Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Trends
Healthy markets for fresh berries


September 28, 2009
By Dave Harrison


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With only a handful of exceptions, there is very little greenhouse berry crop production in North America. And given the growing consumer trend toward “Buy Local” foods, greenhouse growers could be missing out on a sizable market.

With only a handful of exceptions, there is very little greenhouse
berry crop production in North America. And given the growing consumer
trend toward “Buy Local” foods, greenhouse growers could be missing out
on a sizable market.

In southwestern Ontario, we look forward to the spring field-grown
strawberry season, which is bountiful but short, and a much smaller
fall harvest.

Out-of-season field-grown imports, usually quite plentiful in late
winter, usually fare quite poorly with shelf life, given their days of
transport after being harvested before they are ripe. And they can be
pricey.

But what if we had locally grown greenhouse berries for out-of-season consumption? Is it feasible?

Indeed it is, though probably more so for raspberries than strawberries, according to the research.

Dr. Adam Dale, a professor with the Department of Plant Agriculture at
the University of Guelph campus in Simcoe, Ontario, has done
considerable work with greenhouse berry crops. During a 2003
presentation at the Canadian Greenhouse Conference, he concluded that
“raspberries are being grown commercially out-of-season in Europe and
these production systems make this a feasible out-of-season crop in
Ontario. Studies show that demand outstrips the supply, although
consistent and increasing quantities of raspberries are being imported
out-of-season. We have developed scheduling systems that are suitable
for Ontario…. All of our economic models suggest that this crop is
profitable and is worthy of consideration by growers looking to
diversify.”

Dr. Marvin Pritts, a professor in the Department of Horticulture at
Cornell University in New York state, has done extensive research on
greenhouse strawberries and raspberries. He’s confident both would be
market winners.

“At our orchard store, we sold greenhouse strawberries for $3.50 per
pint during late winter and early spring, but we sold raspberries for
$3 per half pint,” he said in a website posting, Berried Treasures:
Off-season Production of Strawberries and Raspberries. “Although we
sell everything that we can grow at our store, there is much less
resistance to the price of raspberries.”

He noted that while “supermarkets brim with inexpensive strawberries in
February and March, according to consumer surveys, strawberries are
second only to peaches in rankings of poor and inconsistent quality.
Surely a niche exists for consistently flavourful berries picked at the
peak of ripeness and available to the consumer the day after harvest.
Such fruit may be more expensive than field-grown berries from Florida,
but the quality will be unrivalled.”

Speaking at an Ontario workshop several years ago, Pritts said New York
state bedding plant growers were particularly interested in new crops
for their empty, or near-empty, greenhouses in the fall and winter
seasons. Raspberries are one answer. “They don’t require a lot of
heat,” said Pritts. “They’re a cold-loving plant.”

We can’t underestimate the “Buy Local” sentiment in the marketplace,
nor the commitment towards healthier diets (and fruits are at, or near,
the top of the food chain in this regard). Greenhouse berry production
is inevitable in North America. More research is needed to perfect the
systems and determine the best varieties. The markets for berries,
quite literally, couldn’t be healthier, whatever the season.


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