Carrot packing line at Nature's Finest Produce, March 24, 2016. (Photo by Simon Crouch)

COMMENT: Thinking Under The Straw

I’m always intrigued by the technology and thought that goes into a lot of food production systems.

They can be as large and complex as cake baking, or as simple as cleaning bagging and shipping carrots from field to stores to tables.

The products of course have to be grown or raised as efficiently as possible in a way that leaves them as high quality as possible.

Fresh carrots in March are quite a feat, we’ll get to that in just a moment.

We all know about efficiencies of scale, that’s one big reason farms are getting bigger. Grow more acres and that harvester, as expensive as it seemed when it was purchased, gets cheaper per acre harvested.¬†Grow similar crops and you can sometimes get double duty out of the equipment.

Sometimes there are things you just don’t think of, or at least, I don’t think of until I get out and talk to the growers.

For example I recently got to tour a vegetable packing plant. I watched carrots coming in from the fields in trucks floating off into big tanks and then to a line where they are washed, then sorted, packed directly into bags for sale to the grocery store.

On the other side of the warehouse, onions.

Onions and carrots add to efficiency I was told.

Really, because they are both root vegetables?

No actually it is a downstream efficiency. When you are selling to the grocery chains, the same person in the chain buys both products so having a relationship with that person helps both crops.

I had toured this particular sorting and packing plant before, so it wasn’t all knew to me, I did want to see if anything had changed in the last couple of years.

But the image of trucks full of carrots coming in directly from the field to the packer is not from some past visit it is from this March. This past week in fact, and the carrots are in wonderful condition.

This particular producer you see plants enough carrots for fall harvest and some winter storage and then in the spring digs more carrots.

In the fall, just before the cold weather arrives crews take huge amounts of straw to the fields, and cover them to a depth of what looks to be several feet.

The carrots don’t get frosty and damaged, in fact they sleep quietly underground the way nature intended.

In the spring they are fresh and sweet and in great demand as fresh product.

Covering up the field with straw adds to the production and labour costs a bit, but it reduces the cost that would have been incurred keeping them in man made storage all winter long.

And having a good supply of the freshest carrots in the province come March and April? Priceless. As the saying goes.

That’s the thing about innovation. Sometimes it’s deeply complicated and meticulous. Sometimes it just follows nature.

There is no doubt there is a fair amount of innovation in agriculture, and we can always use more.

As surely as winter changes into spring, and spring into summer, innovative farmers will continue to do what they do, and find more producing ways of feeding all of us.