Coupled with growth in demand for local food and exotic vegetables, diversification can provide Ontario growers with profitable alternatives to conventional crops. According to Statistics Canada, over six million kilograms of okra are imported into Canada every year, yet domestic production is limited. The ability to develop local production systems to supply this emerging market can help promote the sustainability and competitiveness of Canada’s horticulture industry. As part of Vineland Research and Innovation Centre’s (Vineland) world crops research program, several okra varieties and production practices are being investigated. During the 2015 growing season, Vineland tested five okra hybrid varieties suited to our shorter growing season. The varieties were grown on raised beds with black plastic mulch on double rows spaced 30 cm apart and plants spaced at 45 cm within the row. “Three varieties showed the most promise at the Vineland research farm and locations across Canada: Elisa F1 (10,600 kg/ha yield), Lucky Green F1 (8,900 kg/ha yield) and Jambalaya F1 (8,000 kg/ha yield). Clemson okra, a popular open-pollinated cultivar in the southern United States and Caribbean, is less reliable than hybrid varieties,” said Dr. Viliam Zvalo, Research Scientist in Vegetable Production at Vineland.
Okra production is affected by a number of factors including variety, climatic conditions and production practices. As a subtropical crop, okra thrives in a hot and dry environment provided water and nutrients are supplied through drip irrigation. The Vineland research team determined modifications of the growing environment, through the use of row covers and black plastic mulch, may be necessary to grow okra in Canada.
Given the limitations of the short growing season, growers tend to transplant okra. However, young seedlings often do not respond well to transplanting. “Directly seeding okra has shown reasonable success,” said Zvalo. “While direct seeding of okra would not be recommended for growers targeting early markets or for those with a contract for in-season supply, this practice may be of interest to growers who want to produce larger amounts of okra in August and September, at a lower production cost.” Spacing is critical for generating high yields. During Vineland’s research trials, the highest yield was achieved when okra was planted on double rows spaced 180 cm centre-to-centre and 25 to 30 cm plant-to-plant in the row. Daily harvest of okra is necessary during peak production in the summer to ensure top-quality produce since okra is a fast maturing crop and can go from perfect to quickly unmarketable. During the fall, harvest slows to two to three times per week. What’s planned for 2016? The team will continue to gather data on okra agronomy (plant spacing, type of varieties and fertilization practices) to refine production systems and provide growers with robust recommendations. This project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario. This project also has the support of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association and participating growers across Canada.