From the Editor: June 2013

May 16, 2013
Written by
Greenhouse horticulture is a lot like other economic sectors in dealing with slimmer profit margins the past few years.

Growers say that while pricing pressures are not letting up, input costs are continuing to rise a little each year (except for natural gas … but more about that later).

The industry is still doing quite well. The latest StatsCan report found that 2012 sales topped some $3.3 billion. Overall, sales were down by 2.2 per cent compared to 2011, partly the result of a 4.5 per cent decrease in sales of greenhouse vegetables and fruit.

(The report noted that the average price of greenhouse tomatoes had dropped to $1.64 per kilogram in 2012 from $1.89 in 2009.)
By comparison, total industry sales in 2002 were just over $2 billion. The industry is indeed a major player in Canadian horticulture.

To compensate for prices not keeping pace with costs, growers are tweaking every corner of their operations for increased efficiency.

Automation is always a good investment. As a LinkedIn member from Europe commented to a “robotics” question we posted earlier this year, mechanization allows growers “to be more productive, so you can expand without building additional production areas.”

Energy optimization projects, such as curtains and boiler tuneups, have relatively quick returns on investments. (Thankfully, natural gas prices remained at comparatively low levels throughout 2012; the StatsCan report found overall industry fuel costs dropped by about 16 per cent compared to 2011 costs.)

Considerable greenhouse research is conducted across Canada each year. Solutions to grower challenges are being developed.
A recent tour of the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in Harrow, Ontario, was quite impressive. Projects there include advanced thrips control in early season pepper crops (with a promising new predator flexing its muscles), supplemental lighting trials, a new supplemental lighting source, diffused poly coverings, sophisticated dehumidification systems, thermal imaging applications for disease detection in young plants, and a look at a promising new product for control of rootborne diseases. And that’s a brief sampling of the progam.

And Harrow is just one example of a number of research centres in government facilities or universities. Growers need to learn about this work, especially when margins are snug.

Fortunately, marketing efforts involving grower groups have been stepped up.

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG), in one example, had a spring campaign promoting locally grown greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.

The newly opened Toronto Flower Market (www.TorontoFlowerMarket.ca ) is working with pickOntario, the marketing initiative of Flowers Canada (Ontario), to showcase locally grown cut flower, bedding and potted plants. The market will operate twice a month, from May to September, offering terrific product exposure.

Research, marketing and innovation all have a role in helping growers cope with slim margins, and all are equally important.

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