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Picture changing for greenhouse lettuce in North America
This is a slightly different picture than what Lake Erie saw last January. “Last year there was a high demand January through to March due to issues with California field product,” says Fournier. “However, the remainder of the year there was excess greenhouse product.”
But adding to the greenhouse greens picture are new players in the industry. “There are new entrants and expansion of greenhouse acreage lettuce both in Southern Ontario and south of the border,” says Fournier. “It’s my understanding that some have also stopped growing lettuce due to lack of market or issues with quality.” Fournier adds that greenhouse lettuce though largely competes with cheaper field lettuces, hailing largely from California. “Demand for greenhouse lettuce comes from retail, particularly those wanting higher quality, fresher, local product and foodservice which focuses on local food and premium quality,” she says.
Tastes are also changing for greenhouse greens. “The traditional retail greenhouse lettuce market is Boston and has been for many years,” says Fournier. However, in the past few years retailers have been asking for more variety on their shelves and Lake Erie has responded by growing and packing other products such as green frisee, red butter, and a tri-mix of red and green varieties.
And while pricing has been stable on greenhouse lettuce, Fournier notes she has seen a softening of pricing compared to what she saw a few years ago. (Fournier anticipates right now that while demand will stay strong for the next few weeks, she’s anticipating a softening in March.) “This softening on pricing is likely due to disconnects between supply and demand,” she says. “We had hoped that consumption of local product would increase, particularly with what seems like more frequent supply issues with imported field product. However, it seems sporadic. Local greenhouse product needs a consistent market demand to succeed financially.”
And on that financial side, greenhouse growers continue to feel the greenhouse-costs increase. “We have more control over our environment so we’re better able to supply consistent volume of high-quality product. However that environment does dramatically increase the costs of production over field product.” That includes capital assets such as greenhouse structures as well as high labor costs, increasing heating costs and more.
At the same time, new technologies have been employed to lessen the financial impact, such as recycling and reusing water and recapturing carbon dioxide produced from boilers to feed to plants which convert it to oxygen. “Greenhouse growers have been very progressive in employing new technologies to save costs, but have run out of places to go in terms of cost reductions,” says Fournier.
For more information:
Lake Erie Farms Inc.
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