Urgent need to extend the grids with From the editor: June 2015
An Urgent Need to Extend the Grids
By Dave Harrison
June 2015 – Year-round vegetable production capability may well be just around the corner. Once accomplished, it will be a major assist for growers seeking to tap into new markets.
It’s not easy growing 12 months of the year anywhere in Canada, given the winter light levels. Supplemental lighting is required, along with new nutritional programs for crops growing under the lamps.
But once accomplished, it will be a major boost for accelerated expansion of the industry.
However, there’s a puzzle piece that’s beyond the grasp of growers, researchers and industry associations. This is where the industry truly learns whether it has friends in high places.
By way of background, a major five-year research project is well underway at the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre near Harrow, Ont. The goal is to develop year-round production models for tomato, cucumber and pepper crops.
Such production easily fits into the growing “Buy Local” movements. It also makes life easier for retailers in being able to work with a single supplier of premium greenhouse produce.
Researchers and growers can’t do it on their own. A major challenge for year-round production will be with energy supply and costs.
On the farm energy front, there was “good news” and some “not-so-good-news” with the Ontario budget.
First the good news.The province wants to expand the network of natural gas lines in Ontario, news that was applauded by The Ontario Greenhouse Alliance (TOGA). “Our greenhouse farms are proof of the return these investments can yield in job creation and economic growth,” said TOGA chair Jan Vanderhout.
While many Ontario greenhouses have access to natural gas, it is not yet at the level needed for reliable supply throughout the winter months, Vanderhout explained.
And the not-so-good-news? The Ontario Federation of Agriculture said the budget made no mention of a province-wide farm and industrial electricity rate. OFA had earlier suggested a program be developed to ensure electricity rates are comparable to neighbouring jurisdictions to maintain the competitiveness of farming and the industrial sector. This would maintain a sustainable farming sector and create jobs across Ontario.
With lighting being a major expense with year-round production, competitive hydro rates are essential. Some of the largest greenhouse projects announced by Canadian growers over the past year or two have been in the U.S., and comparative hydro costs may have been among the considerations.
Yet beyond rising hydro prices, the electricity infrastructure needs a funding jolt. Growers in the Essex region of southwestern Ontario (in and around the Leamington area) have been lobbying long and hard for such investment, well supported by local councils.
Year-round production will be another turning point for the industry, much like double poly usage was in the 1980s, and soilless media before that. But without sufficient energy infrastructure in place, it will be an opportunity under-utilized or missed altogether.