There are times when greenhouse growers can learn a thing or two from those producing vegetables indoors. The case of Taste Of The North, a Québec-based tomato, cucumber and bell pepper producer, is a good example.
Eric Frechette, owner of Taste Of The North, purchased all the shares of Serres Lacoste 2000 in June 2011, and he immediately began an aggressive expansion and modernization plan.
“The plan was to convert the existing heating system from waste oil to biomass in order to save more than 50 percent of heating costs, 10,000 tons of gas emissions and stop the dependence on fossil fuels,” Frechette says. “We also added another [2.5 acres] of greenhouses in order to meet the demand for high-end beefsteak tomatoes in Québec and New England markets.”
Taste Of The North hired Niagrow Systems to design its heating system, and it worked with Chauffage Econoserres to manufacture an 850-horsepower biomass boiler. When considering biomass, the first question vendors ask growers is what fuel source they intend to use. The type of fuel drives much of the boiler’s design. The type also helps determine auger size, types of screening used, burn capabilities and, most importantly, the size of the boiler required.
“You also have to consider storage space for the biomass material,” says Duane Van Alstine, Niagrow’s manager. “Biomass with low water percentages are more efficient burners, so you do not need as much material as you will if you have high water content in your raw material.”
With the ink barely dry on his acquisition, Frechette began construction as Niagrow delivered materials in August. Construction finished in November, including a dome for storing biomass wood, a 1 million-liter heat storage tank and the heating system for both the new acres and the preexisting five acres. The first crop went in January 7, and Taste Of The North started picking March 20.
Frechette encourages other growers to look at biomass as an alternative. There are government-funding programs available in the United States and Canada to help with finances, and Frechette believes growers should be looking at a variety of heating options.
“We have to look to the future,” he says. “Our children need us to think green and think sustainability.”