Levelling an existing greenhouse is quite a project. At Suntastic, it’s an art they’ve mastered. Over the last couple of years, two of their existing greenhouses have been smartened up this way, and last year it was time for the final phase. This time they decided to put all pipes and gutters on rollers and move them to the side. “Now it’s smooth as a blanket”, Albert Janssen with Suntastic shows.
It’s planting time at Suntastic. In various phases, new tomato and pepper plants are being brought into the greenhouse, and in a few weeks new produce will be harvested. It’s hard to recall the situation of only a few weeks ago, when the greenhouse was completely empty and looked a bit like a desert. Back then George de Groot with De Groot Laser Grading & Excavating was flattening the ground in the greenhouse.
Albert Janssen met George in 2012 / 2013, when Suntastic was building phase 4 of their 16 hectare greenhouse enterprise in Exeter, Ontario. De Groot Laser Grading & Excavating was hired to do the leveling work for the expansion. When they saw how precise George worked, Suntastic decided to have him work on all of their greenhouses. “It’s top-notch”, Albert says. “Within the difference of an inch, the entire project is levelled. Whereas many others might choose to work with a bulldozer, George only works with his own machines. He only needs someone with a rake to help out every now and then.”
Since 2012 / 2013, George became a regular visitor of the Suntastic project – leveling the existing greenhouses built in 1996 and in 1997. “Thanks to the laser treatment, measuring the level of the ground of the complete greenhouse, he eventually knew the greenhouse better than we did ourselves”, Albert laughs. “He asked about a 15 centimeter height difference in one of the existing greenhouses. Then I remembered we had to cope with a leaking pipe some years ago and that water evaporated onto the ground. We’d always known there was some issues in that corner, but never really connected the dots.”
Last year the final project was completed: the leveling of phase 3, built in 2003. Unlike the previous projects, the pipes weren’t raised this time. “Phase 3 is higher than the older projects, so it was too difficult to raise the pipes and even if we would have raised them, it wouldn’t be possible to work with some of George’s equipment."
Another solution was thought of and eventually in half of the greenhouse, being 2 hectares, greenhouse equipment was put on rollers and rolled over to one side of the greenhouse. “George did his job and we rolled everything over to the other side.” Quite a job, right? “Rolling the installation aside isn’t more trouble than lifting it up”, Albert laughs. “It’s a matter of planning and putting the right people in the right position. It all turned out fine: the pipes are back in place now. And during the project, we added extra pipe support, following new safety rules. Instead of a distance of 2 meters, we now work with a 1.5 meter distance between them.”
In a normal levelling process, the soil’s surface is loosened and crushed in again. "Because we recirculate all the water nowadays and no more water is lost in the ground, the soil was so hard and dehydrated that we had to introduce new material. To get it all smooth again, 4,000 tons of fine gravel was driven in to the greenhouse. If you wouldn’t know, you wouldn’t tell – but it’s smooth as a whistle.”
With the refurbishment of the final phase completed, the plants are brought in this week. There’s a small shift in the company’s portfolio. Last year, Huron Produce/Suntastic was acquired by open field production company Lipman Family Farms. Being part of a group like this influences the portfolio, Albert says. “Gradually we are moving more and more toward specialties: we produce a smaller pointed pepper on a larger scale and also increase the volume of the snack tomatoes. We’re following the demand from the market and develop certain products.”
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Lipman Family Farms