Local farms earn awards for innovation

Deb Cornell and Bill Darby of the Rainy River Elk Company, along with Amos and Heidi Brielmann of Pine River Ranch, were presented with awards in Thunder Bay on Friday for their agricultural innovation.
The five-year, $2.5-million Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence recognizes the innovation Ontario farmers use in the running of their businesses.
Fifty-five regional awards, valued at $5,000 each, were presented across the province—with two of the winners located here in Rainy River District.
“It’s really nice to be recognized,” Cornell said Monday. “I really do think that in terms of what we’re doing here in the Rainy River District, it helps not only the individuals, but it helps the agricultural community being recognized. . . .
“People across the province will recognize that there is some interesting things going on here,” she added.
Both couples attended a ceremony with fellow recipient Jacob Schep, owner of the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm in Thunder Bay District.
Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro presented the business owners with the cheque, a plaque, and a sign they can display at the entrance to their farm citing their innovation achievements.
“I think that [the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs] is hoping this will kick-start a little competitive interest between farmers in the community,” Cornell noted, adding a representative mentioned they’d like to see more of the roadside signs in the future.
“It will encourage people to publicize their innovation,” she added.
Both Cornell and Amos Brielmann said the ceremony was nice, though Brielmann noted he would have liked it to be held in Rainy River District.
“It would have been nice to have our own people there,” he remarked. “It would have been a little more out in the open.
“I know they invited all of the commodity leaders like the cattlemen’s [association], the 4-H, but they couldn’t make it to Thunder Bay.”
Had it been held locally, perhaps in the evening, Brielmann said it could have been more of a community event.
But he added it was nice to be acknowledged.
“I was very surprised [to win],” he stressed. “Because I know there are some really, really innovative people here I the district who I thought would deserve it more than we did, but maybe they didn’t apply.”
Specifically, Pine River Ranch was selected based on its environmental stewardship and green energy options.
The Brielmanns are careful in their pasture management, have developed a riparian zone along waterways to eliminate run-off, and use solar energy to power water systems for their cattle.
The land also has been associated with the Greencover Canada program, where reconstructed fences and newly-planted trees have shown potential for a shelter belt.
Meanwhile, the Rainy River Elk Company was chosen as a regional winner for its marketing initiatives, especially after BSE hit, since they relied heavily upon the U.S. market for revenue.
Cornell and Darby used product differentiation and worked with others in order to expand through farmers’ markets.
“It was a lot of work so it’s such a treat to be recognized,” Cornell enthused.
The 55 regional winners were selected from more than 200 submissions province-wide.
Cornell said she decided to apply for the award after seeing it advertised throughout the agriculture community last year. For his part, Brielmann noted local ag rep Gary Sliworsky encouraged him to fill out the application.
Submissions were received in November, with the recipients being notified in March.
Any Ontario agri-food business or organization was eligible as long as the innovation was developed and used on an Ontario farm and has the potential for a broader use in the agriculture industry.
The independent panel reviewing the submissions also took into account four criteria:
•uniqueness and originality;
•stage of development;
•the impact or benefits of the innovation; and
•adoption and/or commercialization.
Of the regional winners, a Premier’s Award of $100,000 and the Minister’s Award of $50,000 was presented at the Premier’s 2007 Agri-Food Summit last month.
Although Pine River Ranch and the Rainy River Elk Company didn’t earn the top amounts, Cornell and Brielmann still are pleased with their $5,000.
Both indicated there are farm-related projects they’d like to look at and the money will be used for that.
“I really think we have some great farms in the district that would really deserve this award,” Brielmann noted, adding he hopes many farmers from the area apply for the 2007 award.
“I am proud of the accomplishments of these award winners,” Mauro stated in a press release. “Recognizing and encouraging innovation on the farm will help Ontario’s agri-food sector get ahead in a challenging marketplace.”