Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre: 100 years of agricultural research excellence

Alternative Formats

Growing a Century of Success!

It all started with some plants, a plot of land, a desire for knowledge, and the need to improve an agricultural commodity.

Established in 1909, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's experimental farm in Harrow, Ontario has grown from humble beginnings to a world-class research centre that boasts the largest greenhouse research facility in North America.

Little did department leaders know that the site selected and established 100 years ago would become a jewel in the crown of Canadian agricultural research. Their work laid the groundwork for top-class research in commodities as diverse as field beans, processing vegetables, soils research, germplasm conservation, and fresh market greenhouse vegetables.

The site was selected to complement and reflect the diverse and intensive agriculture of southwestern Ontario. The soil, climate, disease and weed pressures of the area provided scientists with a living laboratory for their research.

100 Years of Research History

The station was first established in 1909 and by 1923 it was known as the Dominion Experimental Station at Harrow. It was renamed the Harrow Research Station in 1959. In 1995, the name was changed to the current name: Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre (GPCRC). These name changes reflected the increasing research effort in an ever-growing range of crops, animals and agriculture that were being studied, and the diversity of the agricultural industry.

As priorities and names were changing, significant accomplishments in plant breeding of crops such as soybean, dry bean, corn, field vegetables and tree fruits, as well as poultry breeding, were achieved.

Growth in Research and Facilities

The period following the Second World War led to a call for better quality fresh market produce and processed foods as the "boom" era began. Harrow's fresh market and processing vegetable trials were enhanced and research expanded to include a greater diversity of crops. The number of scientists working at the Centre increased and additional land was acquired and adapted to Harrow's larger role.

There was a growing need for plant protection specialists such as plant pathologists (bacterial, viral, fungal disease), entomologists (the insect world), nematologists (nematodes or roundworms) and weed control experts. This expanded research led to the construction of specialized facilities. In 1948, the study of plant diseases (pathology) began in the Centre's greenhouses. The region had (and still has) the largest concentration of greenhouse production in North America. The research greenhouses have a scientific mandate to help the industry produce the highest quality and highest yielding greenhouse vegetable crops. A new main laboratory and administrative facility was added in 1967 and forms the core of the buildings that still exist on the site.

The Woodslee soil substation was acquired in 1946 (renamed the Honourable Eugene F. Whelan Experimental Farm in 1984). The Affleck Farm across from the main site was acquired in 1957 and the Ridge Farm about three kilometres from the Centre was acquired in 1964 (later sold in the 1990s). Altogether, the Centre now comprises 216 hectares.

Research's Changing Mandates

Ongoing discoveries and new knowledge brought huge shifts in research priorities, which continue to evolve. The discovery that crops such as tomato, soybean and dry beans could be grown successfully at competitive costs led to a renewed and continued research emphasis on those crops. And the need for producers to be good environmental stewards of the land has fuelled many valuable research discoveries in the area of soils management.

Today, the research being conducted at the Centre addresses specific ag-sector needs and priorities. Research programs are carefully planned with sector input and are reviewed by both an academic peer-review panel of scientific experts and department senior managers.

For over 100 years, the Centre's research achievements have benefited the Canadian industry and achieved international renown. With the department's support and vision, AAFC researchers have endeavoured to improve, innovate and add value to Canadian agricultural commodities in the region.

From the Director...

A century of agricultural research at Harrow has withstood the test of time, enduring changing priorities and many global events that influenced the direction of where agricultural research needed to place its focus. Research at Harrow has provided excellent service for the farming community and Canadians by addressing farmers' concerns and consumer needs. Over the years, discovery at the Centre has led to better crop varieties, improved agricultural practices to benefit farmers, consumers and the environment as well as innovative ways to produce crops that are abundant, high quality, safe and nutritious for consumers while being profitable for producers. We look forward to the next hundred years of research excellence with enthusiasm, anticipation and the expectation that our work will continue to benefit the agricultural community and our fellow Canadians.

Dr. Gary Whitfield, Science Director

It's 'Bean' a Long Time

If you fancy beans in your chili, burritos, soup, or of course, baked beans, you can probably thank Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists. In the past 60 years, AAFC scientists at Harrow have tested and bred an astounding 35 dry bean varieties.

The dry bean program evolved from evaluating beans suitable to the region to developing new varieties with increased disease resistance and superior agronomic, canning and nutritional qualities.

When the Centre's dry bean breeding program began in 1956, there was extensive white (or navy) bean production in the Harrow area. Early on, American cultivars grown in nearby Michigan were studied for their ability to grow in Ontario. Research at Harrow later resulted in new Canadian white bean varieties with improved characteristics and resistance to common diseases such as root rot and anthracnose.

Dr. Soon Park, AAFC bean breeder from 1981 to 2006, credits the Centre's success in developing new bean varieties to this multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach.

As Ontario's bean-growing acreage increased in the late 1960s, the breeding program expanded to include work on addressing more complicated diseases and production problems. From 1966 to 1983, eight new white bean varieties were introduced to southwestern Ontario by Drs. G.M. Clark, John Aylesworth and Dick Buzzell. A team approach to bean breeding involves the expertise of crop physiologists, pathologists and entomologists.

Emerging ethnic markets influenced the study of additional bean varieties and new cropping systems in the 1980s. Cooperation between scientists and the processing industry was important in developing varieties for new and innovative foods. Dr. Park helped develop and introduce various kidney, black, pinto, mung and adzuki beans as well as the specialty beans otebo and kintoki, which are exported to Japan for use in confections.

It's easy to tell when taste panels at the Centre's food lab are evaluating the canning quality of new varieties...just follow the smell of baked beans! Trained panellists consume and evaluate beans for appearance, texture, taste and palatability twice a day for weeks.

Although most of the Centre's bean breeding plots are in southern Ontario, scientists have worked extensively with researchers in western Canada and with universities and public institutions in the United States and Europe. Beans developed at the Centre are grown in the Maritimes, Prairies and the United States and many are exported to Europe for consumption.

In 2008, a new chapter in dry bean research began. AAFC, the University of Guelph, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the Ontario bean industry teamed up to create a new, collaborative approach to advancing bean research. AAFC bean research continues through the placement of a bean breeder at the University of Guelph. Ontario has the expertise, the infrastructure, and all the required components for an internationally recognized bean genetics and breeding research program.

Dry bean research at the Centre has made a huge impact on the Canadian industry through the introduction of new beans that benefit both farmers and consumers. The next time you eat beans, chances are you've consumed the fruits of AAFC's dry bean breeding program!

Soy Ahoy!

Although the soybean was a latecomer to the Canadian agricultural scene, it achieved a phenomenal rise in popularity!

It was not grown in Canada until early in the twentieth century but after the Second World War, soybeans became an important economic crop, and one of the principal crops in southwestern Ontario's Essex County. Since 1980, Canadian soybean production has climbed 450 percent, and current forecasts suggest further steady growth, according to the Canadian Soybean Exporters' Association. Statistics Canada reported that in 2008, an astounding 737,674 tonnes of Canadian soybeans were exported to other countries.

In 1923, AAFC Researcher, Dr. F. Dimmock started a soybean breeding program at the Centre. This program proved to be one of the most outstanding in North America, producing many new varieties. The Centre's first variety, Harman, was released in 1943. Harosoy followed in 1951 and within eight years, it became the predominant variety in Canada, occupying 75 percent of Ontario's soybean acreage. In the years that followed, several varieties were released, such as AC Hime (Japanese for 'princess'). One of the more recent is the Harovinton soybean, which won the "Seed of the Year" award in 2006. These 'food-grade' varieties are very high in protein and are used to make miso, tofu and soy-milk.

The fertile, high-nutrient soils in southern Ontario support the development of strong roots and superior soybean crops, making Essex-Kent County soybeans sought after worldwide. Japan leads the Canadian soybean-importing countries, with 60,567 tonnes imported in 2008, according to Statistics Canada. Canadian soybeans are particularly coveted for processing Nigari tofu, a tofu considered to be 'premium' because of its silken texture and refined flavour. The United States, Belgium and the Netherlands are also amongst the top Canadian soybean importing countries.

AAFC researchers strive to develop soybean varieties that are new and improved, not only from a health and nutrition perspective, but are also higher-yielding and more disease resistant. Some beans are even being bred to have a less 'beany' flavour. These varieties are more suitable for use in innovative foods such as ice cream sandwiches, soy shakes and veggie burgers, which are ideal for people with food allergies, preferences or intolerances.

AAFC scientists continue to respond to consumer demand through the soy breeding program at the Centre. Soy is being studied for its potential in novel technologies such as bioplastic and biofuel. Canadians will profit greatly from the adoption of new soy that has improved flavour, nutrition and functional qualities. Canadian growers will reap benefits from increased soybean yields that result from AAFC research on crop management, disease and pest control.

Harovinton Soybean:
This soybean, developed by Dr. Richard Buzzell was named Seed of the Year in November 2006 at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. This high protein cultivar makes high-quality tofu and is valued by Japanese tofu producers who call it "Asian Pearl" and have made it the nation's soybean industry standard.

Veggie Tales

Southwestern Ontario's agricultural history could not be told without mentioning field vegetables! Forty per cent of Ontario's vegetables are grown in this part of the province where an early growing season, coupled with soil and climatic conditions, make it an ideal location.

Field vegetable research began at the Centre in the 1920s with tomatoes and sweet corn. Researchers set out to develop a tomato that could resist disease, tolerate frost and have an improved flavour and quality. Their mission was accomplished when Harrow's first tomato variety, fittingly named 'Harrow' was introduced in 1951.

Did You Know?

Harrow is situated in Canada's largest tomato production area, Essex County.

H.J. Heinz Company of Canada Ltd. set up manufacturing operations in nearby Leamington in 1909, the same year that the research centre at Harrow was established. This set the stage for an important future partnership. As Heinz grew, so did the Centre and its mandate, which included tomato research and development. Early on, many of Heinz's contracted farmers were provided with seeds from superior tomato varieties that were researched and developed at the Centre.

The Centre has also researched and produced cucumber, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, brussel sprouts, sweet corn and peas. AAFC scientists have always taken a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to vegetable research. Crop breeders, plant pathologists, entomologists and weed specialists join forces to discuss issues and findings that affect the industry. Sharing concepts from different perspectives leads to comprehensive solutions and innovative ideas. This holistic approach will continue to lead to the development of desirable new varieties and ensure success!

The Fruit Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Many fruit varieties have originated from research at the Centre in the last century. Some of the tasty peaches, pears, nectarines and apricots developed by our AAFC scientists may be the very ones you enjoy on a regular basis!

As early as 1920, the Centre was conducting evaluations of tender fruit crops for their suitability to southern Ontario's growing conditions. This paved the way for a breeding program to develop new varieties of peaches and nectarines, which was initiated in 1960. Pear breeding was added in 1962, followed by apricots a year later. Scientists Mr. Brian Harrison, Dr. Richard Layne and Dr. Mac Weaver blazed a trail in tree fruit variety development in the earlier years. These scientists would attest to the fact that in tree fruit breeding, patience is definitely a virtue! It takes many years to breed a new create a new pear, for example, takes over 10 years.

In the world of tree-fruit breeding, well-bred parents are key! Superior 'parent fruits' that show characteristics such as cold hardiness, disease resistance, enhanced fruit quality, and later harvest and extended storage life are sought, as they are apt to create superior offspring. When a new variety is created it is called a cultivar. When pear breeding trials began, the major goal was to develop a pear cultivar resistant to fire blight. Fire blight, so-named because it makes the treetops appear torched or burnt, is a widespread and damaging disease that kills fruit trees. Through experimentation with crossing different 'parent pears' that were both tasty and showed resistance to fire blight, the goal was attained and new fire blight-resistant pears were developed.

The Western Ontario Fruit Testing Association (WOFTA), formed in 1965 on the initiative of Drs. Mac Weaver and L.W. Koch, operated out of the Centre. Membership was open to individuals interested in testing new varieties and advanced selections of tree fruits. WOFTA was of great benefit to both plant breeders at the Centre and orchardists, as it helped to shorten the time between the introduction and commercial planting of new varieties and rootstocks.

The tree fruit breeding program at Harrow has made a significant contribution to the Ontario fruit industry. Many Harrow cultivars are being used as parents in breeding programs worldwide. Named varieties from the Centre's tree fruit breeding programs include more than 24 peaches, four nectarines, three pears and 12 apricots. Various peach varieties that originated from carefully selected lineages are now being grown in other parts of Canada and in many peach-producing regions in the United States.

In 1995, the tree fruit breeding program was transferred to AAFC's Pest Management Research Centre at Vineland Station. Many valuable cultivars that were in advanced testing at Harrow at that time have since been jointly introduced by the two Centres. In 2008, for example, the Harovin Sundown pear was jointly introduced, as is evident by the haro (Harrow) and vin (Vineland) in its name.

Harovin Sundown:
After many years of research, a new pear was developed by AAFC scientists. The public was invited to help name this tasty and juicy fresh market pear. Over 11,000 people excitedly cast their vote for the new pear's name! On February 20, 2008, the Harovin Sundown pear was announced to a room full of pear growers at the annual Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in St. Catharines, Ontario. Many of the growers in attendance helped AAFC's Dr. Hunter grow and evaluate the Harovin Sundown pear in their orchards.

Rootstock Grafting:
Freeze and thaw cycles in southern Ontario's winters are not always ideal, particularly for growing stone fruits (fruits with a pit or 'stone' such as peaches, nectarines and apricots). To conquer this issue, rootstock is grown. Rootstock is the root and stem portion of one plant to which a budding branch of another plant is attached, or grafted. These are placed in the nursery to grow and once the tissues of the two parts have grown together to produce a single tree they are transferred to the orchard.

Southern Ontario's climate (equivalent to northern Italy's), soil conditions and the moderating effect of the Great Lakes have given rise to a burgeoning wine industry. The wines of Pelee Island and Colio in Harrow have been rated as some of the finest wines in the world. The Centre provided viticulture research support to the industry in its infancy (late 1970s and early 80s).

It's all in the Genes

Since 1990, the Canadian Clonal Genebank at the Centre has been collecting, conserving, virus indexing, characterizing and distributing a wide variety of tree fruits and berries. In fact, the Genebank collection today includes over 3,500 tree fruit and small fruit crop plants!

"Very few people realize that the Genebank conserves 1,500 different strawberries and over 800 unique apples," says Margie Luffman, curator of the Genebank. "Although all the varieties might not be grown commercially, each one is distinct and the genetic information it contains may become a valuable resource in the future as scientists look to the past when developing new varieties."

Approximately two-thirds of the collection consists of indigenous wild relatives of Canadian fruit crops, and the remaining one-third are breeding selections of Canadian origin or cultivars of interest to Canadian scientists.

Did You Know?

The Centre still has some older fruit trees with many desirable characteristics such as cold hardiness and disease resistance. Pollen and budwood from these trees are shared with other fruit tree breeders worldwide.

It's important for scientists to have a large selection of genetic materials for their research. The Canadian Clonal Genebank is one of the two primary contact points for germplasm entering and leaving Canada, and has responsibility for national and international contacts, distribution, rejuvenation and evaluation of germplasm, database management and technical information.

Plant germplasm is the living tissue from which new plants can be grown. It can be a seed or it can be another plant part - a stem, a leaf, pollen or even just a few cells that can be cultured into a whole plant. Germplasm contains the genetic information for the plant's hereditary makeup.

Germplasm is evaluated for a number of desirable agronomic traits such as earliness or winter hardiness; it is screened for resistance to pests, diseases, and environmental stress, and for qualitative factors such as colour and flavour. The results are made available through a computerized national database management system. Researchers can learn about specific characteristics for any of the materials in the collection and seed requests can be made through the database.

The Genebank is part of AAFC's efforts to identify, collect, preserve and encourage utilization of crops grown in Canada through the Canadian Genetic Resource Program. AAFC also maintains a Seed Genebank and Canadian Animal Genetic Resources Program in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and a collection of Canadian potatoes at the Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Jesuit Pear Tree:
It is said that in 1749, Jesuit missionaries came to Essex County and planted pear seedlings along the banks of Lake Erie as landmarks for new settlers. The best specimen is located on a private farm near Harrow and is estimated to be 300 years old. Work is underway to locate and preserve the Jesuit pear trees, as less than 40 remain in Essex County. The genebank at the research centre houses the rare germplasm of the tree.

Minimizing Our Footprint

Since the Centre's inception, environmental protection and natural resource stewardship have played an integral role in all research programs and operations onsite.

Special care has always been taken to preserve the pristine integrity of two massive underground lakes beneath the Research Centre site. Measures are taken to ensure that nothing applied to the land reaches the lakes by seeping through the soil.

Used rockwool, a soil derivative that contains nutrients and fertilizers, can have its plastic covering removed and recycled. Then the rockwool itself can be diced into the fields so that the nutrients and fertilizers are incorporated into the natural soil.

To prevent soil erosion, minimum and zero till practices have been integrated into field research activities. This process conserves moisture in the soil and gives crops a better chance of growing well. It also greatly reduces costly inputs such as fertilizer and tractor fuel.

Crop rotation is also used to prevent soil erosion and maintain soil moisture and fertility. In this process, different crops are planted in sequence in different years.

Clean water is another environmental concern. It is necessary to ensure that fertilizer and herbicide from agriculture are prevented from entering surrounding lakes. Soil fertility is studied at length by staff researchers to ensure the amount of fertilizer applied to crops does not exceed what is required. This reduces fertilizer and herbicide from entering ditches which flow into the lakes. Similarly, soil, herbicide, and hydro-geological scientists research soil types that retain fertilizers and herbicides or that allow them to drain readily through. Nearby ditch water is regularly sampled and analyzed for chemical impacts from agricultural lands.

How do tillage practices work? In zero tilling, stubble from a harvested crop is left in the soil over the winter. When spring arrives, another crop is planted in this untilled soil, and the stubble that was left begins breaking down, adding organic material to the soil. The roots from the stubble are still strong and hold the topsoil in place until a newly planted crop takes hold.

One cannot speak of conservation efforts at the Centre without mentioning the irrigation recycling system, a revolutionary product developed by scientists at the Centre. During the rainy spring season, run-off is collected in large cisterns that are buried below tile drain level in a field. This run-off contains nutrients that were applied to the crop prior to planting. In southern Ontario, the period from late June through mid-August, a crucial period in crop-growing, usually experiences minimal rainfall. When the soil becomes dry, sensors in the soil detect the loss of moisture and trigger a computer to start the cistern pumps. This sends the stored water, nutrients and all, back into the crop via the same tile drains that originally brought the water to the cistern.

The Centre is also looking at recycling plant waste. A greenhouse tomato vine can grow longer than 30 metres. Imagine the vine and plant waste left behind once an entire crop has reached its productive life span! Extensive studies have been undertaken to determine ways of using this waste to either produce compost or to recycle it as a biomass feedstock for energy production.

The Centre has also found ways to minimize chemical pest control methods. Studying the life cycles of pests and targeting them when most vulnerable minimizes the amount of spraying required. When application cannot be avoided, measures are taken to prevent sprays from being airborne and reaching non-target areas.

Before any research program is launched, the environmental impacts are carefully scrutinized. Environmental protection, conservation and stewardship are a priority at the Centre.

Many considerations must be taken into account when identifying the order of crop rotation. Plants such as soybean or alfalfa add high amounts of nutrients to the soil, and are therefore an ideal starter in a rotation. Corn, a 'nutrient-needy' crop, is generally placed last in a rotation. Why? Because of the high nutrient levels that are left by the soybeans or alfalfa in the soil, the amount of nitrogen fertilizer required to produce a good corn crop in the following years is greatly reduced.

Winning the War on Pests

Managing pests has always been an important component of research at the Centre. Crop losses from insects, weeds and disease have driven studies that have resulted in incredible discoveries to control and manage these destructive pests.

The earliest insect studies began in 1938 when yields of corn, soybean, tree fruit and vegetable were diminished due to disease. Plant pathologist (a scientist who studies plant disease), Dr. L.W. Koch arrived at the Centre in 1938, and Dr. A.A. Hildebrand soon followed. The collaboration and research undertaken by these two scientists paved the way for an important era in Canadian plant pathology.

The Centre is one of nine Canadian locations collaborating on the Minor Use Pesticide Program which was launched in June 2002 as a joint initiative between AAFC and Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). A minor use pesticide refers to the crop-protection treatments (fungicides, insecticides and herbicides) usually used on low acreage, high-value crops, or where pest control is only needed on a small portion of the overall crop acreage. These pesticides are usually used in such small quantities that manufacturers find the sales potential is not sufficient for them to seek registration in Canada. Under the program, scientists are conducting field trials and laboratory analysis to obtain the required data for the registration of new minor uses of pesticides. These efforts are assisting the environmental stewardship of Canadian producers, promoting safe food for Canadians and helping Canada's producers to remain competitive in global markets.

Over the next 30 years, many notable contributions and scientific breakthroughs in the fields of nematology (the study of nematode round worms) and bacteriology (the study of bacteria) emerged, as did a multi-facetted approach to the solution of pathological problems - what we now call integrated pest management. The collaboration between plant pathologists, entomologists, horticulturalists and agronomists is important, as is collaboration between the Centre's scientists and local industry.

Innovative studies have led to revolutionary findings on biological pest control. Who would have thought that things such as bacteria, viruses, fungus and molds could be recruited in the fight against insects, disease and weeds? Dr. Robert Jacques and Dr. Bob McClanahan, pioneers in biological pest control methods, not only thought of the concept, but put it to the test with great success.

Just as insects and disease impede the growth of healthy, quality crops, so do weeds. They love to compete with the slower-growing cultivated crops, for water, sun and nutrients. Weed control was once done by cultivation, hand weeding and crop rotation. In the mid-1940s, herbicides were introduced and were first used at the Centre in 1946 to successfully control annual broadleaf weeds in oats, flax and sweet corn.

In 1962, a weed science research program was launched at Harrow, designed to control weeds in horticultural and field crops through the development of reliable chemical control methods. Dr. Alan Hamill, a weed scientist at Harrow conducted research that provided new information and technology to reduce crop losses caused by weeds.

The Centre has always had an exceptional relationship with its provincial counterpart, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). In Essex County, a number of OMAFRA extension officers work out of the research centre, transferring research's new technologies and discoveries directly to the producers.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Susan Weaver developed a computer program from field data collected over the years on crop losses due to weeds. Through this program, farmers were able to identify if a certain weed type and weed quantity were sufficient to require an herbicide application. This early computer program has now been incorporated into an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) system (weedpro75) that is Internet accessible. A farmer now needs only to identify the type of weeds present, note the stage of crop growth and the approximate quantity of weeds in a square metre area...add this information to and voila! Answers to questions such as whether or not to spray, how much to spray, and when to spray are right at ones fingertips.

Centre scientists have tackled some of the most destructive insect pests, weed infestations and fungal invasions with great success. Over the years, management techniques have evolved to protect the crops, the environment and to ensure a quality, safe and nutritious product for consumers.

Let Them Eat Cake...and Tacos and Pasta

Bakers and cake-lovers alike were delighted when in 1985, a new flour made from Harus wheat was introduced. Harus, developed by AAFC scientist Dr. Abe Teich, was the first of many new varieties of Canadian soft white winter wheat to be released by the Research Centre at Harrow. Several more recent varieties such as Ashley and FT Acton have been jointly released with local seed companies.

Did You Know?

Soft white winter wheat, found mostly in Eastern Canada, is so-called because it is planted in the fall, lies dormant through the winter freeze and is harvested the next July. Spring wheat, found mostly in Western Canada, is planted in the spring and harvested in late summer of the same year.

The current winter wheat program operates under three main goals: fusarium resistance (disease), winter hardiness and sprouting tolerance. The program aims to develop high yielding, disease resistant winter wheat cultivars that provide superior processing quality for commercialization and end-product utilization. In addition, the wheat program is starting to develop crossbreeds to incorporate resistance to various rusts and powdery mildew.

Wheat is the third largest crop in Ontario, and some of the varieties originating from the Centre are touted as being the best quality for baked goods and pastas worldwide. Through trial and evaluation, the Research Centre at Harrow has introduced many successful wheat and corn varieties that are used locally and are also exported globally. Valuable findings from research at the Centre on improved varieties, pest management, benefits of nitrogen application, and crop rotation for soil sustainability have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on grain production.

Have you ever wondered where the corn that makes a taco shell so crunchy comes from? A number of corn varieties used for food processing, and also for livestock feed, have been developed at the Centre. Over the years, several large companies such as Northrup King Seeds Ltd, Pioneer® and Pickseed® have purchased the rights to the Centre's corn varieties. Hybrids from some of these lines are still being produced by companies today.

In the Greenhouse...Where it's Summer Year 'Round

The Research Centre's greenhouses are located right in the heart of the North American greenhouse industry. After the Second World War, many immigrants from Italy and Holland settled in nearby Leamington and initiated greenhouse-growing operations. Today, in Ontario, the greenhouse sector accounts for more than 18,400 full and part-time employees and occupies over 124 hectares, according to Statistics Canada.

Early greenhouses at the Centre were used for plant propagation. By 1948, the study of plant diseases (pathology) was being conducted inside the glass walls of the Centre's greenhouses. Today the Centre houses the largest greenhouse research facility in all of North America, with 7,000m2 (0.7 ha) of state-of-the-art greenhouses.

Greenhouse horticulture has definitely evolved in the 2,000 years since it was first developed by the ancient Romans. A greenhouse is designed to control the interior environment and optimize environmental variables to enhance productivity, flavour and quality of the produce being grown. In the Centre's greenhouses of yesteryear, when a temperature change was required, an AAFC team member manually pulled a chain which would open or close the vents of the greenhouse. To water the plants, the traditional method of holding a hose was used. Liquid nutrients were added to the plants by means of a hand-held watering can.

Times have changed! Nowadays, all environmental variables such as temperature, moisture level, atmosphere and crop nutrients are computer-controlled. In fact, one of the first environmental computers was developed under contract at the Centre. This led to the development of a computerized fertilizer injector in 1988, called the Harrow Fertigation ManagerTM (HFMTM). More than 100 HFMTM units are now in commercial use in North America, Europe and Asia.

In the mid-1900s, greenhouse produce was grown in soil. Today, it is predominantly grown using hydroponics, whereby a soil derivative called rockwool is used with water and nutrients instead of soil. In the infancy of greenhouse hydroponics, Dr. Gordon M. Ward, AAFC scientist and one of Canada's pioneers of hydroponic plant nutrition could usually be found inside the glass walls at the Centre, studying plant nutrition requirements. These findings were eventually integrated into the HFMTM computerized programs.

Did You Know?

The Centre operates the largest greenhouse research complex facility in North America.

Chemical control methods, that were once the answer to ridding greenhouses of destructive insects, have been replaced through AAFC research with biological controls such as predatory insects. In the 1970s, researchers at the Centre pioneered the use of a type of small predatory wasp to rid the greenhouse produce of plant damaging white flies.

In the 1980s, the increasing cost of energy for greenhouse production became a major concern. The Centre appointed an energy engineer and alternatives to glass covers were examined. LexanTM channel plastic, which has been used in the Aerospace Program, was adopted. This is a more cost-effective, durable alternative and has a longer lifespan, transmits sunlight wavelengths that plants require and has a higher rate of energy conservation.

Today, peering through the Centre's greenhouse walls would reveal AAFC scientists conducting research to improve production, optimize greenhouse environmental strategies, and develop reduced risk, alternative pest controls. Researchers continue to enhance production for larger export markets through diversification of greenhouse vegetable crops. In response to consumer demand the gamut of greenhouse vegetable development has grown to include new varieties for single-servings and tasty alternatives to traditional veggies. Cocktail tomatoes, mini-cucumbers, and snack-size sweet peppers are a few of the new arrivals to the AAFC research and development roster.

Did You Know?

  • When the glaciers of the last ice age receded, various soil types and land contours were left behind in southern Essex County. For this reason, the Centre has three distinct soil types on-site: black muck, fox sandy loam and yellow (gumbo) clay soil. The glaciers deposited a terminal moraine (long mogul) that runs through the middle of the Research Centre's property. Visitors are often surprised to learn that this moraine divides a massive, pristine, fresh-water lake located underground at the Research Centre.
  • The ornamental peach tree, Harrow Candifloss is named for its full, fluffy pink blossoms that resemble a cone of candy floss. The laneways to the Centre's experimental plots were once lined with Harrow Candifloss, Rubirose and Frostipink ornamental peach trees.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev, as Minister of Agriculture for the USSR, visited the Centre in 1983 during his only major trip to a western country before becoming General Secretary of the Communist Party.
  • In the early 1940s a popular event at the Centre was the annual greenhouse chrysan-themum show, prepared by Jack Scatterty, the Centre's groundskeeper. Mr. Scatterty used his 'green thumb' to raise plants for use in landscaping at the Centre.
  • To study the long-term effects of agricultural production and the changes that have occurred over time, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has a collection of agricultural data, historical soils and heritage field plot experiments preserved at research centres across Canada. The Centre's heritage plots located at the Woodslee sub-station, were designated a Food and Agriculture Organization-UNESCO Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) site in 1996.

Harrow History Timelines

Research site is established by Williams Saunders, Director of Experimental Farm Services in Ottawa. The Station is situated on rented land from Ferris Farm.
Six oat varieties are tested and one field is seeded to winter wheat in cooperation with the Canadian Seed Growers Association.
H.J. Heinz Company of Canada Ltd. sets up manufacturing operations in nearby Leamington.
80 peach trees are planted at the station.
The Station's land increases to 50 acres (20.4 hectares) and the option to purchase the entire Ferris farm 200 acres (81.6 hectares) is obtained.
April 5th: First meteorological observations are recorded at the station for the Meteorological Service of Canada.
Dominion Experimental Station begins breeding and testing of corn hybrids to be more resistant to pests and disease after European Corn Borer was first discovered in Ontario.
Soybean breeding program begins at the Research Station.
First winter feeding of steers occurs at the Research Station.
The apple orchard that was acquired with the Ferris farm is renovated and top- grafted with 39 promising new varieties of apple.
The original office building is constructed at a cost of $6,300. This remained the headquarters for the Research Station until 1969.
Experimental work in forage crops, which had been under the direct supervision of the Division of Forage Plants in Ottawa, is taken over by the station.
A poultry plant is established at the station and four new buildings are constructed for the program: poultry brooder house and office; poultry progeny house; an egg-laying contest house; and a residence for the poultry specialist and his family.
Horticultural program is expanded to include fertilizer experiments on crops such as early tomatoes, asparagus, early potatoes, sweet corn, canning peas and apples.
The earliest insect studies begin when yields of corn, soybean, tree fruit and vegetable are diminished due to disease.
Harman, the Station's first soybean variety, is released.
The Experimental Substation at Woodslee is established as an area for specialized research on Brookston Clay soils.
G.F.H. Buckley develops the first double-cross corn hybrid made up entirely of inbred lines of Canadian origin. Known as HARVIC 300, it is popular in southern regions of Canada. King Grain produced this seed until 1963.
The first field day is organized for local farmers.
The study of plant diseases (pathology) begins in the greenhouses.
Soybean cultivar Harosoy is released by the Harrow Research Station. This variety is considered to be one of the most successful soybean varieties ever developed in North America.
Harrow, the Station's first tomato variety is introduced.
Science Services Laboratory unit is created at the station.
1953 - 1954
Harosoy wins the World Championship Seed Sample in Chicago.
The station's dry bean breeding program begins.
July 8th, Record rainfall at the time of 106.2 mm (4.18 inches) falls at the research station.
Name changes from Dominion Experimental Station to Harrow Research Station.
Peach and nectarine breeding programs are initiated.
Two new research greenhouses are erected.
Weed research program is launched at the research station to help growers avoid crop losses and disease problems created by weeds.
Pear breeding to develop varieties with fire blight resistance begins at the research station.
Harosoy 63, developed for greater phytophthera root rot resistance (a crop-devastating disease), is released.
Poultry program is concluded at the station after running for 34 years.
One peach matures and ripens on July 19 in the Ridge Farm orchard, the earliest date ever recorded for a peach ripening in Essex County.
Casper Owen receives the A.I.C. Grindley medal for his contributions to agriculture through soybean breeding at the research station.
Harrow Research Station is named as the main weed research centre for Eastern Canada.
November 7th, a new laboratory building and separate powerhouse officially open as the Harrow Research Station.
June, Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau arrives by helicopter in the Research Station parking lot for a luncheon meeting.
The Honourable Ross McDonald, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, pays an official visit.
Harliton, one of the earliest seedless greenhouse cucumbers, developed by Dr. W Nuttall, is released.
Harcor soybean is developed to resist new races of the phytophthera root rot disease.
Name changes from Harrow Research Station to Harrow Research Centre.
The Centre celebrates its 75th anniversary. Dr. Gordon Ward authors a comprehensive anniversary publication.
The Woodslee soil sub-station is renamed the Honourable Eugene F. Whelan Experimental Farm.
March 18th, Harus wheat seed is bred and licensed. Over the next ten years it becomes the dominant variety in soft white pastry, winter wheat.
1986 - 1989
Soil and Water Environmental Enhancement Program (SWEEP) is designed to examine the effects of tillage in relation to water sources from many types of soil. The co-operative program is administered by AAFC and carried out by the province of Ontario.
July 20, A record not only for the town of Harrow but for Canada; 264 mm of rainfall in less than 24 hours is recorded at the Agriculture Canada weather station in Harrow.
Harrow Fertigation first Manager®, patented by Dr. Tom Papadopoulos, is first used in both greenhouse and field culture worldwide. It is still used today.
Water management facilities for research on environmental sustainability programs are modernized at the Woodslee Substation.
ENA, a soft white winter pastry wheat variety, becomes commercially available because of its tolerance to fusarium.
Name changes from Harrow Research Centre to Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre (GPCRC).
October 30th - A tornado levels a barn, rips through trees, breaks the wind speed monitor at the Centre and destroys greenhouses.
Clonal Genebank moves to GPCRC from AAFC Smithfield Experimental Farm in Trenton, Ontario.
The GPCRC hosts the International Scientific Conference on Growing Media and Hydroponics in Windsor, Ontario. The event is recognized internationally as a huge success for the industry and research.
2002 - 2009
An integrated soils and nutrient management research program is introduced at GPCRC for field and processing crops.
Harovinton developed by Dr. Richard Buzzell is named "Seed of the Year".
Japanese seed-buyers labelled Harovinton soybean "the Asian Pearl," a significant factor in opening up the lucrative Japanese market to Canadian soybeans.
AAFC opens the polls to the public to vote on naming a new pear variety. Over 11,000 people cast their vote and the Harovin Sundown Pear is introduced.
September 12, GPCRC celebrates 100 years of agricultural research excellence.


1909 - 1915
M. Wilfred A. Barnett, B.S.A.; first Manager, Tobacco Station, Harrow
1915 - 1923
Dudley D. Digges, M.Sc., Superintendent, Tobacco Station, Harrow
1923 - 1925
Dudley D. Digges, Superintendent, Dominion Experimental Station, Harrow
1926 - 1928
Henry A. Freeman, M.Sc., Superintendent, Dominion Experimental Station, Harrow
1929 - 1959
Herbert F. Murwin, B.S.A., Superintendent, Dominion Experimental Station, Harrow
1938 - 1954
L. Ward Koch, Ph.D., Officer-in-Charge, Dominion Laboratory of Plant Pathology, Harrow
1948 - 1954
Herbert R. Boyce, M.S.A., Officer-in-Charge, Dominion Entomological Laboratory, Harrow
1954 - 1959
L. Ward Koch, Ph.D., Officer-in-Charge, Dominion Laboratory of Plant Pathology, Harrow
1959 - 1964
Herbert F. Murwin, B.S.A., Associate Director, (Canada Department of Agriculture) C.D.A. Research
1959 - 1970
L. Ward Koch, Ph.D., Director, C.D.A. Research Station, Harrow
1970 - 1975
Glenn C. Russell, Director, C.D.A. Research Station, Harrow
1975 - 1980
James M. Fulton, Director, Agriculture Canada Research Station, Harrow
1981 - 1990
C. Frank Marks, Ph.D., Director, Agriculture Canada, Research Station, Harrow
1991 - 1995
Donald R. Menzies, Ph.D., Director, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Centre, Harrow
1995 - 2002
Gary Whitfield, Ph.D., Director, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Centre, Harrow
2002 - Present
Gary Whitfield, Ph.D., Science Director, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Centres, Harrow and London

Portions of "100 Years of Agricultural Research Excellence" were excerpted from Dr. Gordon Ward's "Harrow 75th Anniversary - History and Accomplishments".


Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre
2585 County Road 20
Harrow, Ontario N0R 1G0
Tel: 519-738-2251
Fax: 519-738-2929

Cat. No A52-150/2009E
ISBN 978-1-100-13516-8
AAFC No 11004E
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2009

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