Vineland’s greenhouse technology research program is cultivating positive food for thought

Recipient: Vineland Research and Innovation Centre
Region: Vineland Station, Ontario
Program: Community Adjustment Fund; Prosperity Initiative; Investing in Commercialization Partnerships
Total funding allocated: $9.15 million

Vineland’s innovative greenhouse technology is allowing growers an efficient cost-effective way to harvest and package food.
Vineland’s innovative greenhouse technology is allowing growers an efficient cost-effective way to harvest and package food.

Weather, it has always been the wild card when it comes to growing food. Yet recent advancements in greenhouse technology have taken the climate-related risk out of food production, making it easier for producers to control the growing environment. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) is playing an important role in this field thanks in part to support provided through several FedDev Ontario funding initiatives.

In 2010, FedDev Ontario funding helped Vineland restore the historic Lodge Building Centre, turning it into a thriving business incubator through the Community Adjustment Fund. In 2012, Vineland partnered with local growers, greenhouse operators and academia to develop and commercialize automation solutions for the greenhouse industry. In 2016, Vineland’s newly constructed Collaborative Greenhouse Technology Centre received additional support, which has significantly contributed to the Ontario greenhouse sector’s capabilities in agri-food research and to the production and and export of horticultural products.

“FedDev Ontario support helped build our capacity in engineering and was critical in bringing our first automation technology to market,” says Jim Brandle, PhD, CEO, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

The Collaborative Greenhouse Technology Centre is the largest pre-commercial scale horticulture research greenhouse of its kind in North America. It provides space for robotics and automation researchers to focus on a variety of automation projects, including bulb planting technology, vegetable packaging systems, smart greenhouse irrigation technology, and harvesting solutions for precision mushroom farming. The new innovative tools they’ve designed specifically for mushroom harvesting were developed through a partnership with industry, Institut national d’Optique (INO) and the University of Guelph. Through automation techniques like computer vision technology, these tools are able to gather data from a mushroom bed about which mushrooms should be harvested, allowing for a more efficient yielding.

“The international mushroom market is a multi-billion dollar industry that is experiencing dramatic growth each year and Ontario is ranked first in Canada in terms of production value,” says Brandle. “As a result, this is an area of opportunity for the introduction of automation technologies into the mushroom farming industry.”

Along with these precision farming techniques, Vineland has also developed an efficient vegetable packing system that is setting them ahead of others in the industry.

“We have an automated process that can grade, align and pack snack-sized cucumbers at a rate of 300 trays per hour,” says Brandle. “That’s roughly twice as fast as the method currently used in most greenhouses growing small vegetables. It seems like such a simple thing, but this is an exciting project using a lot of technology.”

With additional automation projects in the works, Vineland is continuing to positively impact the greenhouse industry, reducing growing costs while benefitting Ontario manufacturing and automation businesses with more jobs for high-skilled workers. Sustainable growing practices should not be a luxury and Vineland, with its food innovation technology, is ensuring sufficient, affordable food sources are available for more and more Canadian families, as well as those abroad.

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FedDev Ontario’s support of our work at the intersection of horticulture and advanced manufacturing creates a positive impact for both sectors.
Jim Brandle, CEO, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre