Phil and Lorna Tregunno
By Lilian Schaer
Innovation drives success of family fruit business
By Lilian Schaer
Family tradition is an important part of Ontario’s farming culture. Innovation and new technology, however, are what helps keep that family tradition going for the future generations.
Fruit grower Phil Tregunno is proud of being the fourth generation of his family to farm in the Niagara Region – and with his two sons and a daughter-in-law working alongside him and his wife Lorna, the fifth generation is also firmly entrenched in the family business.
The Tregunnos’ main crop on their 700 acre farm is peaches, but they also grow nectarines and plums as well as table and wine grapes. Their tender fruit is sold through the Vineland Growers’ Co-operative in Jordan, which distributes it to Canada’s major retail chains, and their wine grapes, including pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet, are contracted to different wineries in the region.
Keeping a keen eye on what’s new is essential for Tregunno Fruit Farms; in fact, it’s become firmly entrenched in their business operations.
“It’s become almost a policy for us to take one trip a year to another growing area to see what they are doing and pick up some good ideas and things that we can adapt to our growing conditions and our farm,” explains Tregunno. “We’ll also go to trade expos in Europe every third year or so and we always find something new to bring back.”
Key among what Tregunno looks for are things that can improve how they handle their fruit, which will benefit their entire operation. They’ve implemented a lot of mechanized processes that reduce the number of times fruit is handled or changed from container to container, for example. This helps reduce waste on-farm, a benefit he says then gets passed through the chain to retailers and consumers.
One of the innovations that has had the biggest impact on their farm, however, is a management software program called Fruit Tracker. It allows farmers to map their orchards and track all of their production practices, from crop protection and pest management to fertilizer application and food safety procedures, for each block of trees in a single, easy to use, integrated system. That same approach follows through to harvest, grading, packing and marketing, letting farmers track and record data for each pallet of fruit they harvest from each orchard block.
For Tregunno, not only does it help him stay on top of his production, it has also made it easier to comply with third-party audit requirements, such as the CanadaGAP on-farm food safety program for fruit and vegetable producers and for his organic certification.
“This is a great system that’s a real time saver. It replaces mountains of paperwork and has everything in a single package,” he says. “We not only grow conventional peaches but also organic, and this makes it so much easier to track everything and be ready for audits.”
The system is still in the roll-out phase with tender fruit producers, but variations of the software are also being used by Ontario’s apple and grape growers.
Although peaches, plums and nectarines continue to be popular with consumers, Tregunno is also looking ahead and working to get some new fruits into production, such as plumcots, pluots and apriums, which are all plum-apricot hybrids.
“Right now these are being grown in California and shipped into Canada. Adding new fruits can increase the length of our production season,” he says. “A lot of our equipment and our packing houses are only used for a relatively short time in Canada, so anything to lengthen our season and increase the usage of our equipment is a benefit.”