(Feb. 18, 5:18 p.m.) There’s not a lot of expansion going on for most greenhouse growers in Ontario, but when they are adding on, it’s to become more efficient.

“We’re not seeing a lot of change for 2009, but we don’t see a lot of expansion any place right now,” said Mark Slater, co-owner of Erie James Ltd., Leamington. “Everybody’s staying the same size as they are and trying to become as efficient as they can.”

Expansion in the greenhouse industry has slowed down exponentially, said Mario Testani, sales manager for Clifford Produce Sales Inc., Ruthven.

That doesn’t apply to every grower and marketer in the area, but it does seem to be a trend for most.

“At my farm everyone is looking at how to get more output and how to be more efficient, but that’s every season,” said Matt Mastronardi, salesman for Pure Hot House Foods Inc., Leamington.

Alternative fuel

Boilers that use alternative fuels seem to be the most popular new items for growers.

“They’re all trying to save on expenses, from wood chip boilers instead of natural gas to other energy efficient measures,” said Fred Koornneef, president of Koornneef Produce Ltd. Koornneef Produce represents about 100 acres worth of growers.

“Sometimes you can’t get more on your product so you have to look at how to save money.”

Erie James put in a new boiler in December 2008 that can burn five different types of fuel, Slater said. The company markets for more than 100 acres of greenhouse and operates a 17-acre greenhouse itself. The new boiler can run on natural gas, coal, boiler oil, garbage pellets or wood, Slater said.

Kingsville-based Mastronardi Produce Ltd. also uses multiple forms of energy fuel, including natural gas, wood and biomass pellets, said Paul Mastronardi, executive vice president.

“For us, natural gas still isn’t back down to where it was five years ago, so it’s still not down to where we want it,” he said.

Valerie Fracchioni, co-owner of Bayshore Vegetable Shippers, said a couple of the Burlington-based company’s growers have switched over to wood-burning boilers, but that some are still sticking to natural gas.

Dave Pereira, sales and marketing manager for Leamington-based Mor Gro Inc., said the company was meeting in late January to look at an energy efficient biomass boiler. The boiler would run off wood chips or pellets.

“I think they’re waiting in the wings for growers like us to see what we want to do,” Pereira said. “That’ll be an investment on its own.”

Double Diamond Acres Ltd., Leamington, is also looking at wood-burning boilers, as well as wind generators, said Nick Mastronardi, president.

“Definitely energy’s a significant factor in our input cost, so we’re definitely looking at anything that could make us more energy efficient,” he said.

Slater said the company is also putting a lot of effort into making its operations more efficient by researching and trying better varieties and growing techniques.

“We’re constantly trying new things to know what’s the best for the grower and what’s the best way to grow,” Slater said. “We all understand that with the economy, fuel and transportation costs, that’s very difficult to pass along to the consumer. We try to counter those increases with being more efficient. Instead of spending money expanding, we’re spending money to be as efficient as we can possibly be.”

“Every year you grow beefsteak you’ll have new varieties that you’ll try and it will get better,” Mastronardi said. “I think a lot of people overlook that we still sell a lot of red peppers.

“It’s expanding that, making sure a majority of what you sell is grown the best way possible. If peppers represent 40% of what you sell, then put a lot of concentration on that.”