2017-03-02 / Front Page

Newport Approves Hydroponics Business

By Olga Enger


The Canadian company Hydroserre hopes to build a two-level glass hydroponic greenhouse in the North End of Newport. They plan to grow three million units of fresh lettuce for distribution to local markets in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. The Canadian company Hydroserre hopes to build a two-level glass hydroponic greenhouse in the North End of Newport. They plan to grow three million units of fresh lettuce for distribution to local markets in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. The Newport City Council accepted a proposal to allow a Canadian company to build and operate a two-level hydroponic greenhouse in the city’s North End. The glass structure will span five acres and produce up to three million heads of lettuce annually.

The facility will be built on land allotted to the Newport Resiliency Project located at Coddington Highway at John H. Chafee Boulevard, between the Community College of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

“We are in the process of negotiating a long-term lease for the property for market rent,” said Newport City Manager Joseph Nicholson. The approved resolution was contingent on the city’s successful negotiations with the involved companies. Councilors approved the proposal in a 4-1 vote at a special meeting held Thursday, Feb. 23. Councilors John Florez and Kathryn Leonard were absent. Councilor Susan Taylor voted against the motion.

“I want the city’s input into this development to involve more than just the numbers,” Taylor told Newport This Week after the meeting. “We are establishing the model for north end development going forward with the Sheffield School and this hydroponic project, both very positive developments. But, I want to be sure this project will be a good neighbor in the North End, with jobs available for local residents. I want to see continued engagement to make sure the project has a positive impact on the neighborhood.”

The owner and operator of the facility will be Hydroserre, based out of Mirabel, Canada. The company expects to grow 750,000 pounds of fresh head lettuce for distribution to local markets in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York.

The greenhouse will produce the “freshest, highest quality, most nutritious and safest leafy greens cultivated locally with the focus on taste, flavor and freshness,” reads the proposal.

Baby greens will be offered to markets at a price of $6.37 per pound and head lettuce at $1 per unit. Baby leaf varieties will include baby arugula, baby kale, baby spinach and a variety of mixes.

The company expects to create 30 permanent full-time jobs for local residents and over 100 construction jobs during the build-out of the greenhouse. The project is expected to cost $26.2 million, and will be funded by Lexden Capital of New York. The company promises employee development and research and development programs to bring new varieties to market.

Why does a Canadian hydroponics company want to plant roots in Newport?

For several years, the city has been focused on the resilience sector to generate diverse and sustainable jobs.

One of those initiatives includes the proposed business incubator at the former Sheffield School. Newport officials are aiming to begin construction on that $6.29 million project as early as this May. In November, the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. approved the final piece of the project’s financing package with $2.1 million in Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits.

In 2015, council approved an agreement between Infralinx Capital led Consortium to serve as a project advisor for the city’s innovation and resilience projects. The consortium, which now is known as the Newport Project Development Company, brought forward Lexden Capital’s proposal for the greenhouse lettuce cultivator.

Unlike traditional agriculture sites, which often result in contaminated soil that is expensive to remediate, the greenhouse growing process is environmentally friendly, Hydroserre claims.

They pledge the produce will be grown naturally, with no pesticides or other harmful chemicals. The cultivation processes integrates biological pest management controls, which utilizes beneficial species to eliminate harmful pests.

The facility will also be in compliance with food safety regulations, according to the proposal. It complies with Hazard Analysis and Critical Points Control (HACCP) and the greenhouse aligns with the harmonized Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards. It will have a controlled cold chain, full traceability and audits in the event of a recall.

Hydroserre was founded in 1987, and although a demand for greenhouse lettuce has exploded since then, the company’s story has not been without major setbacks.

After supplying greenhouse lettuce to the Canadian markets for 20 years, the concept caught the attention of U.S. lettuce giant Tanimura & Antle (T&A) in 2016. The two companies partnered to provide major U.S. outlets such as Shaws and Costco the popular product. Together, the new partners introduced Hydroserre’s lettuce to the United States by building a greenhouse in Tennessee.

However, in 2007 a stubborn strain of phytophthora emerged at the Canadian facility, a disease known as root rot. T&A broke off the partnership, taking the Tennessee greenhouse with them.

Today, Hydroserre will reemerge in the U.S. market through Newport.

To construct the Newport greenhouse, Hydroserre has partnered with Hydronov Inc., which has built over three million square feet of hydroponic greenhouse systems currently in operation worldwide. Most recently, Hydronov constructed two large leafy greens hydroponic greenhouses in China.

The fabrication material will be glass, to provide optimal growing conditions and aesthetics, according to the proposal. The growing system is a floating raft, where a body of water creates a biological buffer and the nutrient carrier during the crop cycle.

Once the project breaks ground, it is expected to take no longer than 10 months to complete. The first batch of leafy greens will be available for delivery within a month of start-up.

Construction is expected to begin this year.

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