Buying “local” has become increasingly important to Canadians. However, in a country where temperatures can stay well below zero for half of the year, and amidst increasing concerns over the impact that recent climate events will have on the agricultural sector, producers are looking for ways to grow and supply Canadians with locally sourced fresh produce throughout the year.
The Canadian greenhouse sector is the fastest-growing segment of Canadian horticulture due partly to the dedication and hard work of producers across the country. Greenhouse-grown vegetables are a billion-dollar industry in Canada; Alberta contributed approximately $118.8 million in sales in 2020, up from $55.7 million in 2016. Moreover, Alberta’s greenhouse sector is an essential driver in transitioning to energy-efficient sustainable agricultural production.
Lethbridge College and Sunterra Greenhouse recognize that the current demand for fresh, locally grown produce far outstrips the available supply in a market reliant on Mexican and US imports for most of the year. Lethbridge College will provide greenhouse research expertise to support applied research activities and develop new learnings to advance innovative indoor growing techniques in Alberta.
“Alberta-made food is delicious, and the development of our food sector supports local businesses and self-sufficiency," says Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. "This new greenhouse project for Alberta-grown strawberries will provide year-round produce for families across our province.”
Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) will invest $783,205 in this project. RDAR recognizes the importance of Producer – Public-Private Partnerships (4P) and how collaborations like this will benefit our agri-food industry.
“Supporting local, sustainable food production by empowering research will improve the food we eat, the air we breathe and will bring vital jobs to communities in rural Alberta," says Clinton Dobson, Research Director, RDAR. "This project is a great example of two organizations working together to improve greenhouse yields in Alberta and demonstrate production practices for the growth of Alberta’s greenhouse sector.”
This project aims to optimize the growing conditions for pre-commercial and commercial-scale production of strawberries and tomatoes on the vine and boost Alberta’s crop output during times of limited supply and low import quality. Recognizing the project's unique attributes, RDAR’s contribution supports greenhouse production technology evolution, which can help determine the optimal conditions for growing quality, fresh produce year-round in Alberta. Alberta’s landscape is primed and ready for a boom in greenhouse production. RDAR funding will help increase food security for all Canadians by decreasing our reliance on imported fruit and vegetables.
“It’s a good news story; we believe that for Alberta, agriculture is the future and in a lot of ways will be an economic growth driver," says Ray Price, President of Sunterra Group. "We have land, we have energy, we have people, and we have water, and we should be using those to feed not only Albertans but people around the world.”
Through this project, Lethbridge College will continue to build on its unique expertise in sustainable food production, improving indoor growing conditions by establishing best practices for water and nutrient management and energy efficiency. Through technological innovations greenhouse operations will increase their environmental efficiency while making their operations more productive and competitive.
“This grant funding begins a long-term research collaboration between Lethbridge College and Sunterra Farms Greenhouses Ltd.," says Dr. Kenny Corscadden, Associate Vice President Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Lethbridge College. "Together, we recognize the significant opportunity in Alberta for greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables. There is excellent market potential in our province for both strawberries and tomatoes, and these pre-commercial trials in our Brooks Research and Production Greenhouse with Sunterra will contribute to this growing sector.”
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