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 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, 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.”
- Lethbridge College’s greenhouse research facility at Brooks, AB is 60,000 sq ft and operates to advance greenhouse research and demonstration for Alberta producers.
- Sunterra’s commercial greenhouse operation in Acme, Alberta will be built to accommodate 70-acres of growing space making it one of the largest food production areas under glass in Alberta. The first 20-acre phase is scheduled for completion in October 2021.
- Sunterra anticipates that up to 200 new jobs will be created once the greenhouse expansion is complete over the next 3-4 years.
- There are approximately 230 greenhouse operations in Alberta.
- Alberta’s greenhouse industry supports over 2,000 full-time and over 2,500 part-time jobs
- In 2020, Alberta earned approximately $118.8 million gross revenue from its greenhouse
- Alberta can expand greenhouse food production from 200 acres under glass to 1000 acres within five years, creating 3000 new jobs and generating $1 billion in revenue.
To learn more about RDAR research projects, please visit rdar.ca/research
RDAR is a not-for-profit organization that will continually consult with Alberta’s crop and livestock producers to set research priorities and distribute funds. Its mandate is to support results driven agriculture research priorities and programs that will increase the competitiveness and profitability of Alberta’s agriculture industry. Arm’s length from the provincial government, RDAR is funded by two sources: The Government of Alberta, the Government of Canada, and Alberta’s Government through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership program. rdar.ca
About Lethbridge College
Lethbridge College opened in 1957 as the first publicly funded community college in Canada. Over 6,000 students attend the College, and it is a member of the Alberta Rural Development Network. Agriculture research teams at Lethbridge College operate under the Integrated Agriculture Technology Centre (IATC) within the Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CARIE). The IATC connects small- and medium-sized enterprises in the agriculture industry with the technologies and research expertise at Lethbridge College to enhance their productivity, competitiveness and innovation results. Lethbridge College has been recognized as one of Canada’s fastest-growing research colleges while earning its highest ever placement in 2020’s annual ranking of Canada’s top 50 research colleges. The college placed 26th on the top 50 list released by Research Infosource and ranked third in research income growth.
About Sunterra Group
Sunterra Greenhouse is the latest addition to the Sunterra Group. Based in Acme, Alberta, alongside the Sunterra Farms Head Office and Soleterra d’Italia, Sunterra Greenhouse will incorporate 20 acres of the latest technological advancements to supply premium, locally grown strawberries and vine tomatoes year-round. Grown under glass with strictly controlled microclimate conditions, the greenhouse will provide optimal growing conditions for the plants to thrive, even in cold winter climates. The greenhouse expansion plan includes three additional phases over the next 3-5 years, for a total of 70 acres, with the first phase scheduled for planting October 2021.