Greenhouse technology saves on input costs

12/18/2009 04:15:00 PM
Andy Nelson

More and more, North American greenhouse vegetable producers are turning to technology to take a bite out of high input costs.

To reduce energy costs, Canadian greenhouses almost all rely on at least two sources of heating, so they can adjust depending on which source is cheaper, said Dino Dilaudo, sales manager for Leamington, Ontario-based Westmoreland Sales.

Natural gas, coal, heavy oil and wood are among the many sources of fuel employed by Leamington growers, Dilaudo said.

“We keep ourselves informed on what’s out there, so we don’t pay too much to heat our greenhouses,” he said. “If natural gas goes through the roof, most have the capacity to switch.”

Some Canadian greenhouse growers also are taking advantage of another fuel-saving measure, Dilaudo said. They are attaching greenhouses to electrical plants and using their leftover hot water to heat their plants.

The practice is more common in the Netherlands — sometimes to the detriment of North American producers, Dilaudo said.

Significant acreage has been added in Holland attached to “co-gen” electrical plants, he said.

Many of the extra bell peppers being grown in them have found their way to North America, deflating markets, he said.

“We’ve seen prices (on import peppers) we’ve never seen before,” he said. “It puts downward pressure on our prices.”

“Co-gen” is “a little more tricky in Canada,” Dilaudo said, because energy prices in Canada are controlled by the government, not the free market, as they are in Holland, he said.

Nevertheless, he said, “there are guys doing it, and guys keeping a close eye on how it’s working” in Canada.

The new 40-acre expansion of its Oxnard, Calif., grower partner’s greenhouse vegetable operation is 100% sustainable, said Aaron Quon, greenhouse vegetable category manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

That’s not only good for the environment, it’s also good for the bottom line — an especially important consideration in the input cost-heavy greenhouse industry.

The Oxnard facility, for example, is equipped with solar panels to draw energy from the sun, Quon said. Reclaimed water is purified and reused in the facility — as a result, it uses about a third less energy than a conventional greenhouse, he said.

Nutrients also are recycled at the new Oxnard greenhouse, reducing fertilizer costs —which have been rising industrywide the past couple of years — by 50%, Quon said.



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