All the vital assets – workforce, location, climate, quality of life & the ability to manufacture & grow what the world needs.
A temperate climate, long growing season, technologically-advanced growing systems, an efficient cross-border logistics industry and proximity to consumer-rich U.S. markets have all combined to make Windsor-Essex among the leaders in agriculture and food processing.
Agri-business is a $3 billion industry with more than 8,000 employees spread across more than 100 food and beverage processing companies and over 1,500 growers. The region is home to major national and world-wide brands such as Nature Fresh Farms, Orangeline Farms, Bonduelle, Hiram Walker & Sons, Diageo, Utopia brands by Thomas Canning and Unico and numerous others.
And at Nature Fresh Farms in Leamington, advanced growing technology using custom-built software has made the company’s 175 acres of greenhouse space among the leaders in the agri-business sector.
Peter Quiring, president and CEO of Nature Fresh, said that technology and software developed in concert with Priva Inc., allows growers to monitor every aspect of the growing process including climate, wind, heat, humidity, quality and traceability on an hourly basis.
“We have never ever had a recall but we do mock recalls on a regular basis,” said Quiring. “If one of our sales people takes a photo of a Nature Fresh package in Miami, for instance, we can tell whereabouts in the greenhouse that particular produce came from in less than 30 minutes.”
Nature Fresh uses biomass fuels, generated largely from wooden pallets which would normally end up in landfills, to produce between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the company’s heat. Nature Fresh spent almost $1 million on a water sterilization and purification system so that it can recycle 100 per cent of its water.
Quiring, who also owns South Essex Fabricating which builds greenhouses, said the company doesn’t use any herbicides, limits the use of pesticides, uses bumble bees for pollination and introduces predator-insects into its greenhouses to take care of bugs.
A mobile greenhouse travels across North America teaching consumers how their products are grown and where they are grown. Climatic conditions inside the greenhouse can be monitored remotely by an employee in Leamington.
Advanced technology has changed the industry and long gone are the days when growers and food processors relied upon nature to control their destiny.
Today, fruits and vegetables destined for markets across the globe are often grown inside temperature-controlled greenhouses throughout the region. More than 2,000 acres of greenhouse operations make Windsor-Essex the largest vegetable greenhouse cluster in North America.
Using state-of-the art automated systems, processors across Windsor-Essex are able to monitor their plants’ growth not only by employing skilled workers but also by introducing robotic vision systems which ensure that every food product heading to market is fully inspected.
Orangeline Farms of Leamington, which sells its runner beans, signature peppers and strawberries under its own Zing! Healthy Foods brand, constructed a separate controlled environment inside its bell pepper greenhouse and now grows strawberries under LED lights on a year-round basis rather than just during a normal growing season.
“The biggest challenge we faced was the fact there is no existing industry doing what we are doing and there are no best practices to follow,” said Duffy Kniaziew, who operates Orangeline along with his brother Jordan. “We are inventing it as we go along and that is time-consuming because we have to execute, modify, verify and go at it again.”
“Strawberries don’t grow from seeds so we need plant material and again, there is no existing industry so we are modifying plants from outdoor suppliers and that takes time as well,” said Kniaziew. “It’s an exciting project but it has created one heck of a challenge for our growers.”
Orangeline has recently been recognized with seven awards for its variety of peppers in a blind tasting in an annual greenhouse competition with voting conducted by foodies, experts, the general public and members of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Award-Winning and Fast Growing Wine Region
In addition to fruits and vegetables, the Windsor-Essex area is one of the fastest-growing wine regions in Canada with 17 wineries, many producing award-winning vintages. The region’s exceptional soil conditions, longer sun hours and greater heat units all contribute to the quality of grapes including vinifera and French hybrids.
The region’s liquor distilling industry has a long and rich history. Windsor-based Hiram Walker and Sons, a wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary of Pernod Ricard SA, has been producing award-winning Canadian whiskies under the Canadian Club and Wiser’s banner for well over 100 years. The state-of-the art distillery also produces Polar Ice vodka, Malibu rum, Lamb’s rum and McGuinness liquors.
In Amherstburg, Diageo distills Crown Royal whisky for world-wide consumption.