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CAN: Great Lakes prepares for any eventuality

Leamington-based Great Lakes Greenhouses is focused on redundancy and controls to be in place to react to any unforeseen events. “We prepare for any eventuality,” says David Revington with Great Lakes. “Whatever may happen, we will continue to function and supply the highest quality greenhouse-grown cucumber to the customer,” he added.

Bunker oil as a back-up for natural gas 
Greenhouses rely heavily on the supply of natural gas, but harsh winters in Leamington, ON sometimes cause interruptions of supply. Therefore, Great Lakes has two back-up tanks on the farm that each hold 1 million gallons of bunker oil. “The cost of bunker oil is four times the amount of natural gas, but security of supply is everything,” said Revington.

A huge room with multiple boilers generates the steam to heat the greenhouses. “It took us 2.5 years to get permission to build it,” shared Revington. The condenser, that was built in the Netherlands, provides significant energy savings. “With one condenser, we save four acres of energy, but now we have three condensers that we can use in the heart of winter,” mentioned Revington. As if this wasn’t enough, three natural gas generators enable Great Lakes to produce hydro. Most of the farm can run on two gas generators, but three is a safety precaution. The company has its own in-house maintenance team of 25 people who make sure everything functions the way it should. 

Propagation site
Another way of taking control is a 4-acre propagation site. “The majority of greenhouse growers outsource propagation, but we feel we get to grow a better plant by doing it in-house,” shared Revington. Every two weeks, about 120,000 plants go into the propagation area and fill approximately 20 acres of greenhouses. The showpiece of the propagation area is the flood floor by European design. “It allows us to sterilize the water, which helps in preventing root diseases,” said Revington. The plants are watered as needed and the water comes up through the floor. Sprinklers are used to take the heat off the plants.

Propagation area

Organic expansion
Based on consumer demand, Great Lakes is expanding its organic program. 3.5 acres are being prepared for organic production while trials are done in a small area of the greenhouse. In the trial section, cucumbers are grown next to organic beans. The beans are needed to grow natural bugs such as thrips. Clover is used as underseeding to ‘fix’ nitrogen levels of the cucumber plants. Optimizing nitrogen levels in a natural way can result in significant savings. A unit of conventional nitrogen costs CAD 0.40 per pound whereas the organic counterpart is CAD 6.00 per pound. 

Organic greenhouse

30,000 dozen of cucumbers per day
Great Lakes harvests about 30,000 dozen of cucumbers per day and product is moved the same day it is harvested. During peak season, about 250-300 laborers are involved in moving the product. The pickers play an important role and recently, Great Lakes installed scales on the picking carts. “They are tied directly to the labor system and provide the packing shed a more accurate idea of the amount of cucumbers that will come in,” according to Revington. In addition, the scales also support accountability. The system registers how many pounds each laborer picks and a bonus will be paid to the people who score above average. At the packing shed, the cucumbers go through a grading process. Based on their diameter, length and curvature, the grading system determines what packing table they are directed to. 

Packing line

In addition to the organic expansion, the company also hopes to expand its conventional production from 90 acres to 120 in the next year.

For more information:
David Revington
Great Lakes Greenhouses Inc.
Tel: 519-419-4937
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