Ontario greenhouse growers are expected to produce nearly 250 million English cucumbers, more than 125 million pounds of bell peppers and more than 385 million pounds of tomatoes this year, according to Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, and those already significant numbers are likely to increase in the future.

Ontario’s 224 greenhouse operations added a total of 54 acres, for a total of 1,878 acres, in 2010, and several grower-shippers said they were increasing their acreage again in 2011.

“We are anticipating a small acreage increase again this year as we have heard of individual growers’ intentions to expand,” said George Gilvesy, general manager of Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Leamington. “Access to credit has tightened somewhat, but those growers with good business plans do not seem to be impeded.”

Vice president of sales and marketing Matt Mastronardi said the bitterly cold winter has increased heating costs, but weather has not delayed crops at Pure Hot House Foods Inc., Leamington, Ontario. Mastronardi said Jan. 24 that the company already was shipping long English and baby cucumbers.

Though several shippers said they had started moving cucumbers by late January, the USDA had not established a market price in Ontario as of Jan. 25.

“Next to come in late February will be baby eggplants and sweet bell peppers,” he said. “Near the middle to end of March we will start harvesting our beefstake tomatoes and TOVs.”

Peter Quiring, owner of Nature Fresh Farms Inc., Leamington, said extremely cold temperatures actually can be a good thing for greenhouse production.

“Our winter has been consistently cold, which is actually a benefit to the control of pests,” he said. “Our biological control is more effective when the outside pressures are reduced with this type of weather.”

Nature Fresh Farms is adding 32 acres this year for production of specialty and beefsteak tomatoes. Quiring said the expansion will allow the company to ship 1 million cases of beefsteak tomatoes this year.

“We believe our efforts and investments keep us in the lowest cost of production by way of higher percentages of premium sizes and quality, which brings better values as well as increase overall production,” he said. “This is how we see our ability to maintain our steady growth in the business.”

Quiring said Nature Fresh planned to begin pepper production March 1 and tomato production March 15.

Ontario growers said winter freezes that damaged crops in Florida were not expected to affect demand for their own products.

“Our understanding of the Florida freeze is that the production areas mostly affected were winding down,” Quiring said. “We expect very normal markets in our start-up window.”

While Ontario has had its share of cold winter days, Ray Mastronardi, director of sales and purchasing for Del Fresco Produce, Kingsville, Ontario, said the area has benefited from plenty of sunshine.

“We have been getting more sunny days this winter, which is speeding up when our crops go to market,” he said.

Mastronardi said Jan. 20 that Del Fresco already had started shipping seedless cucumbers. He said tomatoes and bell peppers should start from early to mid-March, “depending on how much sunlight we get in next month.”

Del Fresco added 10 acres of peppers this year and is in the process of expanding its cucumber facility, Mastronardi said.

Sources said growers have completed repairs that were necessary following a June 2010 tornado that caused $24 million in damages to 16 acres.

“All repairs have been made,” said Chris Jacobs, president of Clifford Produce Sales Inc., Ruthven, Ontario. “In fact, some of our family farms have added additional acreage.

“The economy makes expanding a bit more challenging. Our costs of operations have grown, but we are implementing upgraded technology that makes us more efficient. These efficiencies are allowing us to compensate for the additional expenses.”