The Projects of the Organic Science Cluster Answer Producers' Needs

An Interview with Frédéric Jobin-Lawler, an industry partner participating in the Organic Science Cluster.

Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada

As a trained biologist, for eight years, Frédéric Jobin-Lawler worked as a representative for a greenhouse equipment supplier. That is, until 2009, when Jobin-Lawler bought L'Abri Végétal, a 2000 square metre greenhouse in Compton, Eastern Townships, Quebec.

At the time of purchase, the greenhouse was already equipped with a geothermal energy exchanger for heating. But, Jobin-Lawler had numerous questions about the system, many of which the supplier could not answer. To help satisfy his curiosity, while at the same time calculating and optimizing the efficiency of his system, Jobin-Lawler decided to invest funds in the Organic Science Cluster (OSC). His investment was directed towards a project under the leadership of Martine Dorais, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) researcher specializing in greenhouse production.

The project went smoothly, partially attributed to both Jobin-Lawler's Master's degree in phytotechnics, and his greenhouse's existing technology, which possessed the capacity to compile and analyze data.

The trials and analysis that were performed as a part of the Organic Science Cluster project were rewarding, allowing Jobin-Lawler to optimize the use of his greenhouse's existing geothermal system. The research revealed that an upward adjustment in the size of the heat distribution tubes in the geothermal system can raise its efficiency. Furthermore, the research suggested that air-conditioning could also be provided by a geothermal system in a semi-closed greenhouse. Reversing the role of the geothermal equipment, using it to refresh and cool the greenhouse during hot periods, could  be a profitable undertaking.

"We setup a carbon dioxide injection system two years ago to stimulate photosynthesis. If we air-condition the greenhouse when the weather is warm, we don't have to open the roof of the greenhouse to lower the temperature; we will then prevent dissipation of CO2 out of the greenhouse and will maintain the CO2 level effective to stimulate photosynthesis." L'Abri végétal hopes to build up scientific evidence to support  this observation and experience, and this will constitute their proposal of the research in the Organic Science Cluster II.

L'Abri végétal produces tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs year-round. The plants grow directly in the soil, not in containers. Jobin-Lawler reports that the quality of the soil is exceptional in Compton and that yields are very good. "We simply use composted manure with straw, plus feather meal. And it is organic," comments  Jobin-Lawler.

A scheduled routine for preparation, planting and harvesting is at the heart of
Jobin-Lawler's operation. For example, he typically finishes harvesting one crop in mid-January. The plants are then removed, the soil tilled with a rotary tiller and fertilized. New transplants, seeded and grafted a few months previously, are then planted. The next harvest is ready by the end of March.

Jobin-Lawler has invested a considerable amount of money, in the proximity of $10,000 annually, in the Organic  Science Cluster for the past 4 years, an amount that AAFC has quadrupled. "It costs a few thousand dollars, but it can generate useful information that can represent tens of thousands of dollars for the coming years. You must try. It surely does not make the producer regress," comments the greenhouse owner, who is anxious to  participate to the second round of the Organic Science Cluster.

"It is much more interesting to work with a team than working alone. You can get
 help to analyze the consequences of your management. You relate with stakeholders, researchers and suppliers, who teach you how to look at your production from another angle and to move on to the next good direction. It is very important in a sector where you always have to improve your management to face competition" concludes Jobin-Lawler.

For more information about the Organic Science Cluster, or this research project,
please see Activity C.7 - Feasibility of using geothermal energy as heat and humidity control for an organic greenhouse tomato crop.

This article was written by Nicole Boudreau, Organic Federation of Canada, on behalf of the OACC with funding provided by Canada’s Organic Science Cluster (a part of the Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Growing Forward Policy Framework).  The Organic Science Cluster is a collaborative effort led jointly by the OACC, the Organic Federation of Canada and industry partners. For more information: or 902-893-7256.

Posted October 2012