Peter Quiring, founder and president of Nature Fresh Farms Inc., Leamington, Ontario, didn’t start his career in the produce industry but he’s certainly making his mark in it by focusing on innovation.

That might make sense, since his background is in mechanical engineering.

Peter Quiring, Nature Fresh Farms Inc.At 15, he started working in a metal fabrication shop. He eventually tried to open his own shop in 1989 but wasn’t entirely successful.

He went back to school and earned a certification in mechanical engineering and product design, after which he eventually opened his own successful business, South Essex Fabricating, which constructed an 18-acre greenhouse using new technology from Europe.

Instead of selling the operation, he decided to take it on himself, creating Nature Fresh Farms, which grew to become the largest greenhouse operation in Canada.

Now, Quiring, 49, serves as the president for both companies, which helps him implement the newest technology for greenhouse operations and install automated packing machinery to lower input costs and increase productivity.

“It’s old-fashioned values with modern innovation,” he says, referencing the highly automated system Nature Fresh uses.

“We’ve taken out a lot of the manual labor and replaced it with automation, which is kind of forced on us because everyone is looking for lower costs every day. It’s just really important to be a low-cost producer now,” Quiring said.

It’s clear his background plays a key role in keeping his company up to date and that interest in innovation is important to Quiring’s success.

Dave Hildebrandt, chief financial officer for Nature Fresh Farms, has worked with Quiring for about four years and has seen evidence of his passion.

“His background is in engineering, and he really enjoys a lot of the automation. He’s traveled all around the world, and he has a good eye for what will work in North America. He brings back an idea and is able to automate things for better productivity or better quality,” he said.

Hildebrandt has also been involved in several expansions at Nature Fresh.

“He brings in the latest and greatest in automation, such as packing lines and other things that will reduce labor costs and increase productivity,” he said.

Quiring also is involved in seed trials and other research to find better varieties and ways to build better greenhouses. This constant desire for evolution and improvement has allowed Nature Fresh to become a leader in the industry.

Still, his greatest passion is providing a healthy product to consumers.

“We are in the health business,” he said. “Automation is exciting, but freshness and quality is No. 1.”

In fact, some of his proudest moments come from visitors to the greenhouse facilities.

“A lot of people come through for tours from different parts of the world, and before they come they have no idea what goes into growing bell peppers or tomatoes. That’s one of those proud moments when people realize how much thought we put into the food safety, environmental aspects and all of it.”