The first ModulAIR lettuce greenhouse was completed In May 2017. Meanwhile the construction of phase 2 is already well on its way. An interview with Howard Kosaka, one of the initiators.
1.Can you tell us something about yourself? Education, profession?
I studied Agriculture, Commerce and Business Administration. BSc (Ag) at the University of British Columbia. I was sole owner and operator of a Tomato greenhouse facility for 17 years, followed by joint venture partnership(s).
2. Your connection to Van der Hoeven goes a long way back. How long and in which way were/are you connected to Van der Hoeven?
I started building with Van der Hoeven in 1989 and stayed with Van der Hoeven ever since. The first greenhouse was a 5 Ha. Beef Tomato greenhouse. In 1991 we built another 5 Ha. greenhouse, but this one was for Truss Tomato. Twelve years later, in 2003 we built a Truss Tomato greenhouse which was much bigger, 13 Ha and we expanded in 2005 with another 10 Ha.
In 2016, I returned to Van der Hoeven for another greenhouse, but in a different role, as a consultant. We started in 2016 with 2.5 Ha. Lettuce, and at this moment we are building another 2.5 Ha. Lettuce greenhouse.
3. The Lettuce greenhouses are situated in Alberta, Canada. What is the climate like and is the decision for the type of greenhouse purely based on the climate in Alberta?
The greenhouses constructed for Tomato production are all located in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The greenhouses constructed for Lettuce production are both located in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. The decision to locate the Lettuce production in southern Alberta (49 deg. N latitude) was based on consumer and customer demand for a year-round Canadian grown product. But also the availability of land and water was important. The Alberta climate and then especially the high ambient light in winter and low RH with cool nights in summer played a part in the decision, as well as de-regulated electrical power generation, access to labor, distribution and logistics efficiency.
4. Which possible uncertainties / misgivings / doubts did you have before starting the highly technical greenhouse project for the production of specialty lettuce?
The stacking of several relatively new technologies that were previously not applied for Lettuce production in a different climatic zone is a daunting undertaking. There was little or no historical precedent to draw experience. Despite these uncertainties we still believed in the success of this Van der Hoeven Lettuce greenhouse.
5. What do you think of the greenhouse, anything you would like to emphasize?
The genetic potential of Lettuce seed (or any other seed) can only be accomplished by using technological systems that eliminate plant stress that then promotes optimum balanced growth. The Van der Hoeven greenhouse has been designed and built to achieve these results. These initiatives will move our growing practices away from a traditional approach to a more data driven, plant sensor based approach overtime.
6. How did you experience the cooperation between your company and Van der Hoeven during the construction period and after?
The Van der Hoeven company and its principals have always been, and continue to be cooperative and supportive. The increasing amount of technology and innovation taking place in the Greenhouse industry today, together with the associated costs has emphasized the importance of these relations.
7. The second phase is now being built, a copy of the first phase which was delivered in June 2017. What was the main reason for this quick expansion?
The quick expansion of the Lettuce greenhouse was based on market opportunity and the ability to diversify Lettuce varieties and create a closer match: genotype to environment.
8. What do you think of the current developments in the horticultural industry? What’s your vision on the future of horticulture?
Technological innovations are enabling the Greenhouse industry to expand worldwide despite different geographic climatic conditions and this trend seems likely to continue. And necessarily, there will be a move away from human sensory growing toward a data driven approach as many scientific authors are predicting.