Greenhouse food production has lots of growth potential

  • National Newswatch

Infrastructure limitations could be a challenge

Ottawa-Canada’s greenhouse sector has grown steadily in recent years but could face barriers in accessing energy, water, waste management and labour during the next decade, says a review by Farm Credit Canada.

Greenhouses increased in farm gate value for the 11th consecutive year in 2023, up 9.2 per cent to $2.5 billion in 2023 and doubled in size from a decade ago, says the review. The challenge over the next decade will be to continue to lead on land-use efficiency while increasing production to meet domestic and trade demands. Two-thirds of the country’s greenhouse production of fruits and vegetables in Canada takes place in Ontario.

A key market for export growth is the western United States. Greenhouse vegetables account for 39 per cent of Canada’s fresh produce exports, most of which are to the U.S. Fruit and vegetable products are consumed in the east from New York to Florida. Canada could also tap into the U.S. Midwest’s 68-million-strong market.

While Canada is a leader in greenhouse productivity and innovation, funding programs are fragmented and knowledge translation is siloed, the review said. While industry and universities might work collaboratively with individual operators on projects to address a specific issue, there is a lack of overarching alignment on research priorities, funding, and goals.

“This patchwork presents an opportunity for an umbrella research framework to bring projects and stakeholders together to advance research in a targeted and coherent fashion. Stakeholders could agree upon research priorities such as automation, genetics and breed, Net Zero goals, and agronomy, which can then be used to facilitate coordination and partnerships across relatable projects. A research framework with priorities, committed funds, and timebound objectives can also ensure research institutions are better aware of their relative speed of travel, aligning industry needs and research projects.”

Greenhouses could be a pillar of Canada’s agri-food growth and sustainability ambitions as the sector is set to double in acreage over the next 10 years, deliver more diversity of products, and improve yields. The real challenge will be developing infrastructure that spurs growth and decarbonization and enables rural communities to thrive.

The kind of challenges facing the sector can be seen in the Windsor-Essex and Chatham areas where greenhouse production could more than double in acreage during the next 10 years but will face challenges in obtaining adequate electricity because of the growth of electric vehicle battery manufacturing and other advanced industries. Energy costs for Canadian greenhouses surged 55 per cent between 2013 and 2023 while natural gas-sourced power is driving the industry’s carbon footprint. Options in development include renewable natural gas production from agriculture biowaste and neighbouring landfills, investments in regionalized hydrogen production, and exploring deployment of industrial sized electric heat pumps

Canada’s greenhouse production boasts the highest yields per area of land among top greenhouse nations. Canada produces 4.6 times more per area of land than Spain, is slightly more productive than the Netherlands, and 2.6 times more than Mexico.

A growing global population growth presents a challenge for the agriculture sector to innovate and advance climate resilient, efficient systems that bring more of the food produced to people’s plates at an affordable price.

In Canada, there are 920 greenhouses specializing in fruits and vegetables, spanning more than 5,000 acres. They produce more than 800,000 tonnes of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, strawberries, and other produce. There are more than 1,500 operations growing flowers and plants generating a farm gate value of $2.1 billion in 2023.

This news item prepared for National Newswatch