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Year-round tomato sales are sweet at NatureFresh Farms

PMA Fresh Summit attendees who want to see the fruits of 20 years of innovation should stop by NatureFresh Farms at booth No. 4061.

The greenhouse grower of tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers is embarking on its 20th year in 2019 and is planning a number of local events to celebrate its milestone.

NFF GEC Orientation Day 04May2018-15A NatureFresh Farms technician programs a robot to look for pests on tomato plants.“Sharing our story and our journey is all part of our marketing plan for 2019,” said Ray Wowryk, director of business development for the Leamington, ON-based company. “Our goal is not only to make the consumer as well as the trade aware of what our journey was all about, but to also share with them where we are at today with technology and robotics automation, and to provide them an opportunity to peek into the future and see where greenhouse farming is going down the road.”

NatureFresh Farms was founded by Peter Quiring, who today is president and owner of a company that is not only a major greenhouse grower and marketer in Canada and the United States, but through its sister company, South Essex Fabricating, also headquartered in Leamington, is a leading manufacturer of greenhouses.

“Our company started on a mindset of bringing new technology to North America,” Wowryk said.

“The Dutch technology that is very common in greenhouse farming today was initially brought over by people like Peter Quiring who saw an opportunity to grow more sustainably and more efficiently through a controlled environment.”

Wowryk sees robotics becoming bigger and a more important factor in farming, especially when it comes to harvesting.

“Labor is a big challenge right now in all farming practices, whether you are outdoor or indoor. Automation and robotics is becoming an increasing interest within the industry,” Wowryk said. “Within the next five years I expect to see more robotics directed toward the harvest part of farming, just to ease the pressure on a labor force that is becoming more and more nonexistent.”

To meet rapidly growing demand, NatureFresh Farms is in the midst of adding another 30 acres of greenhouses to its Leamington facilities. “It will be dedicated to winter production in Canada and will go online next fall,” Wowryk said. “That will put us at well over 200 acres of high-tech greenhouse production in both Canada and the U.S.”

In the United States, NatureFresh Farms maintains 45 acres of greenhouses in Delta, OH, that started harvesting its Ohio Red brand tomatoes in September. “We’re excited to embark on another new winter season in Delta that services Ohio and neighboring states with tomatoes, snacking tomatoes and beefsteak-style tomatoes through the winter months, providing a local program in a region that doesn’t typically have a winter program.”

Supplemented with High Pressure Sodium lighting to make up for winter’s fleeting sunlight, the greenhouses have a higher yield than conventional field farms.

“When growing in a controlled environment, you’re not dealing with the outdoor elements and challenges that occur with insects and pests,” Wowryk said. “The tomatoes will produce from September through the end of June, giving us eight to 10 months of production.”

Some growers use an interplanting method where they phase in new plants while the older plants are still producing to allow for continuous production, but NatureFresh Farms prefers to start the season anew.

“We clean and sterilize the facility, clean it out, replant and start the season over again,” Wowryk said. “We find it more beneficial to pull the crop during the summer months when there are homegrown tomatoes in everybody’s garden and come back during the fall to provide fresh local tomatoes again.”

NatureFresh Farms is also a major producer of Bell peppers, with more than 110 acres in production.

“We also have 15 acres of organic Bell peppers, along with some sweet mini Bell peppers, and our organic production is going to double in 2019,” Wowryk said. “We see steady and continued growth on a very dynamic category in the organics, and we’re going to continue to provide more acreage to fulfill that demand,” he said.