A veteran greenhouse operator in Chatham-Kent plans to spend as much as $100 million to develop a 100-acre greenhouse complex in Dawn-Euphemia Township.
Justin Geertsema, of Greenhill Produce, which operates a greenhouse facility south of Kent Bridge, confirmed Tuesday that Greenhill is planning to develop the Dawn-Euphemia site over several years, in 25-acre increments, with completion in 2024.
Greenhill purchased property for the proposed greenhouse about six months ago. It would be located south of Oil Springs, on the Edys Mills Line, just west of Oil Heritage Road.
“We have been looking for a new site for probably about five years,” Geertsema said. “There are still a few details to work out, so nothing is for sure, but we think we’re on the right track.”
He estimated the cost of development at between $80 and $100 million.
The greenhouse would grow peppers, tomatoes or cucumbers. Greenhill currently produces sweet bell peppers at its Kent Bridge site.
Once completed, the Dawn-Euphemia site would employ between 150 and 300 workers.
Geertsema said a site plan for the new greenhouse is expected to be filed by the end of March. Plans are to break ground sometime this summer. The greenhouse would be developed in four 25-acre phases.
“We’re currently in discussions with the township and they are working on supplying us with whatever is possible, and we hope it’s enough to get started in our phase one development,” he said. “From there we will be talking to the municipality about a water main expansion for the future.”
Water is a big issue for the greenhouse. Last week, Enniskillen Township council was asked to consider allowing more water from its system to be sent south to Dawn-Euphemia. Dawn-Euphemia currently takes in approximately 300 cubic metres of water daily, but has asked Enniskillen to increase that daily volume to 1,300 cubic metres to help accommodate the greenhouse project.
Enniskillen council is to approach Petrolia, which provides water to Enniskillen, about increasing Dawn-Euphemia’s water volume. Enniskillen indicated that a feasibility study would be required. Petrolia sources its water from Lake Huron, via a pumping station at Bright’s Grove.
Geertsema said Greenhill would be heating its new facility using natural gas.
The new greenhouse will join almost half a dozen existing greenhouse facilities in Lambton County that have been developed over the past 15 years. Almost all of Ontario’s greenhouse production is in the Leamington area, although in recent years there has been development in nearby Chatham-Kent, including Greenhill’s original greenhouse at Kent Bridge.
Glen Snoek, the marketing and economic policy analyst for the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, says the industry is growing by about 150 acres every year, and now has 2,876 acres in the province. The organization serves approximately 220 growers.
Snoek said the size of greenhouse being proposed by Greenhill in southern Lambton County is “very significant”, and said it’s common for such large developments to be built in stages.
He said most of the industry’s expansion is still in the Leamington area, noting that 90 per cent of all of Ontario’s greenhouses are located within Essex County and Chatham-Kent.
“The trend is for much larger facilities,” he said of greenhouse developments.
Snoek said growers are facing several challenges in 2017, including the higher cost of electricity and natural gas, as well as the province’s cap-and-trade program, which was introduced in 2017.
Geertsema said Greenhill is looking forward to operating in Dawn-Euphemia Township.
“It’s nice,” he said of the location, “because it’s close to our existing operation. We’re hoping everything will flow kind of nicely.”