Using less energy, but achieving more growth

May 14, 2014
Written by Gary Jones
At the time of this writing, agricultural practitioners and land developers, together with oil and natural gas pipeline proponents and residents of B.C. are debating and defending (or not defending, as the case may be) the merits of “Bill 24 – 2014, Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act.”

This legislation enables reforms to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) here in the province, and as such is a bit of a hot potato. With an ever-increasing population, property developers are crying out for more land. Amid shouts of local food production and possible impending food deserts (defined as “not having a food outlet within walking distance or within reach of public transportation”), agriculturalists are objecting loudly to a new system that makes it easier to justify the loss of valuable farmland (particularly in the fertile Fraser Valley, ALR in parts of the interior, and on the Island).

With this discussion ringing in my ears, at the end of April I visited the Open Day at Rainbow Greenhouses in Chilliwack (www.rainbow.ca). Rainbow recently completed a new six-acre extension to one of their three production sites in B.C. and Alberta. Producing on 50 acres, Rainbow sell tropicals, flowering potted crops, orchids, annuals and vegetables into B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Washington.

Technologically, Rainbow are at the cutting edge, with Echo basket systems in the upper spaces of new Prins glasshouses and Agronomics and Visser robotic transplanters populating the production areas.

The fertigation and greenhouse environmental controls are by Argus, managing a gas-fired boiler at the new site (which also has a wood-fired counterpart). Zwart has supplied new irrigation booms for the expansion area. Ebb-and-flood floors are also widely utilized in the new glasshouses, not the old-style central fill/drain cement floors, but a relatively new “ErfGoed” system that has porous gravel/earth/sand/weed mat ‘vertical drain’ flood floors; no concrete required, just a well-compacted level floor and all pots are watered simultaneously.

Once plants leave the production site, customer service requires “pay-by-scan” (electronic consignment) and VMI (“vendor-managed inventory” control) in the chain stores.

Also featured was the new LED lighting system, supplied by LumiGrow of California. Apart from being incredibly bright for their size, they also employ a new wireless controller system to separately adjust the relative proportion and intensity of the red, blue and white “bulbs.” Currently used just in the plug tray propagation houses, this spectrum control opens up possibilities for plant height control with much reduced growth regulator application. It also provides an opportunity for investigating disease control simply thorough applying specific wavelengths of light.

 In a new report about LED grow lights, Grow Lights for Agriculture Market Shares, Strategies, and Forecasts, Worldwide, 2014 to 2020, ReportsnReports.com says “LED grow light modules markets at $395 million in 2013 are anticipated to reach $3.6 billion by 2020.”

This is projected worldwide growth in all sectors, not just agricultural applications.1 As greenhouses look to more sustainable power sources (solar, wind), and the application of new lighting technologies opens new doors for controlling plant growth, supplementary lighting has become more sophisticated and less expensive to run – hence a huge potential increase in market penetration.

So, how does this relate to Bill 24?

In November 2009, then B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell launched the Produce Availability Initiative (PAI). Part of it was focused at improving supply chains (and therefore food security) to remote rural areas and provided funding to seven specific communities to develop and implement local food projects. Seeing the technology being implemented to grow ornamentals at Rainbow Greenhouses, one wonders about the possibilities for using such funding for developing the food resiliency of such communities through such innovations.

Perhaps we should ask.

1 Source: Hortidaily.com.


Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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