EFAO, Dairy Distillery win first Excellence in Agriculture Awards

The awards recognize leaders in innovation in the agriculture sector in Ontario

A farmer organization taking research to the farmer level, and a unique alcohol made from dairy products are the first winners of the inaugural Excellence in Agriculture Awards.

The Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) won the first Excellence in Agriculture award for organizations and Dairy Distillery, which is making vodka from milk, won the first award for processors.

Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs recently announced the awards.

Why it matters: Provincial awards for the agriculture sector have been a differentiator for those who have won the awards.

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“Agri-food organizations like the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario are always pushing boundaries and expanding economic opportunities,” said Ernie Hardeman. “What I particularly like about their farmer-led research program is that the research findings are publicly shared, so everyone can benefit.”

The awards replace the Premier’s Awards for excellence in agriculture under the previous Liberal government.

In 2016, the EFAO started its program to help farmers conduct their own research into improved production or ecological practices. Once completed, research is then shared at the EFAO’s annual Farmer-led Research Symposium and posted online so others can learn from the outcomes.

“This award recognizes the importance of a farmer-led approach to address some of the big environmental and agricultural challenges we face. EFAO’s Farmer-Led Research Program helps farmers combine their curiosity with research to answer their most challenging on-farm questions,” said Ali English, EFAO executive director.

The program is open for applications from any farmer interested in testing the effects of innovative ecological practices on their farm. The focus can be on horticulture, field crops, livestock or perennials.

Known as ‘Vodkow’, Dairy Distillery uses innovation to produce a new spirit from milk sugar by applying a specific process to convert the milk byproduct into alcohol. Dairy Distillery will also help Ontario dairy farmers by purchasing milk permeate, most of which would normally go to waste at a cost to the farmer.

The milk sugar is found in high quantities in the byproduct of ultrafiltered milk that, until now, has been viewed as waste, resulting in a strain on the environment and disposal costs for dairy farmers.

Vodkow was recently listed at the LCBO and is now available in some Ottawa stores.

The Excellence in Agriculture Awards recognize innovation for one primary producer, one processor, and one agri-food organization, and gives honorary mention to an additional six innovations. The rest of the awards will be announced in the near future.

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