The automation was showcased by vegetable growers Golden Acre Farms and Mucci Farms, both of Kingsville.
Louis Chibante of Golden Acre led the tour of one of his facilities that features high-wire cucumber production without lights. He was the first grower in North America to adopt such a system, and he’s quite impressed with the results in quality and yields.
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View the embedded image gallery online at:The packing line is completely automated, including the crate dumping and stacking system, the grading unit and packaging line, and the shipping area. Aside from the employee who harvests the cucumber, the next person to touch the cucumber will be the consumer.
A longtime adopter of new technologies, Chibante does his homework. “Before we jump into anything, we do a lot of R&D.”
They’re now studying supplemental HPS and LED lighting systems. With current pricing, Chibante gives the edge to HPS. But in addition to price, the HPS systems also produce heat, and that comes in handy during the southwestern Ontario winters.
He predicts that a hybrid system will probably be the best option for Ontario growers, utilizing both LEDs for inter-crop lighting, and HPS overhead.
The greenhouse has a pair of curtain systems – one for energy, the other for shade, and the latter also has light diffusing properties to help improve the microclimate.
At Mucci Farms, grower Herney Hernandez pointed out a number of labour-saving features incorporated into the company’s cluster tomato operation.
A key component is the completely automated chain-driven cart transport system that moves produce and bins between the greenhouse and the packing house.
The greenhouse also has a computerized labour management system to assist with existing traceability measures and to help identify crop issues before they become a problem.
Both Mucci Farms and Golden Acre Farms completely recycle their water.
As for putting older greenhouses to new uses, Anna’s Flowers (Kingsville) began as a greenhouse tomato operation, while Colasanti Tropical Gardens (Kingsville) has repurposed a number of its greenhouses into family entertainment uses. Featured in the latter are play areas, an 18-hole miniature golf course, and a popular restaurant and banquet facility. They also have growing facilities and a large garden centre.
As for Anna's Flowers, it has evolved into a four-season garden centre. Its customer loyalty program – Anna's Club – has grown to more than 6,000 members. The garden centre also hosts dozens of workshops each year, attracting several hundred participants.
The day started out with a tour of the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre in nearby Harrow.
Drs. Xiuming Hao, Ray Cerkauskas and Rose Labbe outlined some of their latest projects.
Hao has a number of energy efficiency/conservation projects underway, including work with supplemental lighting and year-round vegetable production. He’s also looking at new glazing materials, including diffused glass. (See our feature that was originally published in the June 2015 edition.)
Cerkauskas is keeping on top of new disease threats, including fusarium oxysporum in peppers. He and his team have identified the pathogen, tested the various treatments, and assessed how susceptible the various varieties are. A factsheet is being prepared for growers. (See our feature that was originally published the June 2015 edition.
Labbe is the most recent addition to the team, taking over from Dr. Les Shipp who retired last year. She already has a full plate of projects underway, including studying how supplemental lighting systems affect pests and biological controls.
The day concluded with a quick tour of the new one-acre greenhouse at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. It’s Canada’s first pre-commercial scale greenhouse dedicated to research and innovation.
Most of the work is completed, and projects are expected to begin within the next few months.
Featured are greenhouses ranging in height from five metres (for ornamental research) to seven metres (vegetable projects), along with underground servicing to minimize shading. There is also collaborative office space that will be used by visiting scientists or companies.
The Canadian Greenhouse Conference runs today and Thursday at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls. For more information, visit www.canadiangreenhouseconference.com.