Industry firing on all cylinders
By Gary Jones
On technology, crops, jobs, hydroponics and the local movement.
By Gary Jones
We’re at one of those watershed moments that come along every so often in our industry. Examples include development of the Venlo style glasshouse, the high-wire crop training method, the switch from soil to hydroponics, using carbon dioxide to increase crop growth, commercial application of biocontrols, and the use of bees for tomato pollination.
Each is a milestone that marks a significant step forward for greenhouse (vegetable) growers.
But this milestone is different. Those mentioned above were leaps forward brought about by a single change in how we do things. What we’re seeing now are multiple events that could each change our business significantly. But together?
Technology: LED technology is developing at a frantic pace. (Shipping) container production systems are in huge demand (e.g. CubicFarm, Freight Farms) and popping up all over the world. Similarly…
- “Vertical farming” is heading into disused warehouses and converting these to new places of urban food production.
- Biomass energy generation may single-handedly be an answer to the issues of waste reduction and increased energy demand.
- Dutch researchers have a photovoltaic glass that lets sunlight pass through even while generating (renewable) electricity.
Drones and robotics are developing fast with umpteen applications in the greenhouse industry, and Wi-Fi and cell phone “apps” enable growers to do just about anything in the greenhouse while being physically remote.
Crops: Greenhouse growers have always been an inventive bunch. While it’s true that “necessity may be the mother of invention,” growers seem to be naturally innovative and do it for fun. They’re always on the lookout for new crops, and Canada has small areas of hot peppers, eggplant and other minor vegetables.
Berry crops are making their mark on the greenhouse landscape; strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are not hard to find under glass now. Remember when bell peppers were being introduced as an “alternative” greenhouse crop? We all know where that’s led. Greenhouse fruit crops may not have the same level of impact (who knows?), but they do have potential for taking up some of the existing greenhouse area. Greenhouse hops are one answer to the blossoming craft brew industry demand, and you may have heard of some other crop that could have an impact on greenhouse production. What other crop do you remember that impacted the face of our industry because of a single legislative change? Probably none.
Jobs: There was a time when high school career counsellors saw horticulture as a job for failed dentists, doctors, computer programmers or accountants. At best. Oh, wait – they still do! Seriously? With all this amazing technology and rewarding life-long career options? We need to leverage these aspects and attract some new blood onto the local and worldwide jobs market. Get the message out there as much as you can.
Best of both worlds – organic hydroponics? In mid-November, the U.S. organic certification authority voted 8-7 in favour of certifying hydroponic production as organic. This could impact two significant sectors of horticulture simultaneously.
Local movement: Already, more than half (54 per cent) of the world’s population live in urban areas. This is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050 as the number of “megacities” (10 million people or more) increases. For example, the world’s most populous metropolitan area is Tokyo, home to about 34 million people – the same population as the whole of Canada! A city of 10 million people needs about 6,000 tons of food every day: think of that for demand! Urbanization means more people need other people to provide their food, and urban agriculture is now a reality, not sci-fi. This is a huge opportunity.
The industry is ideally positioned to tackle major world issues of population growth, water availability, food resilience and climate change. We need to lever this to get new people in. The industry is in a great place, and like “TED Talks™,” it presents a career that is “worth spreading.”
Gary Jones is co-chair of Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He serves on several industry committees and welcomes comments at Gary.Jones@kpu.ca.