Ontario’s greenhouse industry is an important part of the future of sustainable food in Canada, and it needs our support.
Remember the jingle, “Good things grow in Ontario”? Good things are indeed still growing in Ontario, and today more good things are being grown locally in Ontario than ever before thanks to new innovations in the province’s greenhouse sector. Greenhouse-grown produce supports Ontario’s transition to a low-carbon economy, promotes food security in Canada, and is playing a critical role in the future of sustainable food. It’s time we give this growing and pioneering sector the recognition and support it deserves.
The benefits of carbon recapture
The greenhouse industry in Ontario is constantly innovating in order to improve its carbon footprint and to support Ontario’s shift to a new low-carbon economy.
“Growing in an enclosed, controlled environment offers us many opportunities to quantifiably capture carbon,” says Joseph Sbrocchi, Executive Director and General Manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG), a not-for-profit organization formed in 1967 that represents approximately 220 members who grow greenhouse produce on over 3,000 acres in Ontario. “For instance, on a normal day within an hour of daylight, greenhouse-grown plants will have already assimilated all the CO2 that’s in a greenhouse. We literally must feed the plants the CO2, to assist them in the photosynthesis process.” So, while all agriculture absorbs CO2, plants grown in greenhouse environments require more CO2, making greenhouses carbon sequestration machines, and with the supplemental lighting that is now in all the latest builds we give these plants the longest day of sunlight, 365 days of the year!
Greenhouse growing is highly sustainable not only due to its carbon sequestration, but also thanks to many other key features of the controlled environment, including less water usage, natural pollination, supplemental lighting/heating and simply, overall increased efficiency.
A sustainable and efficient solution
A benefit of hydroponic growing in greenhouses is that water can be recirculated, which prevents chemicals or nutrients from fertilizers leaching into groundwater.
And of course, greenhouse farming is naturally highly efficient. Greenhouses are able to grow up to 25 times more produce per square meter than crops grown via conventional farming thanks to the ability to heat and light greenhouses to summer conditions 365 days per year.
Technological innovations in the sector are increasing efficiency as well as sustainability. Sbrocchi points to algorithms that are able to forecast harvest times and yields, robotics being trialed throughout multiple areas of greenhouses, new cooling/dehumidification systems, alternative crops (including new greenhouse-grown berries, lettuces, beans, melons to name just a few), and the use of renewable fuels — including hydrogen and wind energy solutions — as some of the latest innovations in the field. “What demarcates our growers is their endless quest to be more efficient. To truly seek to be the global leaders in greenhouse growing,” he says.
Improving food security
The greenhouse sector also benefits Canadians by providing food security. “Solidifying the Canadian food supply system is incredibly important,” says Sbrocchi, also noting the ongoing Supply-chain disruptions and how these are not likely to resemble their former selves perhaps ever again. As weather patterns change and climate change accelerates, crops are increasingly threatened. And as the world’s population steadily rises, the need to significantly increase the global supply of crops to feed our burgeoning population is imminent.
Greenhouses provide consistent growing and therefore a consistent food supply, positively impacting Canada’s long-term food security equation both domestically and for export markets all year round. They can meet this need all while preserving valuable farmland and using less water and fewer chemicals.
“We’ll never be totally self-dependent, but to have some semblance of a strong local food supply is prudent for everybody,” says Sbrocchi.
Supporting the sector’s long-term viability is a must
Greenhouse-grown produce is essential for our future, and we must support the Ontario greenhouse sector as it continues to grow and innovate. Private-public sector partnerships are key to ongoing innovation, and Sbrocchi notes the need for collaboration between private sector businesses, government, and academia. “I think of it as a three-legged stool that supports and advances the projects and the sector,” he says.
In particular, government support of greenhouse farming not only contributes to the creation of a sustainable, fresh food source, but also helps to curb costs and food inflation. As farmers are increasingly getting hit with unprecedented costs — including higher costs on fertilizer, labour, carbon taxes, and other inputs — it’s more important than ever for all levels of government to support high-tech agriculture the way we’ve supported other sectors to remain competitive in the global economy. The future of food is sustainable and local, and Ontario’s greenhouse growers are leading the way — but they need our support in that journey.