Towards an independent Quebec in fruit and vegetables all year round

Towards an independent Quebec in fruit and vegetables all year round

The pandemic has shed new light on the notion of food autonomy . Can we eat local all year round? How dependent are we on importing fruits and vegetables? A file that demystifies the food reality of Quebec.

Agricultural producers will double their production of greenhouse fruits and vegetables to nearly 250 hectares, or 350 football fields, with the help of the State, which will allow Quebec to move closer to the food autonomy so desired since the 1970s.

“We want to have greater food autonomy. It means having more products “made in Quebec”, less imported products. We were worried during the spring of no longer receiving fruit and vegetables, among other things, ”pleaded Prime Minister François Legault, in Abitibi, in August.

This dream, already cherished by the former Minister of Agriculture Jean Garon, seems more than ever possible because of the strong demand for food from here.

Last Tuesday, the Legault government displayed its colors with its National Strategy for the Purchase of Quebec Foods so that public establishments have purchasing targets within five years.

Together with the agri-food industry, they decided to make it an immediate project. All over Quebec, companies are taking initiatives to feed Quebecers with foods grown year round:

  • The largest greenhouse in Quebec, Les Serres Lefort, is inspired by Ontario.
  • Potato producer Dolbec is banking on storage and Ferme Onésime Pouliot is considering new techniques for harvesting berries.
  • Hydro responds to a traditional demand of greenhouse growers: it lowers its prices for all farmers, regardless of their size.
  • The Union of agricultural producers (UPA) and Sollio Groupe Coopératif plead for food autonomy.
  • Our big investors want to join the movement.

Rain of millions

Nearly half of the fruits and vegetables found on Quebecers' plates come from greenhouses, according to the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ).

In its strategy, the Legault government hopes to double the quantity of greenhouses from 123 hectares to 246 hectares over the next five years.

MAPAQ estimates that total investments, private and public, up to $ 480 million will be needed to grow the industry. To grow the greenhouse industry, Quebec is preparing to inject tens of millions of dollars so that the province has its place in the sun alongside Ontario and California.

In recent years, Investissement Québec (IQ) has started the ball rolling by distributing public money to support key players.

Les Serres Sagami-Savoura had a loan of $ 3.5 million in 2015, Les Serres Lefort a loan of $ 7.5 million and a loan guarantee of $ 5.95 million in 2016, to which was added a loan guarantee of $ 2.45 million in 2017.

For their part, Serres Toundra had a loan guarantee of $ 23 million in 2015 and a loan of $ 8 million in 2020.

“In Quebec, the problem is that we devote three quarters of our land in cereals to the production of corn and soybeans intended for animals”, deplores Patrick Mundler, full professor at the Faculty of Science. agriculture and food from Laval University.

We produce twice as many calories as we consume, but our production is used to feed our animals and our cars, he notes.

But the development of the greenhouse sector could change the situation. With sales of $ 143 million, the industry dominated by a dozen big players is hungry.

Like aeronautics

At the top, the Serres Sagami-Savoura (38 hectares) and Les Serres Lefort (30 hectares), which have the largest greenhouse in Quebec in one location, do not hide their appetite for growth.

“If we really want to double the number of greenhouses in Quebec, we will have to do what we did with aeronautics: build chairs and faculties to train specialists,” pleads André Michaud, president of Agro- Quebec.

For Stéphan Lemieux, CEO of the six hectare Royal Greenhouses in Saint-Jérôme, the tarnished image of agriculture, the labor shortage and the loss of expertise to the benefit of the cannabis industry is hurting .

“In Quebec, even the number 1 remains a small player in the sea of all Ontario producers. When the banners want to do promotions, even our big players have difficulty meeting the demand, ”says the largest producer of grape tomatoes in the province.

According to him, the Quebec government should consider offering tax credits to help farmers be more competitive.

“The big greenhouses are doing“ organic Walmart ”. We make a product from the drawer and not from the land, ”jokes Frédéric Jobin-Lawler, co-owner of the Abri vegetale, in the Eastern Townships.

This makes agriculture professor Patrick Mundler say that the construction of greenhouses could well displace the problem rather than solve it.

“We're going to import labor rather than import products. Rather than bringing in the tomatoes, we are going to bring in the Mexicans, ”he concludes.

The Quebec Greenhouse Strategy provides for $ 9.5M over five years, $ 30M over five years and an amount to be determined with the Ministry of Economy and Investment Quebec (IQ), according to the Government Greenhouse Development Strategy in Quebec published last May.

Falling behind compared to Ontario

Daniel Terrault, vice-president of business development, Les Serres Lefort in Sainte-Clotilde-de-Châteauguay which can produce up to 720,000 heads of Mirabel lettuce per week in the spring and fall.

Quebec has a long way to go to catch up with Ontario where there are ten times more greenhouses than here in sunny cities like Leamington.

“We are late compared to Ontario. We are ten times smaller. Ontario can feed part of Canada, while the rest of us have a hard time feeding part of Quebec, ”says Daniel Terrault, vice-president of business development at Serres Lefort, acquired by Hydroserre at the start of the year, which markets Mirabel lettuce and organic VÔG vegetables.

In Sainte-Clotilde-de-Châteauguay, in Montérégie, the company owns the largest greenhouse in Quebec of more than twenty hectares. It grows lettuce (396,000 heads per week), peppers (4 hectares) and cucumbers and mini-cucumbers (4 hectares).

“The entire complex that we have here in Sainte-Clotilde-de-Châteauguay is heated with biomass. These are 100% Quebec wood chips, which come from sawmills, ”continues Mr. Terrault des Serres Lefort.

Almost 45% of its products are sold in the US market within a ten hour drive radius. New York and Boston eat “Made in Quebec” Mirabel lettuce every day.

“Over the past six months, we have seen our sales jump 40% due to the pandemic because Quebecers have turned to local products,” continues the senior manager of Serres Lefort.

Frog

For Claude Laniel, general manager of the Producers in greenhouse of Quebec, Quebec does not need to imitate Ontario, but can be inspired by it.

“It's the frog that wants to grow as big as the ox. I don't think that's in Quebec's interest. We are about 20% of the Canadian population, so producing 20% of greenhouse vegetables would be achievable. We are at 10% right now, ”he analyzes.

In Leamington, Ontario, the greenhouse capital of North America, the winters are warmer and the sun more generous. The 25- to 35-acre facility costs around sixty million dollars to build.

“These are big investments. We must not bring disease in there. Biosecurity is extremely serious. You don't go to these complexes today without a complete combination, ”explains Joseph Sbrocchi, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (GVG), based in Leamington.

According to him, we will not be able to grow potatoes, carrots and root vegetables in a greenhouse, but beans, eggplants, mushrooms, yes. “You can grow a lot more than tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. We have more and more strawberries, ”he says.

When asked if greenhouses are really the future of agriculture or a fad, Joseph Sbrocchi is enthusiastic.

“In the science fiction film The Martian , we make a greenhouse to have food. This structure protects against a hostile environment, ”he concludes with a laugh.

THE LEGAULT PLAN

Quebec wants to double the area under greenhouse cultivation in order to respect an electoral commitment, according to the government strategy for the development of greenhouses in Quebec from the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) of last May.

Context

Government commitment

“A CAQ government will ensure that the area under greenhouse cultivation in Quebec is doubled by improving the electricity discount program currently offered to greenhouse producers” -François Legault, September 5, 2018

Goals

  • Respect electoral commitment
  • Improved food autonomy
  • Profitable businesses
  • Optimizing the economic spinoffs in Quebec
  • Balanced increase in supply – demand
  • Different markets, sizes and business models

Consumption of greenhouse products

  • In 2018, Quebecers consumed 9.5 kg of the main greenhouse vegetables compared to 6.2 kg in 2007
  • The current production of greenhouse fruits and vegetables would meet approximately 50% of Quebec's consumption of greenhouse products.

Greenhouses in Quebec in figures

  • Sales of $ 143 million
  • 123 hectares of greenhouse fruits and vegetables
  • 75% owned by 12 large companies
  • This sector has already doubled its surface area in the last eight years
  • 64 hectares in 2010
  • 123 hectares in 2018

Targeted growth

  • Estimated at 120 hectares
  • Investment costs: $ 3 to $ 4 million per hectare
  • Total investment costs: $ 360 to 480 million
  • Number of estimated projects:
    +/- 200 small
    +/- 150 medium
    +/- 15 large

Government support

  • Québec Energy Transition Program – financial assistance for six years ≥ $ 36 million
  • MAPAQ – MF electricity rebate program
    – 40% of investments (max. Six years) ≤ $ 30.8 M
  • MAPAQ programs
    – PSI, IPV, Prime-Vert for five years: $ 5.6 M
  • FADQ (loans and loan guarantees): $ 97.2 million for five years
  • Hydro-Québec: interruptible photosynthesis tariff
  • MEI-IQ by decree (loans and loan guarantees): $ 34 M – Toundra, Lefort, Savoura
  • 2020-2021 budget: $ 10 million / year for 5 years

Source: Government strategy for the development of greenhouses in Quebec from the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) last May

Farmers prepare to work harder

Even if there is no risk of growing Quebec greenhouse bananas or oranges tomorrow, the industry is preparing to redouble its efforts to feed Quebecers.

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Quebec could produce more, if there is demand

If consumers are there, Quebec farmers will be able to meet the demand for several products, believes the president of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), Marcel Groleau.

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Public markets are popular

Public markets, organic baskets and farm sales have never been more popular than in recent months. Collective awareness of the need to increase our food security is gaining ground in Quebec, in the context of a pandemic.

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A calendar to buy crops from here

The Association des producteurs maraîchers du Québec provides consumers with a very useful tool to encourage local purchasing: a calendar of the availability of fruits and vegetables grown here.

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We must focus on warehouses

Quebec's self-sufficiency in potatoes is something realistic, according to the management of Patates Dolbec, a Portneuf company. Part of the recipe for success is storage warehouses.

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More space in supermarkets

The large Canadian and even American food chains have an increasing appetite for certain local products.

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Big investors want to get their hands dirty

Already very present in the agrifood sector, the major Quebec investors all want to play a role in increasing Quebec's autonomy in this key sector.

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A bite to eat in California

For ten years, Quebec strawberries have carved out an enviable place in Quebec supermarkets in the summer season, affirms the management of the farm Onésime Pouliot, even swallowing the shares of Californian products.

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Quebec tofu for food

A plant protein sector to be able to export “Made in Quebec” tofu? This is the wish of Ghislain Gervais, of Sollio Groupe Coopératif, which brings together the Quebec giants of pork Olymel and poultry Exceldor, who tells us about it.

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New electricity rates for greenhouses in the province

Taking advantage of the Legault government's desire to increase the number of greenhouses in the province, Hydro-Quebec is trying to lend a hand while seeking to increase its market share.

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Demand for local products is accelerating

Demand for organic baskets has accelerated at Les Jardins de la Chevrotière farm in Deschambault-Grondines, near Quebec City, with the arrival of COVID-19.

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After toilet paper, there is a shortage of mason jars

The frenzy for canning seized Chantal Ratté of Quebec, who prepared 110 Mason jars from the harvests of her garden. This activity seems rather popular this fall, because, on social networks, we are desperately looking for mason jars.

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We must avoid the mistakes of the past

By investing massively in greenhouse cultivation, under the pretext of achieving food self-sufficiency, the government of François Legault risks taking a wrong turn, fears the well-known farmer, Jean-Martin Fortier.

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The wind is finally turning for Quebec beef producers

At the start of the year, beef producer Patrick C. Collin from Saint-Nérée-de-Bellechasse was ready to give up everything and sell his farm. However, with the pandemic, the farmer feels the tide is turning.

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Difficult to be fully autonomous

The Jean-Garon Institute believes in partial food self-sufficiency in Quebec. Management believes, however, that it will be impossible to achieve complete autonomy “as in the early 1900s”.

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An “extraordinary opportunity”, according to the Minister of Agriculture

With the pandemic, many Quebecers have become aware of the importance of buying Quebecers. The Legault government now intends to take the leap and do everything in its power to accelerate Quebec's march towards food autonomy. Our Parliamentary Bureau discussed this with the Minister of Agriculture, André Lamontagne.

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