Major Quebec hothouse grower seeks creditor protection

One of Quebec’s best known greenhouse propagators, who in recent years launched an aggressive expansion into organic vegetables, is seeking creditor protection.

Les Serres Lefort, which operates almost 50 acres of greenhouse facilities at Sainte-Clotilde in Quebec’s Monteregie, announced Sept. 10 it had filed a notice of intention on Sept. 6 to file a proposal with Quebec’s Superior Court.

The filing of the notice of intention effectively stays any proceedings against the Lefort business, pending court approval of its proposal.

Documents posted by bankruptcy trustee Raymond Chabot lay out about $44.68 million in debts owed to three secured and 148 unsecured creditors — the secured creditors being financial co-operative Desjardins ($31.68 million), provincial business development lender Investissement Quebec ($6.9 million) and RBC Banque Royale ($1,911).

Reasons for the company’s filing weren’t given in the documents available online, but company president Sylvain Lefort was quoted Tuesday in La Terre de chez nous, the news arm of Quebec’s Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), as saying the company’s returns from organic vegetable production fell short of its targets.

Lefort also told the newspaper he was in the midst of negotiations to ensure the company’s operations would continue.

La Terre also quoted Claude Laniel, president of Quebec greenhouse grower group Producteurs en serre du Quebec, as being concerned that whatever new investors or owners take over the business might set aside Lefort’s organic expansion plans in lieu of restoring profitability in the shorter term.

Television network TVA, in a separate report Monday, said it had information tying the company’s financial troubles to production problems and cost overruns in Lefort’s organic cucumber and bell pepper business.

Les Serres Lefort, in business since 1984, produces an estimated 65 per cent of Quebec’s plant grafts for crop propagation, and grows greenhouse lettuce sold under the Mirabel brand. In 2013 it began marketing vegetables, including organics, under the VOG and VOG BIO brands.

The company in 2016 announced a $27 million investment to add almost 20 acres of new greenhouse space at Sainte-Clotilde, an expansion it said would make it one of the largest producers of organic greenhouse vegetables in North America.

The company said at the time it expected to produce over 500,000 cases of organic cucumbers annually on a year-round basis, plus over 250,000 cases of bell peppers in a March-to-December growing season each year.

“It’s time that we stopped watching our out-of-province competitors and that we use our own resources and expertise to develop our industry,” Sylvain Lefort said in a release at the time. “This is the beginning of a great adventure that will hopefully snowball in an industry that deserves to grow.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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