As the shade house tomato industry expands in Baja California, Mexico, greenhouse production is on the rise in California.
“In California, you have one of the largest expansions in the greenhouse industry taking place,” said Ed Beckman, chief executive officer for Certified Greenhouse Farmers, a Bellevue, Wash.-based group of 40 greenhouse growers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Delta, British Columbia-based Houweling’s Nurseries, which has 125 acres of greenhouses at Houweling’s Tomatoes in Camarillo, Calif., and Delta-based Windset Farms, which expects to expand its greenhouse operation in Santa Maria, Calif., to 128 acres by late summer or early fall, are the state’s top greenhouse producers.
Tomatoes from high-tech greenhouses in California and elsewhere are making major inroads into supermarkets throughout North America.
“The greenhouse industry has pretty much captured more than a majority of the retailer business in California,” Beckman said.
Data from Chicago-based Nielsen Perishables Group Inc. shows that greenhouse product has become dominant in big-box stores as well as conventional supermarkets, he said.
Retail buyers are reaching out to greenhouse growers because they can supply the tomato category with “many different varieties that go across the entire spectrum,” Beckman said.
Besides round, roma, cherry and grape tomatoes, greenhouses now produce heirloom and numerous varieties of specialty tomatoes, and they grow them year round.
“Being able to provide product throughout the year is a tremendous advantage,” Beckman said.
Houweling’s was in the news last summer when Casey Houweling, president and chief executive officer, switched on an 8.8-megawatt heat-and-power cogeneration plant in Camarillo — the first of its kind in the U.S.
“It’s all part of the efficiencies we’re seeing in the greenhouse industry in California,” Beckman said.
Windset is in the process of completing its fourth greenhouse in Santa Maria and continues to pick up new customers, said Steven Newell, president and chief executive officer.
Greenhouse operations are “capital intensive going in” and require a high degree of expertise, Beckman said.
But he still anticipates continued growth in the category.
“As long as the demand is there for the product,” he said, “I’m sure that the growers will be looking at expansion.”