Sunny Bay expanding:

Canada: Delta greenhouse industry sees first major addition in years

After a building boom more than a decade ago, hothouse industry is seeing first major addition in years. The first large-scale greenhouse to be built in Delta in a number of years is taking shape along Highway 10. Sunny Bay Greenhouses Ltd., which has other hothouse facilities in the Fraser Valley, is constructing one on the site still occupied by the historic but crumbling Kittson House near the Highway 99 interchange.

The new greenhouse didn't go to Delta council for approval and was only dealt with at the staff level, having met all the building permit requirements, as well as provincial guidelines for greenhouse operations.

Noting council still deals with other aspects of greenhouses, including applications for worker housing, deputy planning director Marcy Sangret said the last application involving greenhouses in Delta was for an expansion to an existing operation in 2007.

There have been several applications over the past few years for migrant worker housing and cogeneration power plants at greenhouse sites, but none for new growing facilities, although a handful of operations have appeared in other communities. It's far cry from over a decade earlier when a race seemed to be on to build large greenhouses in Delta.

Asked why that's been the case, Windset Greenhouses COO John Newell said growth in the industry overall in recent years has been slow but steady. Noting large, hightech greenhouses are expensive undertakings requiring huge capital, he said the industry only now is catching up to the earlier massive growth through marketing.

"As well, there has been expansion in California and Arizona, Texas and places like that, which puts pressure here. But the biggest reason is Mexico has expanded so quickly in our industry that we've had trouble keeping up."

"We've had to show differences in quality and niche products and bringing along innovation and trying to stay out of that commodity deal. So our greenhouses here are trying to focus on niche items where we can compete with our higher standard," Newell said.

Windset's 41B Street operation has adapted with the times, specializing in such products as mini bell peppers, grape tomatoes and mini cucumbers, which have developed a strong following in Western Canada and US West Coast.

Noting the carbon tax break given only recently to greenhouses was a big financial burden lifted, Linda Delli Santi, executive director of the B.C. Greenhouse Growers' Association, is optimistic growth will occur in the province's hothouse industry, especially in Delta. She agreed the biggest challenge has been Mexico because many of its products were labeled as greenhouse grown even if that wasn't necessarily the case.

Photograph by: Gord Goble

"If you wanted to look at a level playing field, it was not really competition. In Mexico, they have what they call protected agriculture, which is a couple of posts that hold up a farm that has a cloth, and they called it greenhouses. We get a small premium in the marketplace for the positive attributes of greenhousegrown products, but their input costs were a whole lot less," she explained.

Delli Santi said a renegotiated agreement between the US and Mexico addressed the issue, which hopefully will lead to different classifications and codes, starting with tomatoes. She expects that to eventually include Canada.

Delta still has the highest concentration of greenhouses in the Lower Mainland, although they make up only a small percentage of the municipality's total farming base.

The latest Agricultural Land Use Inventory for Delta, conducted in the summer of 2010 by the Ministry of Agriculture, found that greenhouses cover 152 hectares (375 acres), equaling roughly two per cent of Delta's ALR land.

Not counting the greenhouse under construction on Highway 10, there are 15 glass greenhouses and another 18 poly greenhouses. All of the large greenhouses grow vegetables, which will also be the case with the Sunny Bay operation.


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