Science Opens Doors To New Opportunities
By Dave Harrison
June 2016 – The Canadian greenhouse sector is maintaining its momentum. StatsCanada is reporting higher sales in virtually every category in 2015.
That’s great news, a major confidence-builder in an industry that’s long enjoyed growth across the board.
But after reading the report, we still have to wonder whether the results could be even better. And the short answer is, yes. Research will be the key.
The StatsCanada results are part of the annual Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod report compiled by Statistics Canada. (If we had any influence over the powers that be, we would ask that the report be focused on the greenhouse and nursery sectors only. We’re not sure why it also encompasses the sod sector.)
StatsCan says overall sales increased 3.3 per cent from 2014 to nearly $3.7 billion in 2015. Greenhouse products accounted for 76 per cent of all sales in this report. Greenhouse flowers and plant sales grew by 3.6 per cent, while sales of fruit and vegetables were up 2.9 per cent.
Ornamental product sales (including greenhouse flowers and plants, nursery products and sod products) totalled $2.4 billion in 2015. Total greenhouse flowers and plant sales (including resales) rang in at $1.5 billion.
Greenhouse vegetable sales totalled $1.3 billion last year. (That’s about $300 million more than the value of field-grown vegetables.) Leading the increases was lettuce (up 13.4 per cent to $36 million) and peppers (up 6.9 per cent to $426.1 million). Tomatoes were up 1.9 per cent to $516.9 million. The only crop with reduced sales was cucumber, which dropped 1.3 per cent to $308.2 million – largely due to lower prices.
Clearly the industry is doing quite well. The annual StatsCan reports for the past 20 years have been consistently – and equally – positive. Since the mid- to late- 1990s, the greenhouse sector has been the most buoyant of any sector in Canadian horticulture. Both ornamental and vegetable sectors have strong export markets, and that makes them rather unique.
Maintaining increased sales will depend largely on research, in finding new ways to grow increasingly energy efficient and labour efficient crops of premium quality.
Year-round production of greenhouse vegetables is an emerging trend. It’s a chance to win market share over the winter months. Consumers and retailers like the idea of year-round availability of locally grown vegetables. The Harrow Research and Development Centre is a world leader in this kind of research.
The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is also studying alternative crops, and in particular exotic eggplant varieties not previously grown in Canada.
On the flower side, energy efficiency will be key. What crops, or indeed varieties, can be grown a little cooler and in shorter production times?
And there is a great need for increased automation to counter rising labour costs.
Science is the key to continued prosperity in the industry. Researchers welcome grower feedback and ideas. Don’t be shy. Get involved, register for tours, and pass along suggestions on what needs to be developed and what needs to be improved.