Article by Vanmala Subramaniam, Financial Post
Peter Quiring has been fielding more calls than usual from various levels of government all eager to discuss food..“It’s funny … you’re asking me about food security, and I’m just about to get on a call right after this with the government because there’s a lot of interest in food independence and security right now, both provincially and federally,” said the founder and president of Leamington, Ont.-based Nature Fresh Farms, one of the largest greenhouse growers in the country..“To be honest with you, we could grow much more than we do right now. And I think we’re headed there.”.The reason for all that interest, of course, is that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted global supply chains across various sectors and the food chain is clearly an important one for most people and governments..The COVID-19 fallout has sparked a renewed interest in the issue of domestic food security, particularly as to whether Canada has enough capacity to grow its own food in a doomsday scenario where the country could no longer rely on imports..Some food experts say greenhouses, including those currently mothballed by the struggling cannabis industry, could play an increasingly important role in being prepared for such an eventuality..“Because of the climate we have, our outdoor seasonal production of fruits and vegetables is capped,” said Simon Somogyi, Arrell Chair in the Business of Food at the University of Guelph in Ontario. “Greenhouses are less subject to that seasonality. If there are more research dollars dedicated to optimizing vegetable breeds to grow better in greenhouses, we will be able to switch more kinds of vegetables over from outdoor growing to indoor growing.”.Quiring — who owns 700 acres of greenhouses in Ontario, and has constructed an additional 2,000 acres across the province — said food security issues and the role greenhouses can play in buttressing the supply chain have repeatedly come up during the past couple of years. As a result, he said, almost all his greenhouse developments have sold pretty quickly..“Every time there is a hurricane, or a drought or too much rain, or too much frost, the southern producers have nothing to sell to retailers,” he said. “If there is one problem that is bigger than high prices, it is nothing to sell. You can still make money from high prices, but you cannot make money from nothing to sell, so that’s the biggest reason why I get calls enquiring about greenhouse production,”.Quiring said fast-food service providers such as Wendy’s and Subway have been “rapidly switching” most of their produce supply to greenhouses, because of inconsistencies in the outdoor farming supply chain that existed long before the current pandemic and will continue to exist long afterwards..“There is certainly the opportunity to grow more,” Somogyi said. “At least in the short term, we could certainly move to ramp up greenhouse production pretty quickly using all the spare capacity that we have.”.Doing so would be an expensive endeavour, because Canada is currently very reliant on importing fruit and vegetables, the majority of which are grown outdoors..Canadians consumed $16-billion worth of fruit and vegetables in 2016, the most recent year Statistics Canada has data for that metric. The value of greenhouse vegetable production that year was roughly $1.3 billion, and $860 million, or 65 per cent, of that amount was exported.