By Dave Harrison
June 6, 2016, Vineland Station, Ont. – The skies were sunny, but the smiles inside the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre were even brighter last Friday with a pair of major funding announcements.
Vineland was hosting an open house for its new $10-million state-of-the-art pre-commercial scale greenhouse facility, cause enough on its own for celebration.
However, the icing on the cake was the funding announcements of $7.2 million from the provincial government and $5.76 million from Ottawa by way of its FedDev Ontario program.
The morning official opening ceremony was attended by Jeff Leal, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; several area politicians; greenhouse industry representatives from across the province; along with a number of Vineland board members.
They were welcomed by board chairman (and former federal agriculture minister) Lyle Vanclief, and CEO Dr. Jim Brandle.
About 500 area residents and growers had signed up for afternoon tours of the 40,000-square-foot facility that features 13 compartments – two large-scale units for vegetables and 11 for flowers or multi-purpose uses.
The provincial investment will help develop profitable crops that are more resilient to Ontario’s climate, as well as new products and varieties of vegetables, fruits, wine and flowering plants that reflect changing consumer preferences. The greenhouse will also help improve plant and vegetable production systems by adapting best practices to help keep production costs low.
The facility will also speed up the commercialization of a range of innovative technologies and products.
“By investing in projects like Vineland’s Greenhouse Technology Centre, our government is creating the foundation for constant innovation and collaboration in Ontario’s growing agri-food sector,” said Leal.
“This facility will allow researchers, industry partners and government to come together and help build Ontario’s agri-food research capabilities, develop new products, expand economic opportunities and create jobs for the people of Ontario.”
The next generation will be called upon to feed the world, he said, and this facility will help in meeting that challenge.
“While the bricks and mortar footprint of this project is commendable,” said Brandle, “what sets it apart is the unique opportunity it will provide for problem solving, collaboration with our ever-widening range of partners and the commercialization of great science.”
Navdeep Bains, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and the minister responsible for FedDev Ontario, was unable to attend the open house. However he did issue a statement, noting that with FedDev Ontario’s support, “the technologies developed and commercialized by the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre will innovate the ways the greenhouse industry operates, here in Canada and abroad.”
MPs Vance Badawey (Niagara Centre) and Chris Bittle (St. Catharines) were on hand to make the formal presentation on his behalf.
FedDev Ontario’s non-repayable contribution of up to $5.76 million, towards a total project cost of $13,326,764, is provided through the Investing in Commercialization Partnerships initiative.
“Today is a celebration that southern Ontario, and Niagara Region in particular, is a leader in greenhouse and horticultural sector innovation,” said Badawey.
“The grand opening of the Collaborative Greenhouse Technology Centre will attract companies, research and development partners to Niagara Region while creating new innovative jobs in our community.”
Some 125 full-time equivalent jobs will be created over the course of the project.
The Centre provides “a world-class facility for researchers and industry leaders to come together to find innovative solutions to strengthen both the manufacturing and the greenhouse sectors,” added Bittle.
“This is what creates opportunities for southern Ontario, including building skills and creating high-quality jobs.”
Through this project, four innovative greenhouse technologies are being developed.
• An automated vegetable packing system.
• An automated disease detection system.
• Automated gripper tools to handle horticultural produce.
• Wireless temperature and moisture sensing systems for greenhouse production.
BRINGING NEW PRODUCTS TO MARKET
In addition, the project will commercialize three automated systems for greenhouse horticultural products.
• An automated planting system.
• An automated potted plant packaging system.
• An automated mushroom harvesting system.
“This funding will increase the capacity of Ontario’s emerging innovation strength in greenhouse horticulture technologies,” said Brandle.
“The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre’s new Collaborative Greenhouse Technology Centre is uniquely positioned at the junction of the greenhouse horticulture and advanced engineering sectors to drive growth and we are thankful for FedDev Ontario’s support to meet this challenge.”
AT A GLANCE
• JGS won the contract for the greenhouse and the irrigation, energy curtains and heating systems. Niagrow, Zwarts and VRE were all subtrades to JGS with this project. PL Lighting was awarded the contract for the lights, and Hoogendoorn provided the environmental controls.
• Recent commercialization successes coming out of Vineland include the introduction of Pixie grapes, a one-of-kind ornamental dwarf grapevine, and the Sundown Pear, an attractive late-season fresh-market pear with good storage capability.
• The $2.7 billion horticulture industry in Ontario includes almost $1.6 billion from the greenhouse sector.
• There are approximately 850 greenhouse operations in Ontario, with a total area of 1,295 hectares (3,200 acres) under glass. This is more than half the greenhouse area in Canada.