Previewing the Brooks upgrade

February 11, 2009
A $16.5-million investment at the Crop Diversification Centre in Brooks, Alberta, will foster innovative crop research and help Alberta’s greenhouse growers strengthen and diversify.

“This new facility is one of a kind in western Canada and will contribute to the industry’s sustainable growth,” said George Groeneveld, minister of agriculture and rural development. “It will not only improve our province’s food safety control and traceability of produce, but will also provide access to ongoing innovative research that will help us compete with other countries.”

Some of the existing greenhouses at Crop Diversification Centre South (CDCS) in Brooks were 40 years old and in need of replacement. “You cannot do research truly relevant to today’s industry with facilities that old,” noted plant pathologist Dr. Ron Howard.

The gutter height in the old greenhouses, he said, were six to seven feet, while the new greenhouses will be 18 feet. “We will finally be able to grow the crops that are being grown tall,” said Dr. Howard.

The new facility at CDCS will have four times more greenhouse space and will feature new technologies like high-transmission greenhouse coverings and more efficient growing systems. The facility design provides a flexible space that is capable of adapting to different research requirements and industry developments.

The new facilities are being designed to the standards of the LEED Canada program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a program of the Canada Green Building Council. Officials are hoping the new greenhouses will meet LEED’s Silver Standard. If successful, the Brooks greenhouses would be the first of its kind in meeting such high-energy efficiency and environmental construction standards.

Facility features include full nutrient recirculation; rainwater and surface water collection; energy efficient motors, fans and lights; “green” standard building materials; low-emissivity paints; energy efficient glass; bicycle racks; and energy efficient office lighting.

“There will be a lot of extra effort and some additional costs, but we feel it will be worthwhile to show growers the latest energy efficient equipment,” said Dr. Howard. “It will be a showcase facility for environmental and energy technologies for the greenhouse industry.”
A grading and packing area will be installed, allowing the centre to market some of its vegetables.

The centre will also include a conference room for group presentations.
The new facility will include compartmentalized research greenhouses (10 units of 1,000 square feet each), and a few of the greenhouses will offer Level Two biosecurity containment.

“Enhancing value-added activity and increasing innovation is a priority for the Alberta government,” said Jack Hayden, minister of infrastructure. “This new facility will provide crop scientists the space, equipment and flexibility they need to conduct important crop research and to simulate the production of crops in commercial-style greenhouses.”

The greenhouse industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in Alberta agriculture, tripling in size over the past 25 years. An ideal location for the new upgraded facility due to its close proximity to commercial growers, the centre has the support of researchers and experts who specialize in areas such as plant pathology, irrigation technology and business development.

The redevelopment of CDCS includes a new 11,840-square-foot research greenhouse; a 41,980-square-foot production greenhouse; and an 8,100-square-foot support building. Construction is underway and should be complete by late 2009.
 
“There’ll definitely be some leading edge work here,” said Dr. Howard. “It will be a centre for the Prairie provinces. There’s already been a lot of interest from groups in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “I’m sure some will be interested in collaborating with us.”

This will be one of the largest and most modern research greenhouse in North America. “This will really put us on the map as a research facility in Canada,” said Dr. Howard, “and perhaps across North America.”

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