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Houweling's greenhouse expansion billed as future of sustainable agriculture

by Rand Green | May 20, 2009
CAMARILLO, CA -- A new state-of-the-art, technologically advanced greenhouse facility, which is being touted as the future of sustainable agriculture, was unveiled May 14 by Houweling Nurseries, here.

According to a media alert issued by The Oppenheimer Group, the facility was "built at a cost of over $50 million, Houweling's has created a sustainable and controlled greenhouse growth environment that maximizes productivity, generates green/renewable energy, radically minimizes water consumption, recycles nutrients, allows no environmental runoff and generates over 450 full-time, year-round jobs."

The huge new facility is dedicated to the production of tomatoes-on-the- vine, which, like the products from Houweling's other greenhouses here and in Canada, are marketed by Vancouver, BC-based Oppenheimer.

The Houweling's Hot House Group, which is headquartered in Delta, BC, was founded by Mr. Houweling's father, Cornelius Houweling, in 1974. The company built its first tomato greenhouses in Delta in 1985 and its first California greenhouses a decade later on the coastal plain south of Oxnard. The initial 20-acre project had grown to 80 acres under glass before the groundbreaking of the new 44-acre addition less than a year ago.

"Ten months ago, this was a flat piece of ground," Casey Houweling, president of Houweling Nurseries, told several hundred people attending the event. "We poured our first concrete the 2nd of July for the first phase. Today it is in full production."

"Casey's innovative and pioneering spirit are legendary," said John Anderson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of The Oppenheimer Group, who said that the new facility provides "a tightly controlled environment capable of producing high yields of premium vegetables with a level of environmental stability like no other ever seen before."

There is "an amazing amount of new technology converging" in the facility, said A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food & Agriculture, who was one of several speakers at the May 14 event. "You have a lot of different projects going on here. You've got energy efficiencies, you've got water efficiencies, you've got systems that are delivering CO2 to the plants. These are all technologies that have existed but have not really been pulled together."

The hydroponic greenhouse was designed and built by Netherlands-based KUBO Greenhouse Projects. It incorporates four acres of photovoltaic panels mounted on tilting racks over a water-retention pond, generating 1.1 megawatts of power and providing half of the facility's energy needs.

Water used in the operation is reclaimed, purified and re-used, reducing the amount of water needed to produce the crop by about 66 percent compared to standard greenhouses and more than 90 percent compared to field agriculture. Nutrients are also retained and recycled, reducing fertilizer inputs by half.

Those and other technologies are combined in the project to create "an entirely closed and controlled growing environment" that is "as perfect as can be created," according to company literature.

As Dutch Ambassador Renee Jones-Bos said, it is a "very innovative, beautiful example of sustainable agricultural production."