The cost of growing vegetables in Southern Ontario has more than doubled this winter due to the extreme cold.

Beverly Greenhouses in Waterdown are heated by wood-burning boilers, but owner Dale Vander Hout says the boilers can’t compete with -20 C nights.

“We ran out of wood a lot sooner than we normally would,” Vander Hout says. His wood supply usually lasts until early April. This year, the storage barns were empty by February.

To fill the void, Vander Hout is using gas-burning boilers to keep his cucumber plants warm. He says his operating costs have more than doubled because of the extra fuel.

Costs rise as temperatures drop

Southern Ontario is experiencing its coldest winter since 1979 and, according to the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, farmers like Vander Hout are “paying through the nose” for fuel.

The organization's website indicates 218 farmers in Ontario, with a number in the Hamilton area, grow tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. The industry employs more than 10,000 and brings in about $650 million per year.

General manager George Gilvesy says a greenhouse must be kept at 22 C for the plants inside to produce fruit. The colder it is outside, the more gas is needed to keep the houses hot.

“This year, growers are paying about $100,000 per acre to heat their greenhouses,” Gilvesy says. “That’s 35 per cent higher than normal.”

Gilvesy attributes the rise in price to the drop in temperature. Not only do growers need more natural gas to keep things warm, but they’re also competing with other growers and big industry for what has become a scarce resource.

Consumers and farmers will pay

Gilvesy says the high cost of growing vegetables this winter will make tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers more expensive at the grocery store, but Dale Vander Hout says he’s bearing all the costs of this winter’s cold.

“It would be nice to say, ‘Our fuel costs just went up 60 per cent, so we have a fuel surcharge’,” Vander Hout says, but it doesn’t work that way. He sells his produce through Mucci Farms and has no control over what a cucumber costs at the store.

Vander Hout says he’s taken out a loan to pay for the extra fuel, but he’s not worried about paying back the debt.