Delta, British Columbia-based Windset Farms is expanding its western greenhouse operations to California.

The new facility, to be built in Santa Maria, will include four 32-acre greenhouses, a packinghouse, cold storage and offices, said Steven Newell, chief executive officer. The operation will focus on growing several varieties of tomatoes.

"We believe we can more competitively produce tomatoes on a cost per kilogram basis in California than we can in Canada," Newell said.

The varieties planned for Santa Maria include vine-ripe tomatoes, vine-ripe romas, cocktail tomatoes on the vine and loose grape tomatoes, he said. The company may add cucumbers and bell peppers in the future.

Windset Farms is western Canada's largest marketer of cucumbers and bell peppers, Newell said, and the California operation will serve to complement the British Columbia production. Produce will be trucked from one facility to the other to provide consolidation services for Windset Farms' customers.

"Santa Maria will be used as a distribution facility for California and the Southwest, while Delta will be a distribution center for western Canada and the Pacific Northwest," he said.

The Santa Maria greenhouses will follow the lead of the Delta operation in that growing will be year round using a hydroponics drip system and no pesticides or herbicides, Newell said. The plants are bedded in bagged, ground coconut husks, a medium that is biodegradable, he said.

Windset Farms considered putting the new facility in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, Newell said, but decided on California because the Santa Maria climate works well with the company's new greenhouse design. Greenhouse production, he said, can be as much as 40 times higher than an equal amount of open land.

"Site preparation is under way and we have the necessary permits," Newell said.

The first two greenhouses, the packinghouse, cold storage and offices should be ready for fall 2010 production, he said.

Newell declined to reveal the cost of building the Santa Maria project, but said, "it's in the tens of millions of dollars."

The company's management and production work force will be about 200 for the first two greenhouses, Newell said.

Windset Farms grows and markets fresh produce in more than 70 acres of greenhouses in Delta, and the company markets produce from Canadian contract growers operating nearly 300 additional acres, he said.