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Heritage Village, Vineland, Ontario

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orchidFloriculture: Greenhouses sunflower

Heritage Village and Vineland is in the heart of Ontario’s flori-culture.  The greenhouse flower industry is now the Province’s third largest agriculture sector, just behind cows and pigs. The industry accounts for some 4,000 full-time jobs and 6,000 seasonal jobs, and generates over $600 million annually, of which 28% is exported  to our southern neighbours.  That’s flower power!

Half the growers and 60% of the production are located in the regions of Niagara and Hamilton, using either heated glass greenhouses or the cheaper freestanding hoop houses.  Several thousand plant genera are grown as cut flowers, flowering and foliage potted plants, spring bedding plants and container perennials. Growers focus on one of several strategies:

  • Weekly supply of key flowering crops such as mini-roses and begonias.
  • Holiday crops such as Easter lilies, poinsettia and hydrangea.
  • Seeded bedding plants grown outdoors as hanging baskets, garden geraniums & mums.  
  • Propagated flowering annuals to augment hanging baskets.
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Much of the industry is now high-tech, with robotic material handling, computerized environmental controls, and use of biological pest control agents. Most year-round operations use automation for seeding, transplanting bedding plants, pot filling, irrigation, pesticide application, harvesting and grading of cut flowers.

Canadian growers are highly regulated with respect to use of pesticides, so they have turned to bio-control, making Ontario a technology leader in North America. Pests that inhibit  international sales include: Japanese Beetle, Ralstonia, Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death) and Chrysanthemum White Rust.  In 2005 and 2008, a new insect pest appeared: Duponchelia fovealis. New to North America but common in European greenhouses, such pests can force a quarantine on an entire greenhouse complex, and the destruction of the crop.

With 455 hectars under glass in Ontario, only California and Florida have greater greenhouse floriculture production.  But there is now an oversupply with Ontario’s market share shrinking. Rose and chrysanthemum growers for example,  are fighting for survival, having lost 75% of the market to the flood of supermarket bouquets, imported from South America. There are still about 850 commercial producers but smaller wholesalers are shutting down, going seasonal  or finding niche markets. 

The labour shortage for seasonal work is helped by Service Canada’s “Commonwealth Caribbean and Mexican Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program”.  These workers, on temporary visas, are essential at harvest time.  This explains the mysterious influx of workers in our local fields, on rural roads and at the local flea market – and their equally mysterious disappearance a few months later. Countries that are sending workers include: Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad-Tobago, Mexico, Grenada, Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Monserrat.  Those are winter destinations for many of our Villagers, so be friendly: you may meet them again down south, when you need directions.

Many  innovative growers turn to new technology to solve problems. Energy costs are a major factor, restricting profitability for many small operations, to the 8 warmer months. Some commercial plants are experimenting with alternate fuels and customized boilers, or new energty-efficient LED lighting technology.  Quality of water supply and disposal of leachate is another problem. Recirculation systems via subirrigation are practiced in large greenhouses, but are not practical for soil based hoop greenhouses and open fields.

The history of the local greenhouse industry begins with the Mennonites in the 18th Century with some family farms like Haynes (originally "Heinz") in Jordan Station, and Martin in Vineland, still operating today. Then came the Germans, like the Schenck family in 1882. One of their greenhouses from 1927, is still in use today for begonias.  The Dutch with their modern greenhouse technology, from the Westland area of Holland, began arriving after World War II.  In 1948 Marinus and Elizabeth Koole settled in the 16 Mile Creek area .  Deny de Jong, arriving  from South Africa in 1950 was another early greenhouse advocate in Beamsville. The family of Cornelius and Trinette Vermeer emigrated in 1952 from DeLier, Holland.  They established what became the Westbrook Group of wholesale floriculture greenhouses, floral  distribution and greenhouse manufacturing plants, that are visible north and south of the QEW Highway, between Beamsville and Grimsby. 

Not all Dutch were fixated on flowers.  North of the QEW, west of Victoria Ave. can be seen the St. David's Hydroponics Ltd. facilities for production of European bell peppers, an expansion of their St. David's, Ontario plants founded in 1985.

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As a lifestyle choice,our  retirees should stop to smell the local flowers. Europeans spend some five times as much on flowers as Canadian consumers.  Our Villagers are encouraged to adopt the European floral passion and buy local product, that has been produced “green” in the Greenbelt, with family pride.

Further Reading

 Albert Van Der Mey, Thies Bogner, John Van Kooten (2004) Floral Passion, Vanwell Publishing Ltd., St. Catharines. 304pp.  ISBN 0-9733100-0-6

http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/greenflor.htm

 

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