all areas of livestock production, but one thing that has been missing is a genomic component,” said Adams. 

Genomics and other omics tools in biological science—such as phenomics, microbiomics, proteomics—involve the study of the appearance, structure and behaviour of animals, their microbiomes and cell proteins. Researchers have made tremendous progress in these areas over the past decade, and they can now use these advanced tools for extensive livestock production, he said. 

The beef cattle industry is tremendously important in the West, with Saskatchewan and Alberta probably accounting for 70 per cent of Canada’s beef production, Adams said. Consequently, even incremental changes in performance translate into big gains in economic value and job growth. 

Adams’s Integrated omics for sustainable animal agriculture and environmental stewardship (IntegrOmes) project has been awarded $6.75 million over five years by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), with another $10.1 million expected from institutional partners, private industry and vendor in-kind support. 

By bringing together experts in microbiology, epidemiology, reproductive biology and forage nutrition, the project aims to integrate the advances in omics tools to address challenges in the beef industry such as disease management, fertility improvement and environmental impact mitigation—something already in place in the dairy, hog and poultry industries. 

The first step is to gather reams of previously unavailable behavioural and other physical data on beef cattle by placing multispectral cameras in pastures and close confinement areas and linking the information with gene markers for desired traits, said Adams. 

“Once we identify these markers—the genomic characteristics that relate to performance, we can actually begin to collect the genetic material—the germplasm, embryos and semen from those individuals that have desirable characteristics,” he said.  

The goal of IntegrOmes is to make it easier for cattle producers to identify and breed animals with desired traits such as better meat quality, stronger disease immunity, healthy uterine and semen microbiomes, shorter gestation periods, and good maternal behaviour and heavier calf weights at weaning. 

To accommodate the collection, processing, sorting and cryopreserving of bulls’ semen and cows’ eggs, and creating and preserving embryos, IntegrOmes is establishing a biobank at the LFCE that fits hand-in-glove with the genomic tools researchers will use. The biobank will serve the needs of the beef livestock industry as well as bison conservation efforts—the other facet of Adams’s research included in the CFI award. 

As well, IntegrOmes researchers are using genomics to develop rapid diagnostic tools for diseases and antimicrobial resistance that have been troublesome for the beef industry. 

“If we can put these tools in the hands of diagnosticians or farmers themselves, they can report the results immediately—within hours or a day rather than having to wait days or even weeks—then we can cut the head off an epidemic, or certainly focus on appropriate antibiotics,” said Adams. 

“This project has been two years in the making, and it’s created a lot of enthusiasm and momentum,” he said. “Once the infrastructure and equipment are in place and we become proficient in its use, the impact will be felt for a generation or more.” 

USask researchers on the IntegrOmes project include: Cheryl Waldner, Janet Hill, Dinesh Dadarwal and Jaswant Singh, all from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, and Matthew Links from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources. Other team members are Gabriela Mastromonaco (Toronto Zoo); Jocelyn Poissant (University of Calgary); Graham Plastow (University of Alberta); and Muhammad Anzar (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada).

 

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