By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
The provincial government is pumping money into agricultural technologies in an effort to grow Southwest Ontario’s greenhouse sector.
Chatham-Kent–Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls announced $3.6 million of funding on Wednesday via teleconference, on behalf of Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ernie Hardeman.
“I can remember my earlier years traveling down Highway 77, and saying, “Wow look at all those empty fields.’ Those fields aren’t so empty anymore. The greenhouse development has just been thriving. They’ve been a major part of making sure that our province’s food supply is strong,” Nicholls said.
The funds will go toward 12 projects under the Greenhouse Competitiveness and Innovation Initiative which was started to help the Ontario greenhouse sector thrive in the global markets.
Several projects are focusing on biosecurity by developing technologies that can detect diseases and reduce the spread of plant and human viruses in greenhouses.
The Leamington area greenhouses will receive approximately $2.3 million of the funding with no projects set for Chatham-Kent. However, Trevor Jones, a director with the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) said the Chatham-Kent growers will benefit from the technologies developed which, if commercially viable, will put the Southwest area “on the world stage” when it comes to fruit and vegetable production.
“When it comes to things like pest mitigation, disease reduction, and all those technologies, that’s really for all greenhouse operators, the highest concentration of which are obviously in Southwestern Ontario,” he said. “And we have a growing concentration of high-tech greenhouses in Chatham-Kent.”
Of the funding, $1 million was also given to Allegro Acres, Ruthven, to commercially test a 24-hour low intensity lighting system to reduce energy consumption during peak hours. Nicholls noted the surrounding communities will welcome that particular project, as light pollution has been a hot topic of debate, causing municipalities to look at implementing light mitigation bylaws.