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The future is bright for greenhouse growth

The past year’s El Niño Southern Oscillation weather system took a major toll on many growing regions of the Americas. Sporadic field crops and orchards were badly damaged or suffered severe loss. For a while during the past winter and early spring, short volumes on commodities as well as specialty items caused market havoc.Greenhouse2-copy

The one sector of the industry that was not affected was the high-tech greenhouse industry. The nature of the completely indoor environments, including controlled heating, insect and disease control and sometimes lighting, kept greenhouse crops in good condition. For greenhouse growers, it made for a good season.

Consumers who typically steered clear of purchasing greenhouse vegetables in the past may well have turned to the option during this time of turmoil. In doing so they likely learned that varieties are more attractive and flavorful than they previously imagined. And that would likely mean continued growth in the demand of greenhouse produce.

Jimmy Coppola, account and marketing manager for Westmoreland Sales-TopLine Farms in Leamington, ON, said increases in greenhouse production typically displace traditional field production.

“As the greenhouses are built on top of the same fields that once produced field vegetables, greenhouse production increases and field production decreases,” said Coppola. “The demand and consumption for consistent high-quality fruits and vegetables continues to grow, so there will always be a home for increased greenhouse production.”

He believes that technology will be the biggest evolving factor within the greenhouse industry, especially as related to greenhouse infrastructure.

“Greenhouse coverings, whether poly or glass, will continually be engineered to better suit different climates and different growing conditions,” he noted. “Growing mediums will also evolve, as will plant varieties which are continually tested in different environments to determine better flavor and yields.”

He added that automation would be a major evolutionary change within the greenhouse industry to assist with planting, picking and packing, and that this warehouse automation will be key in gaining or maintaining a competitive edge.

Leamington-based NatureFresh Farms Director of Marketing Chris Veillon feels that exceptional quality will be the differentiator in the growth of the greenhouse industry.

“Flooding the market with more products does not necessarily mean better product,” he said. “Consumer confidence in locally grown produce by growers they know and trust will strengthen the category.”

He pointed out the NatureFresh Greenhouse Education Center is helping the greenhouse industry as a whole as it travels to more than 75 locations around eastern North America this year.

“From schools to summer camps to city centers to retail store locations, we inform and educate consumers about how we grow in our greenhouses,” explained Veillon. “We knew when we built the 38-foot mobile greenhouse that the industry would benefit. We did it to instill consumer confidence in our brand that when we say #WeAreTheGrower and grow locally grown year-round, they trust the brand they are buying.”

He also believes that high-tech greenhouses will continue to be the way of the future.

“You will likely see more commodities grown under glass using new technologies to increase efficiencies in the future,” said Veillon.

Red Sun Farms in Kingsville, ON, is also a leading greenhouse grower. Jim DiMenna, president and chief executive officer, said that development in the greenhouse market is a direct reflection of the growing demand from consumers.

“As a result of this growth, greenhouses will need to adapt to high-tech systems for efficiency, and they’ll need to invest in acreage,” said DiMenna. “The recognition of these demands and commitment to invest in high-tech greenhouses will be necessary to remain competitive in the supply of this changing market.

“Our customers and consumers are demanding high-quality produce as well as consistency in year-round supplies,” he added. “Only those who reinvent themselves and are open to invest in greenhouse technology will establish themselves as market leaders in the future.”