From the Editor: Role of research in industry’s growth

June 09, 2008
Written by
The greenhouse industry remains one of the brightest lights in Canadian agriculture, despite a not as glowing as usual annual report issued recently by Statistics Canada. During my dozen or so years with the magazine, the federal statistical agency has every year pointed to significant growth by this sector.

Not so in 2007.

Its recently released greenhouse report has the following observation: “After a long period of continuous growth that started in 1990, greenhouse expansion stalled in 2007, as operators had to adapt to the rising value of the Canadian dollar and higher labour and energy costs.” Total greenhouse area decreased by less than one per cent from a year earlier, to about 20.9 million square metres in 2007.

One significant trend was noted. “Producers of flowers and plants accounted for two-thirds of total greenhouse sales, but for the first time since 1993, the vegetable area, which was 10.7 million square metres, exceeded the plant and flower area, which stood at 10.3 million square metres in 2007.”

Greenhouse operators reported total sales of $2.3 billion, up less than one per cent compared with 2006. With inflation last year running about 2.2 per cent range, growers have lost some ground.

The industry’s success is largely due to its thirst for innovation. In the early years, Canadian growers incorporated just about anything developed in Europe, and in particular, the Netherlands. Attitudes, however, are changing. Increasingly, Canadian research is leading the way, whether in cropping systems, disease and pest management strategies, water treatment applications, or with alternative heating processes.

Ottawa recently awarded a $750,000 grant for the B.C. greenhouse vegetable industry “as part of its commitment to providing farmers with the resources they need to improve their long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability.”

The Alberta government has committed $6.6 million to rebuild its research greenhouses at Brooks. Some 55,000 square feet of new greenhouses are being built. It will be one of the largest facilities of its kind on the continent.

And both the federal ($15.5 million) and the Ontario ($12.5 million)  governments are supporting the long overdue revitalization of the Vineland horticulture research centre in the Niagara region of Ontario. Greenhouse research is a big part of this project.

On the AgCanada side, the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in Harrow, Ontario, and the Pacific Agricultural Research Centre in Agassiz, British Columbia, handle the bulk of its greenhouse work. Their mandate to research on behalf of growers across Canada – large and small, clustered or remote – ensures the investment pays dividends throughout the country.

The criticism we have with AgCanada is that most of the work at Harrow and Agassiz is directed only to the vegetable sector. There is limited ornamental work. That should be addressed. Given the amount of GST revenues streaming from retail plant and flower sales, it’s inexcusable the feds don’t support more direct research to this sector.

The industry may have stalled, but leading-edge, publicly funded research is ongoing. Indeed, it’s expanding. That augurs very well for future growth.

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