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North America’s greenhouse capital passes light abatement by-law


December 12, 2020
By Greenhouse Canada

Note: This article was updated Dec. 19.

The municipality of Leamington, Ont. passed a greenhouse light abatement by-law this week to curb light pollution concerns.

Approved at Tuesday’s council meeting, the by-law mandates complete closure of light abatement curtains on greenhouse ceilings, sidewalls and endwalls one hour before sunset until one hour after sunrise.

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Based on practices in the Netherlands, the council allowed ceiling curtain openings up to a maximum of 10 per cent between 2 am and 6 am to help release heat and humidity in the greenhouse.

The provision on sidewalls and endwalls is set to take effect on April 1, 2021, while the provision on ceiling curtains begins October 1, 2021. In the interim, operators without the designated curtains will be required to shut off greenhouse lights between 8pm and 2am.

The neighbouring town of Kingsville, Ont. passed their own by-law to address greenhouse lighting and cannabis odours on Oct. 26 this year. The by-law does not allow any light to “shine upon the land of others” or “into the dark night sky.” Cannabis odours that cause a nuisance to the public are not allowed at any time.

Across the border, the municipality of Huron, Ohio allows a 10 per cent opening in greenhouse light abatement curtains between sunrise and sunset.

The Farming and Food Production Protection Act

In a document submitted by Ruth Orton, director of legal and legislative services for the municipality of Leamington, she noted, “It is important to acknowledge that the Farming and Food Production Protection Act, 1998 indicates that a farmer is not liable in nuisance to any person for a disturbance resulting from an agricultural operation carried on as a normal farm practice. The legislation defines a “disturbance” as odour, dust, flies, light, smoke, noise and vibration.

To this point, “light from greenhouses at night, or farm equipment used at night” is one example of a common nuisance complaint identified on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) website.

Part of the legislation also indicates that “no municipal by-law applies to restrict a normal farm practice carried on as a part of an agricultural operation.”

Farmers who feel that a municipal by-law is preventing them from carrying out normal farm practices are able to apply to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board. The board will then determine whether the practice in question is indeed a normal farm practice under those particular circumstances. “If it is, then, under the FFPPA, the by-law does not apply to that practice at that location,” says OMAFRA’s website.

“Similarly, a person directly affected by a disturbance from an agricultural operation may apply to the Board for a determination as to whether the disturbance results from a normal farm practice,” Orton noted.

The Act defines a normal farm practice as one that is,

  • “is conducted in a manner consistent with proper and acceptable customs and standards, as established and followed by similar agricultural operations under similar circumstances, or
  • makes use of innovative technology in a manner consistent with proper advanced farm management practices”

The ministry also adds, “What is normal, or not, varies depending on location, type of farm, method of operation, and timing of the farm practice. Normal is site specific for a given set of circumstances, and may change over time.”

All eyes will be on the results of ongoing research projects collaboratively undertaken by OMAFRA, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the University of Guelph, University of Windsor and Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG). Addressing light abatement products and best practices, final results are expected around 2023.

Update: Addressing community concerns and greenhouse needs

In a statement issued by OGVG on Dec. 18, the association says that while they recognize legitimate concerns from the community regarding greenhouse nighttime glow, they are concerned that the recently enacted by-laws in Kingsville and Leamington may be impractical and unenforceable.

“The realities of Canadian winters, such as low light levels and temperatures, mean that growers must provide plants with additional light and heat to support their growth. As a critical source of fresh local vegetables during the COVID-19 pandemic, that goal is only becoming more important,” continues the release.

In addition to light abatement solutions, OGVG is working with their partners on the adoption of good neighbour policies that can meet both the expectations of residents and the needs of greenhouse vegetable farmers.

“These research initiatives are ongoing and will provide growers with the technical knowledge needed to meet crop needs and provide more nighttime glow abatement”, said Joseph Sbrocchi, General Manager of OGVG. “I am confident that our work with government and academia will provide solutions that meet community expectations and ensure the continued production of safe, nutritious, local produce year-round”.