Demand grows for protected agriculture products - The Packer

Demand grows for protected agriculture products

12/16/2011 01:19:00 PM
Susie Cable

Shippers and growers say they look forward to a solid season, with increased demand for and production of protected agriculture crops.

“The demand for greenhouse produce has grown exponentially each year,” said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columba. “We expect this year to be no different.”

Grower-shippers say they are confident there won’t be another freeze like the one that occurred in February and damaged many crops in Mexico.

Still, many growers have converted open fields to protected agriculture, and some have replaced mesh protection with plastic for better insulation.

In late November, growers said crops were on schedule, and some were shipping from greenhouses in California and Mexico.

Some specifically promote produce grown in protective structures as “greenhouse-grown,” while others say they prefer not to differentiate between their field-grown and protected agriculture crops.

Although consumers might have a general understanding of what it means to use protected agriculture, grower-shippers say there’s a need for education, particularly when it comes to explaining benefits related to pest control, resource use and specific growing techniques such as hydroponics.

“Protected agriculture” is a broad category that covers various types of structures, including greenhouses and shade houses, that provide a closed environment in which to grow. While the term “greenhouse” often is used to refer to the broader category, a greenhouse actually is a specific type of protected agriculture structure.

Eric Viramontes, chief executive officer of the Mexican Association for Protected Horticulture, Culiacan, likens it to using the name of a specific dog breed to refer to the whole category of canines.

Just as dog breeds can vary greatly, so can protected agriculture systems, he said.

“When you’re talking about protected agriculture, you’re talking about tailor-made technology,” Viramontes said.

A high-technology system is not necessarily better than a low-technology system, he said. What’s important is that the system is able to protect crops from the environment.

“Which (elements) you’re going to protect from and manage … depends on where you are,” Viramontes said.

Nogales, Ariz.-based SunFed uses greenhouses and shade houses, depending on geographic location, said Danny Mandel, principal.

Both are good technologies, and one doesn’t inherently offer better quality, greater production or more sustainable practices, Mandel said.

Instead of describing structures as high- or low-tech systems, Viramontes classifies them as passive or active.

Because Mexico’s climate is conducive to growing, growers can use less active technologies than what can be used in severe climates, he said.

About 60% in Mexico use passive technology, he said.

Viramontes said 256 growers with about 18,000 acres of protected agriculture in 26 states in Mexico are AMHPAC members.

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