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The Sky’s the Limit

Canada’s expanding greenhouse universe

Wowryk has been busy with the company’s new greenhouse in Delta, Ohio. “Establishing greenhouse facilities in different geographical locations is helping growers and marketers reduce overall food miles to the customer,” he observes. “In some instances, product can be picked, packed, and shipped in the same day, to arrive at a retailer the following day.”

Another Ontario grower, Mastronardi Produce, has also expanded greenhouse operations into the United States, branching out the Sunset brand from its original location in Kingsville to Florida, Colorado, Michigan, and California. Marketing coordinator Nancy Pickersgill cites access to new markets and year-round availability as the primary reasons for this growth. “Because greenhouse growing can take place year round, we’re able to meet increasing consumer demand for products that were previously out of season,” she says. “And by placing our growers close to major markets, we make sure we can get product to them with minimal delay.”

Fluctuating fuel costs are another challenge for grower-shippers. While gasoline prices dropped significantly in the United States over the last year and are inching upward again, pricing has remained extremely high in Canada. “By building new greenhouse facilities in the United States,” Pickersgill explains, “we are able to ensure the same quality of product while lowering our expenditures on fuel significantly.”

Paivarinta agrees with Pickersgill on the cost advantages: “Freight is our industry’s largest postharvest expense; almost all of our strategic locations serve as both farms and customer service centers.”

Red Sun Farms’ newest greenhouse is located in southwestern Virginia, in Dublin, and opened last year. “The locally grown and organic movements are two of the fastest growing trends in the fresh produce industry,” Paivarinta adds, “and our Virginia site addresses our retail partners’ need for both.”

In addition to the proximity of markets, Khosla mentions a few other advantages to establishing greenhouses in disparate regions. “There are several critical factors to consider when choosing a location for greenhouse operations that will ensure maximum productivity and benefits,” she notes. “The most important are access to energy, access to water, and existing infrastructure.” When all these factors are present, she says, it can guarantee the grower will be able to keep production prices stable while meeting seasonal or fluctuating demand.

Energy efficiency, especially more natural light, was a major lure to move southward and explore locations outside Canada. “Sunshine alleviates the need for artificial light,” Khosla says, which can reduce building, maintenance, and energy costs. These very same factors have led to an explosion of greenhouse production in Mexico, as well as Central America, which began shipping to the U.S. market in 2006. Both areas have seen a sharp increase in greenhouse construction and production, where acreage and labor costs are significantly less expensive than in Canada.