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New greenhouse to bring strawberries and tomatoes to Albertans

Sunterra Greenhouse is wrapping up construction of its 20-acre greenhouse in Acme, Alberta, roughly one hour northeast of Calgary. This build is the first phase of four, with Sunterra Greenhouse expecting to finish its fourth phase in the next five years for a total of 70 acres. The greenhouse will start with strawberry and tomato production.

The glass greenhouse has 17.5 acres dedicated to tomato production and 2.5 acres to strawberry production. The strawberry range is equipped with a misting system and 100% LED lighting, while the tomato ranges are equipped with hybrid lighting, i.e., HPS and LED.

Sunterra Greenhouse only a part of the Sunterra portfolio
Sunterra Greenhouse is the newest venture by the Sunterra Group, which is comprised of multiple companies spanning the agri-food sector. Established fifty years ago with roots in cropping and hog farming, Sunterra Farms has expanded to include Sunterra Meats, Soleterra d’Italia, Sunterra Market and now Sunterra Greenhouse. Products are sold through retail partners and Sunterra Market, giving Sunterra Group a presence throughout every step of the value chain.

As for the produce coming out of the newly built greenhouse, 85% of the tomato crop will be marketed by BC-based Star Group and the remaining 15% marketed through Sunterra Market. All of the strawberries will be marketed through Sunterra Market at this point.

“We are uniquely positioned to get immediate quality feedback from Sunterra Market customers to better understand what attributes Albertans really value,” explains Sunterra Greenhouse President, Amanda Hehr.

Driven by collaboration and an ecosystems mentality
For the past two years, Sunterra has been conducting strawberry trials in a research greenhouse in Brooks, Alberta. Both Dutch and premium Japanese cultivars have been tested.

“It takes times to condition markets to be prepared to pay higher prices for premium, controlled climate grown strawberries. Once our customers try them, they understand that they’re not in the same category as field strawberries, which are bred for distance,” says Amanda.

Sunterra Greenhouse will continue to develop its strawberry research program through its partnership with the Integrated Agriculture Technology Center (IATC) at Lethbridge College, with whom they successfully applied for a research grant to study the impacts of growing media, planting density, and supplemental lighting on strawberry production. And as the grant is publicly funded, the results will be publicly available which can only help the industry continue to develop, according to Amanda.

“We’re in the middle of one of the largest crop-producing regions in Alberta. We envision an agricultural hub here that includes different food production methods, and the latest advancements in agtech” explains Amanda. “A lot of people are excited to see what is going on, which is putting these smaller farming communities on the map.”

Alberta is in a unique position energy-wise, but not immune to flux
With Alberta being a major energy producer, Amanda notes that businesses have good access to cost-effective electricity and gas. Albertan producers may be somewhat more insulated to spikes in utility pricing, but it remains a serious concern and consideration. Sunterra Greenhouse has done some energy hedging to control the majority of its energy load and protect itself against price fluctuations. Nevertheless, the greenhouse is receiving its electricity from the grid which means that the source of power isn’t always known. This has Sunterra thinking about co-generation in the future.

Sunterra’s prime electrical contractor is Iconic Electric, a company specializing in high-voltage installations and typically servicing the oil and gas industry. As Amanda notes, partnering with Sunterra Greenhouse has helped Iconic Electric expand its industry portfolio and diversify its activities.

Also, the greenhouse was built by Prins Group whose amazing “brain trust” in the Netherlands and southern Ontario provided Sunterra with all of the expertise and flexibility needed to successfully navigate supply chain challenges and build a greenhouse during the pandemic.

Sunterra Greenhouse expects to have its first strawberries on Sunterra Market shelves in February 2022, with tomatoes following shortly thereafter.

For more information:
Sunterra Greenhouse
Amanda Hehr, President