5/25/2013 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent
DUBLIN, Va. — The residents of Virginia’s New River Valley are eagerly awaiting for work to begin on the area’s newest industry: production of greenhouse tomatoes, which was announced earlier this year by Gov. Bob McDonnell, Carlos Visconti, chief operating officer of JemD Farms and Thierry Legros, managing director of Red Sun Farms.
“We are cautiously optimistic that they will be moving dirt within 30 to 60 days,” Aric Bopp, executive director of the New River Valley Economic Development Alliance, said during a visit to the site earlier this month. “Our community here in the NRV has been an agriculture community through the years. We are glad to build on that tradition.”
McDonnell said that Red Sun Farms, a producer of high quality hydroponic vegetables, is planning to establish its first U.S. high technology greenhouse production here.
He said Red Sun Farms will be investing a total of $30 million on 45 acres in the park.
McDonnell has approved a $350,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund to assist Pulaski County with the project. He has also approved $100,000 from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industry Development Fund.
Red Sun Farms plans to produce greenhouse grown vegetables year-round. Bopp and Shawn Utt, director of community development for Pulaski County, said the hope is that the first phase of the project will be up and running in early 2014.
They pointed to two factors that played a part in the international company’s decision to come to Dublin, Pulaski County. One is that the NRV has the second highest elevation on the East Coast (Ashville, N.C., has the highest elevation). This makes it well suited for growing tomatoes due to the changes in daytime and nighttime temperatures.
The second is the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech and the huge amount of agricultural and horticultural research that is ongoing at the land- grant university. It is about 20 miles away and both communities have airports as well.
Red Sun Farms, a subsidiary of Agricola El Rosal, which was founded in 2001 as part of the agriculture business division of Grupo KASTO, is headquartered in Michoacán, Mexico. The company operates similar greenhouses in Numaran and Michoacan, Mexico.
Agricola El Rosal merged with Canadian company, JemD International, earlier this year.
“We are extremely excited to begin construction on our new greenhouse facility in Dublin, Va.,” Visconti said during the announcement. “Being able to provide quality, safe, and now, locally grown greenhouse produce to our retail partners and consumers is a great accomplishment for our team. We thank the governor and the local authorities for their support and assistance to make this project a reality.”
The site is north of Dublin on Route 100 at the end of the runway of the NRV Airport. The greenhouse operation will be the first to locate in the NRV Commerce Park and is expected to provide 205 jobs to residents of the economically needy region. It is surrounded by farmlands where small grains, corn and hay are grown.
The commerce park has been developed over the past several years to be ready for tenants and has infrastructure including water and power and a four-lane paved entrance road in place.
Officials with Red Sun are working with the contractor on details of the start-up phase of work, Bopp and Utt indicated. They are expected to be able to announce when it will begin in the near future.
Red Sun Farms could not be reached for comment for this article.