By Gary Jones
Industry is witnessing a watershed moment
By Gary Jones
January 2017 – How do we get a realistic measurement on the “state of the industry?”
The logical way is to do a survey. Ask those involved in the industry how they feel things are going. But outcomes of such a survey depend on asking the right questions and on potentially the subjective views of respondents. And we all know that some of us are “glass-half-full” people and others are, well, not. So quantitative measures of this “state” are essential.
We also need to identify where the industry is that we’re discussing. Do we mean local, provincial, national or perhaps even global? Horticulture is, of course, a very global industry. So is that our scope?
For example, in the greenhouse sector, what’s going on in China, or Russia or eastern Europe? Anyone keeping an eye on newsfeeds these days will see the rapid expansion that’s taking shape in all of those areas. Construction projects there cover large areas and have potential to put out significant volumes of produce. And while perhaps on a global scale these are relatively small volumes, is there potential for these developments to affect our greenhouse industry here in Canada?
Talking of Europe, how will the newly signed CETA deal affect the state of our industry?
I guess also when we are looking at this, we need to actually identify what we mean by “industry.”
Presumably, it’s the conventional (relatively) large-scale greenhouse production business. But at what point do we include emerging sectors such as urban agriculture? That term often conjures up images of community gardens, small plots of kale and lettuce or backyard chickens.
But should the greenhouse sector now include the influence of basement or rooftop micro-green production, or high-tech container systems that are as “controlled environment” as any 50-acre tomato greenhouse?
Digressing a little into urban agriculture, how do municipalities view such ventures? How can they classify agricultural activities that take place on residential or industrially zoned land? And how do such businesses use “right to farming” legislation? Certainly from an educational perspective, urban agriculture is one of the topics driving new students into our universities and colleges. Here at KPU, for example, we’ve seen increased enrolments. I’m convinced it’s partly due to people not seeing these activities in the same way, as they have (mis-informed) prejudice about getting into dirty, poor pay agriculture. So, should the conventional greenhouse industry embrace this new sector and call it part of our own?
A couple of other topics may also impact how we see “the state of the industry.”
Firstly, the B.C. Greenhouse Growers Association (BCGGA) recently held a cucumber growers seminar. Dutch consultant Herman Hermans of Innocrop Consulting presented information on the usual topics of environmental management, training systems and LEDs.
But he also suggested that questions around “Bio Growing” (a.k.a. “organic production”) are “a puzzle that needs to be figured out.” In particular, we need definitions of how much soil has to be in a substrate for it to be considered certifiably organic or can we develop acceptable organic hydroponic systems?
Interestingly, going back to one of the previous thoughts above, the seminar attracted growers from Alberta and California for the first time – so what exactly are the geographical boundaries for the state of the industry?
Secondly, the day after the BCGGA meeting, Graeme Murphy and representatives from Flowers Canada were here at KPU setting up a flower growers biocontrol project.
After a while, the conversation (almost inevitably!) turned to marijuana production. With news that CornerWays Nurseries in the U.K. is switching all production from tomatoes to marijuana for pharmaceuticals, we wondered if we’re at one of those unusual, unique watershed moments for the greenhouse sector?
Perhaps. And if so, how does that represent “the state of the industry?”
Gary Jones is co-chair of horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley, B.C. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.