Being receptive to innovation

May 14, 2014
Written by
Judging by a recent StatsCan report, the greenhouse community is continuing to boost sales. It remains one of Canadian agriculture’s frontrunners in market growth.

It is showing no signs of becoming a “mature industry,” one in which sales are flattening out and prospects for growth are limited.

And the reason the industry continues to grow is its ability to continually reinvent itself, and to remain consumer driven. Growers are receptive to change, to new technologies and to new markets.

Urban agriculture has a growing greenhouse component, illustrated by a number of rooftop projects in Canada and the U.S. The most recent example south of the border features a greenhouse built atop a supermarket: how much fresher can vegetables be?

According to the StatsCan report, sales of greenhouse, nursery and sod products in Canada were nearly $3.5 billion in 2013, up 5.6 per cent from 2012. Particularly impressive was the greenhouse vegetable sector, which accounts for 36.1 per cent of all sales in this category. Sales grew by 16.1 per cent last year. Sales of greenhouse flowers and plants grew 2.6 per cent to $1.4 billion.

Another potential area of industry growth will be in aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and vegetable production in a closed loop system … the perfect symbiotic relationship.

The Aquaponics Source offers the following definition. “Aquaponics is the cultivation of fish and plants together in a constructed, re-circulating ecosystem utilizing natural bacterial cycles to convert fish wastes to plant nutrients. This is a natural food growing method that harnesses the best attributes of aquaculture and hydroponics without the need to discard any water or filtrate or add chemical fertilizers.”

The European Union is investing $9.2 million in a four-year research project.

Canadian research in this field has long been leading edge and we’re now seeing more commercial applications. There are at least two full-time aquaponic greenhouses in Canada that we’re aware of, but a couple of large new projects are said to be moving into the implementation stage.

Aquaponics could satisfy the federal government’s commitment to northern development. Currently, fresh vegetables are wildly expensive and often in marginal shape once shipped into northern communities. Locally grown vegetables and herbs, along with fresh fish, could solve those issues.

Aquaponics is the latest example of how the greenhouse sector is receptive to innovation. It fits in well with the “buy local” and “urban agriculture” movements, and its “sustainability” credentials are impeccable.

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