May 9, 2002
Green Pencil:
Bringing Canada into the European arena of standards, research and trade

By Bruce McTavish, President, Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA)

The Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA) sent three of its board members to Britain and the Netherlands last summer to investigate product standards and applied research in ornamental horticulture. The National Research Council, IRAP division and Agriculture and Agri Food Canada, MISBI branch funded this project.

The objectives of the trip were to:
  • Identify methods that could be used in Canada to develop industry wide standards for nursery stock quality.
  • Develop research linkages that would facilitate technology transfer and scientific information to the Canadian Nursery Industry.
Standards Recent surveys and studies have indicated that quality of plant material is a major factor when nursery stock is purchased, particularly in export markets (U.S.). It is believed by many that countries or regions (for example, the Netherlands in Europe, and Oregon in the U.S.) have a significant competitive advantage due to the perceived quality of their nursery stock.

     There has been tremendous growth over the last five years in the export of nursery products to the U.S. There is, however, potential for more expansion, as Canadian exports to the U.S. make up only a very small percentage of their total sales. It was felt that Canadian producers would have a significant advantage if a system were in place to guarantee quality of the product. To provide consistent quality for Canadian nursery stock, it has been proposed that standards would need to be developed, and that industry meet these standards through a voluntary system, similar to the VQA standards successfully introduced by the wine industry.

     The Dutch industry has used a model of standĀ­ards for a number of years, which was appropriate to study.

This was done by:
  • Researching methods used by the Dutch industry for the development and enforcement of quality standards for nursery stock.
  • Interviewing both industry and government to see what worked and what did not work.
  • Determining those parts of the Dutch model that could be utilized in a Canadian system, and meeting with senior research staff at the Research Station in Boskoop.
The NAKB carries out standard enforcement in the Netherlands. This agency has recently been privatized and is working towards full cost recovery on its many programs. Both the industry members interviewed and the NAKB staff believe the organization plays a significant role in the success of Dutch nursery exports due to its role in both plant quality and phytosanitary inspections.

The Dutch inspection system recognizes two different classes of material standard material and certified material.
  • Certified material is known to derive from mother stocks that are thoroughly checked for their identity and virus status.
  • Standard Material meets the minimum requirements with respect to varietal trueness, varietal purity, health and external quality.
  • Certified Material meets more stringent requirements in health and external quality than the standard material.
Based on discussions while in Europe and interviews with growers in Canada, it is felt that a voluntary system of quality control could be developed in Canada. This system would integrate features of the Dutch and VQA systems. The success of the Dutch system in nursery crops and the Canadian system of VQA in improving sales and exports of wine, show that consumers require some guarantees of high quality, and are willing to pay for that guarantee.

At the present time, the idea of a voluntary standard system is at the conceptual stage. There will be considerable discussions across the country at growers meetings to see if the industry wishes the CNLA to proceed with the development and implementation of such a system.