renewable energy, reduce water, waste, materials:

Canada: Three year project on sustainable greenhouse growing in Alberta

A three-year project working with the greenhouse industry, developed by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development staff, will address issues related to environmental management and productivity for Alberta’s greenhouse industry. By achieving environmental reductions in water, materials, wastes and energy, and effectively reducing its environmental footprint, Alberta’s greenhouse industry has the opportunity to increase productivity, profit and market share, plus meet consumer demands for a ‘green’ product.
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“Through provincial and national news magazines, many Albertans have heard about environmental/carbon footprint: the reduction of water, material, and energy use and the reduction of wastes generation,” says Toso Bozic, P.Ag., agroforester/bioenergy specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. “This project addresses all of these factors. We want to provide hands-on practical information through various sessions and tours. We are looking to develop benchmarks and develop a performance overview for the whole industry. We are also looking to develop a Best Management Practices (BMP) guide and tools that industry members can use to measure their performance on water, material, wastes and energy efficiency.”

One of the first steps that the project team is working on is to find out what large retailers require from their suppliers when it comes to their environmental footprint. Right now, there are no standards and it is left to the individual company to set their own standards and goals. For example, Wal-Mart has set three environmental sustainability goals:
  • to be supplied 100 per cent by renewable energy
  • to create zero waste
  • to sell products that sustain people and the environment
Other large and medium sized companies have also set environmental suitability goals as part of their corporate philosophy. With each company having a different set of rules for their suppliers, greenhouse crop producers are at a loss to know what expectations are.
“For most producers, in the short term, it will not impact sales or production management systems,” says Bozic. “However, as time goes on, there will be more pressure from large retailers to see production records on water, material, wastes and energy use. The result is that producers may face challenges to meet their requirements.”

The intent of this project is to help the greenhouse industry determine:
  • what requirements are necessary to be able to designate a product ‘green’
  • how fast the market place will be implementing these changes
  • what other future environmental management regulations could affect the industry
The question for most producers is whether or not they can become more efficient and do better in the reduction of water, material, wastes and energy. To address this challenge, three things are needed:
  • establish a baseline – establishing a baseline for each individual greenhouse or operation is a crucial first step. Knowing how each particular greenhouse operates and with what efficiencies is essential when trying to determine where changes are needed. While most operators know how much they pay for heat or electricity, they may not know how much heat or electricity or water each individual greenhouse is using. Guessing isn’t good enough. Before making changes in lighting or pumps or any other greenhouse equipment, it’s important to know how efficiently current equipment is, and what, if any, efficiency benefits can be realized with an equipment change.
  • know how reliable and efficient the current equipment is – if equipment breaks down, it can impact an entire production operation and cause lost revenues. Maintaining equipment and knowing when it needs to be replaced or upgraded is essential.
  • know the over-all labour costs as they relate to environmental management. In many cases, productivity improvement resulting from more efficient use and/or reduction in water, material, wastes and energy, can decrease labour hours and labour costs.
“Our team is working with producers and the industry to address these issues, provide practical examples and solutions,” says Bozic. “We can also help producers apply for various grants that the provincial or federal governments provide to help them address these issues.”

One program that producers may want to look into is the provincial/federal program – Growing Forward 2: The GF2 On-Farm Energy Management program which can assist the greenhouse industry.

“As a newcomer to the greenhouse industry, I have been guided and coached by the people who have spent many years in this industry,” says Bozic. “I have listened to the challenges the industry faces and have observed the diversity and hard work that have gone into building successful businesses that have been running for some time now. Industry has been steadily growing and changing, and I have no doubt that this project will support the continued growth of the industry, increase the bottom line and address the environmental issues that the public requires from all industries.”

Two greenhouse industry workshops are being held, one in Edmonton on December 3, and one in Medicine Hat on December 5, 2013. For more information, contact Bozic, P.Ag. at 780-415-2681, or Belinda Choban, business development officer – horticulture industry with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, at 780-415-2304.

This project is sponsored by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

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