Breaking into the organic sector this season with bell peppers, Pete Quiring said he and his growers learned a lot during trials last year when they were searching for the right variety and growing techniques.
“We successfully killed one experiment, but we replanted,” said Quiring, president of Nature Fresh Farms, Leamington, Ontario.
“Our intention was to push the plants to the fail point to see how much was too much.”
The 600-square-meter test plots of organic bells last year turned into 5 full acres for the 2014 season, Quiring said. Most of Nature Fresh’s organic bells will be red, with a few yellow and orange peppers in the greenhouse, too, for this season, he said.
Quiring said the decision to enter the organic scene was not made lightly. The higher costs of seed, additional labor required, more expensive growth media and lower yields combine to make organic growing less profitable than conventional.
“It is exceedingly difficult to get certified,” Quiring said. “The nutrients eligible to use are fairly limited, but ... we don’t use manure.”
Nature Fresh is continuing its organic research in hopes of getting costs down and yields up, Quiring said. Once it gets its organic bell pepper production set, the company plans to begin work on organic cucumbers.
Quiring said pricing for the Nature Fresh organic varieties will be higher than the company’s conventional greenhouse produce, at least initially. He said that eventually the marketplace will decide the prices.
George Gilvesy, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, Leamington, said a few other growers are looking at organic production, but that it is “not a big movement” yet in the region along the northern shore of Lake Erie, the location of most of the greenhouses.
Joe Spano, vice president of sales and marketing for Mucci Farms, Kingsville, Ontario, said the company has begun the certification process to handle and repack organic produce.
He said Mucci Farms is looking for organic growing partners and hopes to be able to handle and repack organic commodities by the end of the 2014 season.
The move toward organics is fueled by consumer interest, Spano and Quiring said.
That interest is increasing, according to the Canadian Organic Trade Association, Ottawa, Ontario.
The organic association’s 2013 report showed 98% of organic shoppers expect to increase their organic spending in 2014.
The organization reported fresh fruits and vegetables account for 40% of organic food sales in Canada, making fresh produce the largest organic food category in the country.