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The Sky’s the Limit

Canada’s expanding greenhouse universe

Faced with year-round demand for fresh produce, greenhouse growers in Ontario, have been responding to the call by producing tons (literally) of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers for North American wholesalers and retailers. Home to over 2,000 acres of highly-productive greenhouses, Ontario’s growers are also expanding to locations outside Canada, as well as investing in proprietary growing methods and new seed varieties to meet both domestic and cross-border demand.

~ Greenhouses: Defined ~
To some, the concept is quite clear: greenhouse growing is simply that—growing commodities inside a permanent, enclosed glass or plastic structure. Yet because Mexico calls its industry “protected agriculture”—which includes greenhouses, shade houses, and hoop houses or high tunnels—confusion abounds. This is further delineated, for the purposes of tomato exports from Mexico, as either ‘controlled’ or ‘adapted’ environments, and greenhouses fall firmly into the former category.

One thing no one disputes about greenhouses is the ability to produce consistent, quality fruits and vegetables. This is especially true in Ontario, where greenhouses have contributed $3.3 billion to Canada’s total produce sales, an increase of 5.3 percent from 2010. The province’s greenhouse industry also has the support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government allocated $2.7 million in development funds to the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers two years ago.

Ontario’s greenhouse industry, centered around Leamington, is a hydroponic wonderland producing crops with the use of water and nutrients but not soil (though many greenhouses use both nutrient solutions for hydroponics as well as sterilized, organic soil or soil-substitute mixtures for their crops).

According to Shalin Khosla, a greenhouse vegetable specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Food and Rural Affairs Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre, greenhouses confer a number of advantages over field growing, including “a controlled environment that produces quality fruit with a longer shelf life, the ability to grow crops during winter months, and precision production.”

~ A Prominent Force ~
Ontario has long been a literal hotbed of greenhouse growing. These highly efficient environments can produce yields as high as 10 times per acre more than conventional field growing operations; and greenhouses are rarely at the mercy of Mother Nature’s whims, though Ontario growers have had damage from storms and unusual cold snaps.

Greenhouse growers, due to the scientific nature of their processes, have ample opportunities for innovation and research into energy efficiency, sustainability, food safety (undergoing annual third-party audits to ensure strict compliance with food safety standards), and integrated pest management.