Workers install equipment in a new warehouse and packing facility at Nature Fresh Farms in Leamington, Ontario, in mid-January. The facility is scheduled to be operational for this year's harvest, which is expected to begin in March.
Workers install equipment in a new warehouse and packing facility at Nature Fresh Farms in Leamington, Ontario, in mid-January. The facility is scheduled to be operational for this year's harvest, which is expected to begin in March.

LEAMINGTON, Ontario — Growing, growing, grown?

Not quite yet.

Greenhouse capacity in Ontario, Canada, continues to increase, with almost 8% more acres planted as of January compared to a year ago.

Another 91 acres are scheduled to come into production this year, according to George Gilvesy, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association.

The association does an annual count in January to calculate each grower’s assessment for the organization, which is 2.51 cents per square foot.

Membership in the association is mandatory. Greenhouse acreage in Ontario spans 2,067 acres.

For 2012 there are 223 growers on the association’s books. Their farms range from half an acre to about 130 acres.

The average is 9 acres, but many growers work under agreements that gather hundreds of acres under the direction of larger companies.

Continued growth?

Jim DiMenna, president of JemD Farms, has been in the greenhouse fresh produce industry for decades. He is scheduled to be installed as the chairman of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association in April.

“We had about 10% growth in acres in Ontario in 2011 and will see about the same by the end of 2012,” DiMenna said, cautioning that although he believes there is room for continued growth, it’s not the best of business climates for everyone.

“The smaller operations are in jeopardy. It takes $300,000 to $400,000 per acre to build the less expensive plastic greenhouses. It’s just not possible for a lot of smaller operations to do that,” he said.

“And even with the larger ones, the issue is will you be able to sell that much more produce. (The industry is) on the right side of the question for the most part, though, because of the health concerns and movements to increase consumption of fresh vegetables.”

A few of the expansion projects in southwestern Ontario’s greenhouse industry:

Clifford Produce Sales Inc., Ruthven, operates with 16 grower shareholders. Phil Thornton, sales manager, said one of the growers added about 8 acres for this season. Overall, Clifford has about 117 acres under its umbrella.

Del Fresco Produce Ltd. in Kingsville has grown from 1 acre to more than 70 under the guidance of Carl Mastronardi and his father. The elder immigrated to Canada in 1952 from Italy.

The company has enjoyed steady acreage growth, with Mastronardi adding to his cucumber production last year, bringing Del Fresco’s cucumber acres to 24 this season.

Ontario greenhouses add acreageMucci Farms in Kingsville has 30 new greenhouse acres coming online for 2012, and there are plans for another 45 acres to be added in the coming four to five years, according to Joe Spano, vice president for sales and marketing. A 60,000 square-foot warehouse is also on tap for Mucci.

He estimated the cost of the modern greenhouses with higher roofs to be about $750,000 per acre. Spano said there are about 10,000 plants per acre, adding that the company ships about 100,000 cases of product a week when it is in full harvest mode.

Nature Fresh Farms has been growing so fast that the company has split its projects into numbered phases. Phases one through four include 68 acres of peppers and 32 acres of tomatoes on-the-vine and other specialties, said Jay Colasanti, of the Nature Fresh sales and marketing department.

The company expects to begin harvesting beefsteak tomatoes at its newest greenhouse during the third week of February.

An expansive warehouse and packing facility is coming on line just in time for the beginning of harvest this spring at Phase 3.

Their beefsteak production is anticipated to increase by about 1.5 million boxes, Colasanti said.

Nature Fresh expects to ship more than 5 million cartons of produce in 2012.

Pure Hot House Foods Inc. added a fresh-cut facility in 2010 to handle new product lines. The products were so popular that they contributed to the company’s plans to increased acres in 2011.

Sandra Dick, assistant director of marketing, said Pure Hot House has about 30% more greenhouse acreage than it did last year.

Westmoreland Sales is adding 23 acres of cucumbers this year, including 8 acres of mini cucumbers that are already in production. Westmoreland produces cucumbers year-round in some of its Canadian greenhouses.

Dino Dilaudo, sales consultant for Westmoreland, said the company has 3.5 acres of mini cukes under grow lights to ensure that availability.

“We try to forward contract those from the grow light sections,” Dilaudo said, adding that the grow lights add significantly to the cost of production.