By Dave Harrison
Research has helped Canadian greenhouse growers become ultra efficient and productive.
Research has helped Canadian greenhouse growers become ultra efficient and productive. We have world-class quality and yields.
Studies on production systems, IPM optimization and energy management, among others, continue to improve crops. And this work must continue to ensure growers remain on the leading edge of technology.
Where research is lacking is in marketing greenhouse products, and that’s where a paradigm shift is required. There’s no problem growing beautiful and bountiful crops in this country; the challenge is in expanding those markets and finding new opportunities. Increased efficiency will maintain or improve margins, but higher sales are also needed to ensure continued profitability.
Price-wise, it hasn’t been the best of years for greenhouse vegetable growers, in particular beefsteak tomato producers. There has been lot of product in the market, and that has depressed prices to dismal levels, up to about 40 per cent lower in some instances, according to a recent Toronto Star report.
It’s not just a problem for Canadian growers. According to a June 28, 2012, report from the Economic Research Service of the USDA, grower prices for fresh tomatoes have been quite low this year and for a much longer period than usual. “In the first half of 2012, grower prices for fresh tomatoes throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico have remained low across most tomato categories. Prices approached these low levels in earlier years, but the duration of the low prices in 2012 is unusual,” notes the report.
We take “hydroponic production” for granted in the industry, but do consumers really understand what it is, and how it produces a consistently premium product? Does “greenhouse-grown” carry much weight with shoppers browsing the shelves?
In short, has the industry done enough to promote the qualities of greenhouse produce, to effectively differentiate itself in the marketplace? Is there a distinctive greenhouse brand?
Research can develop successful sales strategies.
Research can also identify what new products can be grown profitably, to help the industry diversify from its dependence on the big three – tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. How large a market is there for ethnic vegetables, very few of which are currently grown indoors? There has been some research in this area, and it has been encouraging. Most ethnic vegetables are now imported from southern growing regions, and greenhouses can match those climates with year-round production.
Consumers pay an average of 40 cents per pound more for greenhouse-grown vegetables versus field-grown produce, according to one U.S. report, reflecting a clear perception of it being a premium product. How does the industry spread that message, to gain new converts?
Market expansion has to outpace increased production volumes. If it doesn’t, pricing pressures will continue, and growers will feel the pinch. Research will ensure Canadian growers can compete.
We need to grow current and new markets as diligently and effectively as we grow the crops.