Anyone who has been following things a little over the past few years knows that a lot of extra greenhouses have been built in the already richly greenhouse-filled land in Canada's Leamington. Heritage Farms, one of the growers in the region, is one of the fast-growing greenhouse vegetable growers. The company is part of the Hazel Farms Group.
Last year, two blocks were added to the 2020 new build project, bringing the company to a total of 65 hectares of glass at four locations. The company is now looking for growers. On the one hand, to have a bit more room in their staffing options for the existing acreage, but also to enable future growth.
"Our owner is ambitious and likes to push forward," explains Jeroen van Luijk of Heritage Farms. He is the Manager of Operations there. "In a short time, we have grown from a relatively small cultivation company to a large greenhouse horticulture company."
Hans and Jeroen
Heritage Farms was built in 2020. At the time, 18 hectares of glass was being built. Jeroen watched it happen from Canada. He worked there first at another company and now for about a year at Heritage Farms. There he met another Dutchman who has been working there for quite a while, Hans van Gellecum. He has been working for the grower of mainly cherry tomatoes for some time.
"We also do some cocktail and vine tomatoes," says Jeroen, who deals with 'everything but cultivation.' "Because of our rapid growth, work has also increased in all kinds of areas. I have an extensive range of tasks." Cultivation is something that Hans, among others, focuses on.
Construction of greenhouse expansion in 2022
Tomatoes, conventional and organic
When we speak to Jeroen in early January, things are relatively quiet. Heritage Farms has no lit cultivation, unlike several colleagues in the region. The growers do so not because of energy issues but because the growers, in consultation with Sunset, which sells their produce, saw that there was already a lot of competition from more southern areas in winter. "The cherry tomato market is pretty full. Mexico is a formidable competitor."
Heritage Farms grows both conventional and organic, according to North American USDA standards. The largest organic grower in the group of companies is called Jack's Organics. "We had a very good season with them last year," Jeroen points out. Not all greenhouses are close together. "Sometimes you have to drive a while," he says. From the main location, for example, it is a 45-minute drive to Jack's.
Renewal and improvement
For next season, the growers are looking forward to the full implementation of LetsGrow in the new greenhouses. The growers started working with the system three years ago. "By working with LetsGrow, we want to gain even more insight from the greenhouse and also take steps towards autonomous growing. Above all, however, important for us is also being able to make better production forecasts." Also, new next season are ToBRFV-resistant varieties. "We have HR-resistant varieties in our two newly built greenhouses."
With the expansion of the team, Heritage Farms aims to have a somewhat broader grower base. "We are emphatically looking at the Netherlands. There is still a lot of green-fingered knowledge to be found there. Still more than here."
Being a grower on a large farm in Canada, by the way, does mean more than just managing cultivation. "Growers here are also a kind of site manager. That means you get to be involved in more than just cultivation."
Jeroen hopes, possibly also because of the developments in the Netherlands that they are also closely monitoring in Canada, that there are growers who (have had to) quit their own business and are not yet done with being a grower. "We like to see such growers coming. It is an adventure, but in terms of organization, it is similar to the Netherlands. Our organization is quite flat with short lines. Pretty similar to in the Netherlands."
The substantial growth in acreage and also the relatively ample availability of land to build greenhouses is different from that in the packed Netherlands, however. Heritage Farms, for instance, also has land to continue building. "For this year, I don't expect that, but the past has shown that sometimes things can go fast."