(UPDATED COVERAGE, MAY 21, 3:10 P.M.) A group of Leamington, Ontario, greenhouse growers have merged marketing operations to approach large customers as a united front.

The 20 growers recently merged their marketing operations with Leamington, Ontario greenhouse grower Clifford Produce.

The growers joined Clifford Produce for the selling power that comes with what they say will be one of the largest greenhouse produce marketing operations in North America.

The company, which became official April 18, operates as Clifford Produce, which has grown greenhouse vegetables in the area for more than 30 years. But now, instead of marketing tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers from 50 acres of greenhouse space, the merged company represents about 200 acres, or one-eighth of the total 1,600 greenhouse acres in Leamington, said Andrew Przytocki, marketing manager and co-owner.

"Basically, what we're trying to do is consolidate growers and market our products together," Przytocki said. "It's a case of the growers owning the marketing company. And, it's not a new company. Clifford Produce has been around a long time. It's not a new company at all. It's just building upon an old one."

Under the consolidation, all of the individual growers will maintain autonomy when it comes to production. However, all product will be marketed by Clifford Produce and will be shipped under the Paysanne label.

Most of the 20 companies involved in the merger were growers of similar products, including beefsteak and on the vine tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other items, including cocktail tomatoes, grape tomatoes and mini cucumbers.

Przytocki said, as retailers merged over the last several years, the situation created a case of too many suppliers competing for business.

"We've been talking about this for years," he said. "What we're essentially trying to do is decrease competition. (With this merger), we have selling power so we can supply the bigger buyers with product they're looking for."

Przytocki, who said he'd been working specifically on this merger since last September, said the timing of the consolidation didn't have anything to do with the economic recession.

"That's totally a coincidence," he said. "The economy actually helped us, because energy prices have come down, and people are staying home more to eat instead of going out. People still have to eat."

Przytocki said Clifford Produce's ultimate goal is to eventually bring 600 acres of greenhouse operations under one roof.

"But that's getting ahead of ourselves," he said. "Right now, we just want to see this new merger through and get the operation running smoothly and efficiently. Then, we can think about adding acreage."