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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 6:44 am | Fair 43º

 
 
 
 
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Windset Farms Gets Approval to Add Hoop Houses in Santa Maria

City planners OK trial crop production project for Canadian firm with tomato greenhouses on Black Road

Traditional farming sits to the south of greenhouses where Windset Farms grows hydroponic crops. The Canadian firm received permission Wednesday night from the Santa Maria Planning Commssion to add trial hoop houses to its operation on Black Road.
Traditional farming sits to the south of greenhouses where Windset Farms grows hydroponic crops. The Canadian firm received permission Wednesday night from the Santa Maria Planning Commssion to add trial hoop houses to its operation on Black Road. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Canadian firm growing tomatoes in huge greenhouses on the western edge of Santa Maria can add some trial hoop houses, the city’s Planning Commission decided Wednesday night.

Windset Farms, a 5.8-million-square-foot greenhouse and produce distribution facility at 1650 Black Rd., wants to add the trial hoop houses on 8 acres east of the existing structures.

The test structures will let the firm determine whether they are viable for crop production without the cost of building a full greenhouse, Frank Albro, a city planner, said before the Planning Commission approved the limited-term permit for the project.

“The smaller structures will provide a less expensive alternative but also provide some of the benefits that they have with the larger greenhouses such as better worker ergonomics, less use of water, less need for pesticides and fertilizers and so forth,” Albro added.

Windset started building the greenhouses in 2009 to grow hydroponic tomatoes on 7 acres of its 27.8 acres.

The trial facilities will help the firm assess what other crops can be grown successfully. 

The plan calls for a variety of hoop structures with different heights and widths to test how different products — such as berries, peppers, cucumbers and lettuce — can be grown in the facility, according to Laurie Tamura from Urban Planning Concepts.

While the greenhouses have been successful, developing them has been a costly endeavor, Tamura said. 

“There’s other ways of accomplishing some of the same goals by controlling the environment with these hoop structures,” she added.

The firm’s growing methods bring other benefits, too, such as one-ninth the water usage, less soil erosion, better efficiencies for workers and less fertilizer and herbicides, Tamura said.

In addition, they see a higher quantity of food production per acreage, she added.

Windset Farms received permission Wednesday night from the Santa Maria Planning Commssion to test out hoop houses to its local operations. Click to view larger
Windset Farms received permission Wednesday night from the Santa Maria Planning Commssion to test out hoop houses to its local operations.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Windset Farms has been at the forefront of high-tech agriculture,” Tamura said.

“Their expansion has really helped recognize Santa Maria as the national leader in the high-tech agricultural field, and moving into the hoop house will give them a lot more flexibility, an opportunity to grow a variety of vegetable and fruit products. 

“This test field is something, I think, will really take it up to the next level,” she added.

The hoop houses will use metal structures covered with a very thin plastic that allow sunlight through but provide protection for the crops, David Wesley, Windset director of projects, said.

The trial will involve testing different types of plastic, some that will reflect more light and others that reflect less light and will let more heat into the growing area. 

The goal is to keep pests out and use “good bugs” to get the bad bugs to avoid using pesticides and herbicides, Wesley added.

“I think the best description would be if we have a high-tech glass greenhouse on one end of the spectrum and the hoop houses that we currently see in the valley, we would be right in the middle, almost like a hybrid between the two,” Wesley said.

The trial project is new for the company which also will test products it hasn't grown before in hoop houses or greenhouses.

“This is quite a test for us,” he said.

Windset and REC Solar recently hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of 1 megawatt solar energy system, a 4,032-panel array that sits on the roof of the farm’s shipping and packing building.

In addition to Santa Maria, chosen for its mild climate, Windset Farms has greenhouses in British Columbia and Las Vegas.

“This is a very important development for us as we start to plan our our future and our expansion here in Santa Maria,” Wesley said the trial hoop houses.

“This is significantly less in terms of the capital contribution … but what it will allow is to do is to expand our presence. We'll be adding more jobs and more investment in the community and we’re very much looking forward to taking this on so we can see the real direction that we want to take.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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