OGVG committed to water quality improvement

May 22, 2012
Written by Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers
May 22, 2012, Leamington, Ont. – Members of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) are concerned over recent test results that suggest that greenhouse vegetable production may be a contributor to water quality deterioration in Lake Erie.

“We are concerned about these recent test results,” said OGVG chair Don Taylor. “Like all of Ontario agriculture, we are committed to ensuring our farming practices do not result in harm to the environment.”

He added that as well as showing environmental leadership, it is important to greenhouse vegetable growers to protect Ontario’s water quality because like many farmers, they live on or near the same properties as their greenhouses and depend on that water for their families and their crops.

The Ontario greenhouse vegetable sector is a world-class leader in food production. It was among the first sectors in North America to introduce a mandatory food safety production system in which every farm is regularly audited to ensure safe food production standards are being met.

Over the last 17 years, it is estimated that Ontario growers have invested over $71 million into environmental improvements to their greenhouses in the form of water recirculation equipment.

Today, over 80 per cent of Ontario’s greenhouse vegetables are grown using nutrient recirculation technology which results in the capture and reuse of nutrients that would otherwise be wasted during the watering and fertilization process.

The OGVG acknowledges that there is still work to be done to make sure that the greenhouse sector is not further contributing to water quality problems.

The OGVG encourages all growers to examine their plant fertility programs to closely match fertilizer applications with crop requirements. The goal of the sector is to ensure all applied nutrients are used effectively, either in the greenhouse through enhanced recycling or through the safe application as fertilizers to field crops.

While technology doesn’t yet exist anywhere in the world to operate a vegetable greenhouse as a totally closed loop, research projects in Ontario are currently underway working towards this goal.

“As members of the farming community we must all strive to protect and preserve our valuable natural resources. This means being accountable for our actions and taking whatever steps are necessary to reduce our impact on the environment”, Taylor said.

“To that end, earlier this year we formally requested inclusion of our sector under the Nutrient Management Act, which we believe to be the best approach to improve environmental performance while maintaining the competitiveness of our farms. We look forward to continuing to work with the Ministry of the Environment and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to address these recently identified problems and develop workable solutions for our farmers to incorporate into their production systems.”

The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers represents approximately 223 greenhouse vegetable growers in Ontario responsible for 2,067 acres of greenhouse tomato, pepper and cucumber production in the province. In 2011, farmgate revenue for the Ontario greenhouse vegetable industry was worth more than $698 million.


BACKGROUNDER

• The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers’ Association (OGVG) represents approximately 223 greenhouse vegetable farmers in Ontario responsible for 2,067 acres of greenhouse tomato, pepper and cucumber production in the province.

• In 2011, farmgate revenue for the Ontario greenhouse vegetable sector was more than $698 million.

• Some 70 per cent of products grown in Ontario greenhouses are exported out of the province.

• The greenhouse vegetable sector represents approximately 10,000 jobs in the province of Ontario.

How does greenhouse farming work?
• Most greenhouse vegetables in Ontario are grown under soilless conditions. This means that plants are typically anchored in an inert material, such as coconut husks, and are fed the nutrients they need to grow in a solution through drip irrigation.

• Sunlight passes through the greenhouse cover (typically glass or plastic) and warms the plants and air within, creating convection and heating the entire greenhouse.

Environmental strengths of the sector:

• No soil means no weeds, which means no need for herbicides!

• Growers customize the amount of nutrients needed for each crop, which reduces fertilizer waste.

• Growing in a closed environment allows for the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies whereby “good
bugs” are used to manage pests. This dramatically reduces the use of pesticides.

• Innovative water processing techniques allow water to be re-circulated within the greenhouse, reducing water consumption and protecting this valuable natural resource.

• Large ponds designed to capture rainwater from the greenhouse roof reduce the risk of erosion to the local landscape and can act as an alternative source of freshwater for irrigating crops.

• With the addition of supplemental lighting fresh produce can be grown year-round, creating a reliable source of local produce.

Food Safety in the greenhouse sector:

• Ontario’s greenhouse vegetable sector is a world-class leader in food production. It was among the first farm sectors in North America to introduce a mandatory food safety production system.

• Every greenhouse operation in Ontario is audited annually by a certified third party food safety auditor to ensure that safe food production practices are being followed.

Recirculation Technology:

• Much of today’s soilless greenhouse vegetable production occurs in raised troughs which allows for the practice of “recirculation”.

• Any excess nutrient laden water is captured in the troughs, treated and then recirculated back to the crop.

• Ontario greenhouse growers have invested approximately $71 million into recirculation technologies alone since it was first introduced into Ontario in the mid-1990s. Approximately 80 per cent of greenhouse vegetables in Ontario are now grown in facilities utilizing recirculation.

• Technology does not yet exist anywhere in the world to operate a vegetable greenhouse as a totally closed loop system. The Ontario sector has initiated several research projects that OGVG expects will bring it closer to such a system. In the meantime, other research is focused on safe uses and disposal of excess nutrients outside of the greenhouse that cannot be utilized in the greenhouse, for example through application to field crops.

• The OGVG recently adopted a policy that recommends all new and expanding greenhouses incorporate nutrient recirculation. Older facilities are also being encouraged to undertake retrofits, as finances allow, to install nutrient recirculation capabilities. This policy can be found on the OGVG website under the “Environmental Policy” link.

Test Results from Lake Erie:

• Greenhouse growers are concerned about protecting the environment, not only for the public good, but because like all farmers, our families live on or near the farms where our vegetables are grown.

• The OGVG appreciates the monitoring work that the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has been carrying out and receiving the findings.

• The OGVG is working closely with the MOE and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) to develop a strategy and solutions to address these concerns.

• The OGVG and its members take this issue seriously and are committed to taking necessary steps to ensure that greenhouse vegetable production is not contributing further to the issue.

• In January 2012 OGVG made a formal request for the inclusion of greenhouse farming under the Nutrient Management Act. OGVG believes this to be the best approach to both improve environmental performance while maintaining the competitiveness of our farms.

OGVG environmental research initiatives:

• OGVG has invested heavily in research throughout its history using both grower and governmental support.

• The organization is currently directly involved with six ongoing research projects focused on environmental sustainability representing a public-private investment of $1.25 million.

• OGVG is working with the MOE and OMAFRA to develop educational programs and materials for farmers, including a detailed set of Best Management Practices for water use (a set of recommended practices for growers to follow in their greenhouses). These are nearing completion, under the oversight of OMAFRA, and will be available to all growers imminently.

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