Canada is a nation well-positioned to capitalize on the market for greenhouse-grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Each year there are more greenhouses operating, more greenhouse space available, and as result, greater output of greenhouse-produced products. Ontario leads all provinces in this area and generated over $1.6 billion in sales in 2016; during the same year, overall Canadian revenues were over $2.8 billion.
But as the industry grows, there has been a growing need for innovative technologies which reduce operating costs, improve yields, and support diverse product offerings. Energy efficient lighting and growing technologies are some of the most common investment areas for commercial greenhouse businesses because of their ability to drive greater profitability.
Government funding is even available to support the productivity and competitiveness of greenhouse growers. Government grants and loans can support the expansion of greenhouse space and offset a portion of costs related to technology adoption or research and development projects.
Greenhouse Innovation is Required for Canadian Competitiveness
Greenhouse growers in Canada are enjoying steady growth in the industry. The last six years of data available (2011-2016) shows an increase in sales, which includes domestic sales and export of goods to international markets. There are several factors that play into this trend, including:
- Consumers requesting locally-sourced food year-round;
- Crops being produced indoors that were previously too difficult; and
- A growing medical (and soon to be recreational) marijuana industry.
But despite strong sales performances in recent years, profits are being limited. Among other significant expenses, payroll and electricity costs continue to rise year-over-year and pose a risk to the price of greenhouse grown products. Greenhouse growers must find ways to manage these expenses and improve their margins to continue being successful.
Fortunately, energy costs can be minimized through smart facility investments. Purchasing energy-efficient lighting and growing systems are just two of the ways commercial greenhouse businesses can optimize their business and expand profitability.
Greenhouse Innovations to Improve Business Profitability
Commercial greenhouses can reduce operating costs significantly by implementing energy-efficient technologies. Two ways that innovators are revolutionizing the industry include:
- Commercial Greenhouse Grow Lights
- Commercial Greenhouse Growing Systems
Commercial Grow Lights
Supplemental greenhouse lighting is an absolute necessity in Canada. Darker months (typically November to March) mean that greenhouse growers who must increase energy input to help regulate ideal lighting and maximize crop quality. There are four main types of lighting used in Canadian greenhouses:
- High Intensity Discharge (HID)
- Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
- Induction Lighting
LED grow lights have been slowly integrated into the industry over the last 10-15 years and are now seen as the best choice for new lighting investments. They can be the most energy-efficient option and as the technology continues to improve, the cost of commercial LED grow lights will decrease. Not only are they a great choice economically, but they’re also being improved through new innovative ways, including experimentation on:
- The distance from lights to plants;
- The density and positioning of lighting units;
- The intensity and duration of supplemental lighting periods; and
- The wavelength of light emitted.
Commercial Greenhouse Growing Systems
A practical and cost-effective way to maximize productivity in commercial greenhouses is to optimize space and use innovative growing systems. Niagara College’s Greenhouse Nursery facility is one of the many innovators demonstrating new and improved greenhouse growing systems, such as:
- Hydroponic Systems: The process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients.
- Aquaponics Systems: The process of growing plants in water, where fish waste and microbes combine to feed root structures and support a healthy crop.
- Aeroponics Systems: Plant roots hang suspended in the air while nutrient solution is delivered to them in the form of a fine mist.
- Vertical Growing Systems: Using one of the three methods listed above but building the system vertically to maximize greenhouse height instead of using floor surface.
Government Funding for Greenhouse Investment Projects
Many of the greenhouse innovations discussed throughout this article can be integrated into a commercial greenhouse’s operations at reduced cost. Canadian government funding is widely available to support greenhouse growers’ productivity projects. This includes government grants and loans to support technology research and development, technology adoption, and training employees on how to use innovative growing systems.
To learn more about accessing Canadian government funding for greenhouse projects, consider downloading Mentor Works’ Canadian Small Business Funding Guide.