Greenhouse vegetable suppliers expect a strong start to the Canadian deal, with many growers reporting volume increases from last year.


BC Hot House, Langley, British Columbia, began shipping greenhouse cucumbers and eggplant from Canada in late February, said Kevin Batt, sales director.


Tomatoes were expected to follow in mid-March and peppers in mid-April.


The Canadian growing season was right on track as of late February, with enough sunlight to help plants grow, Batt said.


“It’s all predetermined by light, and from what I’m hearing it should be on time,” he said.


After a cold, cloudy start to winter, by mid-February the weather had turned in Leamington, said Jay Colasanti, who works in sales and market development for Leamington-based Nature Fresh Farms Inc.


“We didn’t really see the sun until February,” he said. “But it’s shining now. It feels like spring.”


Nature Fresh began contracting Leamington-grown mini cucumbers in early February. Peppers were expected to follow at the beginning of March and tomatoes-on-the vine by the second week of March, Colasanti said. The company grows its own peppers and tomatoes.


Nature Fresh expects to begin selling baby eggplant from Leamington by about the end of March.


Tomato, eggplant and cuke volumes should be similar this year for Nature Fresh, but the company’s pepper volumes will likely be up by 1% to 15%, Colasanti said.


BC Hot House expects to grow its volumes by 28% this year and by 45% in 2012, Batt said. Much of that will come in bell pepper growth. Two of the company’s pepper growers added greenhouses this season, he said.


In the tomato category, the company’s main grower is diversifying this season, adding more romas, sweet cherries and other varieties in addition to his mainstay, beefsteaks, Batt said.


Both the pepper category expansion and the tomato category diversification are being driven by customer demand, he said.


In terms of growing regions, Mexico is experiencing the biggest growth for BC.


“We’ve expanded our winter programs to better dovetail our summer volumes, meaning 12 months of continued growth,” Batt said. “Mexico and regions in South America are growing at a faster rate.”


Ruthven, Ontario-based Clifford Produce is shipping tomatoes, cucumbers, mini cucumbers, sweet colored bell peppers, specialty peppers and specialty tomatoes from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. this year, said Anthony Totta, marketing director.


While Clifford is growing sales across the board, the tomatoes-on-the-vine category is seeing the biggest gains among mainstream commodities, Totta said.


As its on-the-vine volumes increase, the company’s beefsteak production has declined, he said.


In late winter and early spring, Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group expects to ship from all three of its greenhouse vegetable growing regions, said Aaron Quon, greenhouse category director for Mexico, Canada and California.


The company began shipping organic cucumbers from British Columbia the week of Feb. 21, with conventional and organic tomatoes, peppers and other commodities expected by the end of March, Quon said.


All Canadian-grown commodities are expected to come off right on time, he said.


“The weather’s been pretty good up there,” he said.


Oppenheimer plans to ship a full line of red, yellow and orange on-the-vine tomatoes; beef tomatoes; strawberry, grape and amarosa specialty tomatoes; long English and miniature cucumbers; colored bell peppers; living herbs; and, from Mexico, slicer cucumbers this season, Quon said.


Oppenheimer’s Mexico deal this season began in October and should last until May or June, Quon said.


The company ships from its grower partner’s 125-acre facility in Oxnard, Calif., 12 months out of the year, Quon said. California acreage is unchanged from last year, he said.


Madison, Maine-based Backyard Farms LLC is growing tomatoes-on-the-vine and cocktail tomatoes on about 42 acres this year, similar to last year, said Tim Cunniff, executive vice president of sales and marketing.


Backyard Farms grows tomatoes year-round, using grow lights in the winter, Cunniff said.


“Fruit ripens faster in the spring and summer, but we don’t gap at all,” he said.


Global Fresh Import & Export, Naples, Fla., a subsidiary of Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co., will ship a full line of tomatoes-on-the-vine, beefsteak tomatoes, colored bells and English cucumbers this season, said Gregg Biada, vice president.


Volumes and product mix should be similar to last season for Global Fresh, said Biada, who expected good quality out of Canada.


“The plants look good,” he said. “They’re strong and healthy. There’s nothing to set them back.”


Global Fresh began shipping Leamington-grown cucumbers in mid-February, with other commodities expected to begin shipping in March.


“By the second week of April we should be in full swing,” Biada said.


Doug Kling, chief sales and marketing officer for Village Farms, Eatontown, N.J., said volumes from the company’s British Columbia and Texas facilities would likely peak from mid-April to mid-June.


“We’re pretty excited” about the upcoming peak season, Kling said. “We’re just starting in B.C., and the cycles coming out of Texas are looking great.”


Village Farms expects its product mix this year to be about 80% tomatoes, 15% peppers and 5% cucumbers, he said.