Paul Mastronardi of Mastronardi Produce® and Caitlin Tierney of Mastronardi Produce West® Discuss CEA for Upcoming Organic Produce Summit
- by Jordan Okumura
KINGSVILLE, ON - The dynamic, challenging, and volatile nature of the recent year and a half has revealed quite a few things about fresh produce to me—and one of them is that organics are not only here to stay, but continue to be an area of incredible growth opportunities. Now, with the Organic Produce Summit (OPS) on the horizon, Paul Mastronardi, President and Chief Executive Officer, Mastronardi Produce® and Caitlin Tierney, Business Director, Mastronardi Produce West®, join me to discuss the impact of a growing area of investment in organics—controlled environment agriculture (CEA)—and how it is primed to accelerate fresh produce’s advantages and benefits in organics, conventional, and the greater food industry.
“Consumer demand for flavorful fresh produce that is sustainably and locally grown is rising. As our population continues to grow, so too does the need for fresh, nutrient-rich produce. Traditional farming simply cannot keep up with this increasing demand,” Caitlin reflects, adding that to meet supply and reduce dependence on imported goods, CEA in greenhouses offers a more viable solution. “Greenhouses are also ten to twenty times more efficient and use up to ten times less water than conventional field farms.”
Caitlin leads me down the CEA path, sharing how consumers have come to expect a “season-less” pantry, and as a result of high-flavor, year-round varieties like Campari® and Flavor Bombs™, the company is seeing more retailers and foodservice operators move toward greenhouse-grown produce grown with innovative methods.
“By increasing quality, reducing the use of pesticides, growing locally, and bringing year-round supply, we can meet the needs of both consumers and retailers. A great example of this is our greenhouse in Coldwater, Michigan. Here, we use CEA techniques—such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—which significantly reduce the need for pesticides and provides local retailers and foodservice operators high-quality, flavorful produce that is grown year-round and is closer to them and their consumers,” Caitlin asserts.
Costs also play a major role in how the conversation around CEA has progressed—a big topic that will be at play during OPS' "Growth of CEA: What's Real and What's Hype? - Part 1" panel during the September 15-16 show, where Caitlin will be a panelist. To register for OPS, please click here!
“As we all know, produce has a shelf-life that impacts the entire supply chain. If you are a retailer located on the East Coast, your fresh produce could take up to a week to get to the closest distribution center. Transportation relies on liquid fuels, which are predicted to rise in price faster than the U.S. economic inflation rate,” Caitlin reveals. “Production in CEA facilities relies on electricity and natural gas, and these prices are predicted to remain on par with inflation. With CEA, you will get fresher, more reliable produce that’s not only grown closer to where consumers are buying it, but is also cost-sustainable for the supplier.”
A win-win, in Caitlin’s words.
To get an idea of the difference and the dynamic between greenhouse and CEA, Paul breaks it down for me this way.
“CEA can be produced in several sectors of the agricultural industry: fish, dairy, produce, etc. It’s essentially the production of food while controlling certain aspects of the environment in order to reduce pest or disease, increase efficiencies, become more sustainable, and save costs,” he says.
Using technology and data, food can be produced with quality and flavor.
“Greenhouse farming does all of this with a focus on controlled variables. Variables like temperature, humidity, and sunlight are considered carefully when growing produce in greenhouses,” he adds. “And, while CEA and greenhouse growing are two separate methods of quality food production, CEA is regularly used in greenhouses because it adds significant benefits to crop production, sustainability, and increased quality and flavor.”
It is at this point in the conversation that he pauses to bring in the impact of vertical farming as well.
“Vertical farming, which is the process of growing crops in vertically stacked layers, is a relatively novel concept and has some significant headwinds to overcome before commercially viable. It’s currently a very small part of the market with significantly higher pricing, so it won’t replace, but will complement, existing food production with local, sustainably grown food,” Paul expresses.
This leads me to inquire how one would define the differences between vertical farming and greenhouse, and Paul details how a primary difference between vertical farming and greenhouse growing is output costs.
“Fully automated vertical farms rely exclusively on artificial lighting, which results in higher operating costs and capital expenditures. Our greenhouses, on the other hand, provide nutrient-dense produce grown sustainably, year-round without the high costs associated with energy. Why? Because we draw a lot of value from the fact that the production surfaces are mostly illuminated by the sun,” he shares.
And as Paul Mastronardi always says to his team, “there’s something magical about the sun.”
As OPS draws near, mark your calendars, build your schedule, and add Educational Breakout Session: "Growth of CEA: What's Real and What's Hype? -Part 1" for September 15!