Darpa Systems & Technology Inc.: Growing a Greenhouse from Installation to Production

Darpa Systems & Technology Inc. (Darpa) will boast three years of business in June 2013. Brothers Peter and Jake Ketler founded the greenhouse manufacturing company, which is growing in more ways than one thanks to a distinct area of expertise. The company operates from a 20,000-square foot manufacturing site in Kingsville, Ontario, where Darpa currently employs about 15 people, servicing mainly Ontario and a few bordering U.S. states.

“We don’t just build a greenhouse and sell it to a farmer,” says Peter, general manager of Darpa. “We are there to assist in the rest of the process, to make sure the customer is up and running and turning a profit.”

The Ketler brothers understand what goes into building and maintaining a greenhouse after growing up on a farm in Leamington, Ontario. “My father owned a greenhouse,” recalls Peter. “It’s been in our blood since.” The brothers remained in the industry even after the family greenhouse operation was sold, knowing some day Peter and Jake would have a business of their own. Years of hands-on experience provided the pair enough background knowledge to make this dream a reality.

Peter has eight years of experience as a grower and manager, as he spent years working for a large-scale greenhouse facility where he supervised over 100 employees. Peter’s responsibilities at the 100-acre greenhouse included labor management, packaging and nutrient preparation for plants and pest control.

“My specialty is managing the logistics,” says Peter. “My brother, Jake, is involved in the manual operations side of things like manufacturing and designing of greenhouses to obtain optimum results in growing and climate control.”

Meanwhile, Jake brings seven years of greenhouse manufacturing experience to Darpa. Through his extensive travels, Jake has built upon his knowledge of shop labor, quoting, purchasing, heating and irrigation systems. In addition, he has also developed strong partner relationships, only enhancing Darpa’s edge.

The Ketlers’ combined efforts have propelled Darpa into a force to be reckoned with in the industry. The business really took off when Darpa’s first client, Mastronardi Produce, signed on. Darpa maintains a relationship today with Mastronardi Produce, along with other integral partnerships, including Sunset Produce, Form Flex, Boal Aluminum, HortiMaX and many others.

Consultants Who Care

Darpa specializes in the manufacturing of glass and poly greenhouses. However, the service doesn’t end after the greenhouse is up. The company acts like a consultant throughout the entire process, taking the guesswork out of a relatively new concept for many customers. Darpa assists in providing site plans, acquiring necessary permits, manufacturing the actual structure, providing heating, irrigation and water storage tanks, harvesting carts and, most importantly, grower management training services and daily duties for employees.

The goal is to attract potential customers interested in the concept of a greenhouse, who may be hesitant to dive in due to start-up costs and lack of knowledge. “We understand in this economy starting up a greenhouse is high risk, requiring many start-up costs,” explains Peter. “That’s why we provide complete turnkey installations; they can start planting right away.”

Through consultations and weekly meetings a plan of action is devised, considering many variables and what will work best for a particular site. “We really try to understand what the grower is looking for,” says Peter. “What can we do to be competitive, provide best service and deliveries are really important.”

As if providing extended consultation for clients wasn’t enough, Darpa also self-performs the majority of work on a job. With the exception of some construction and electrical work, the company gets the greenhouse up and running on its own.

Developing Greener Solutions

One longstanding relationship Darpa relies on is with HortiMaX/ Ridder Company (HortiMaX), a subsidiary of the Ridder Group of companies. Boasting over 50 years of experience, HortiMaX supplies Darpa with a range of products to control virtually any physical process in a greenhouse environment. “We devise advanced and highly innovative solutions that provide Darpa with convenience, improved efficiency and higher yields,” explains Wil Lammers, president of HortiMaX Americas. “This translates in delivering productivity through applied science and integrated engineering.”

Darpa and HortiMaX share a common vision, which is based on believing that the key to a successful greenhouse operation is to start the design of the project with the crop in mind. By following several other criteria, Darpa and HortiMaX are able to provide optimal crop productivity and yield, translating into high output for the lowest production cost.

Though Darpa’s relationship with HortiMaX is helpful, the team presses for even further innovation. As young, green technology enthusiasts, Darpa is always looking for a more efficient solution. Peter attributes much of the company’s success to constant learning through travel and research. “Together with good partners, we are working on a semi-closed greenhouse,” notes Peter. “The goal is to create a 100-percent controlled climate year-round.” This technology could make greenhouse installations a reality for all parts of the globe.

Although starting up any young company presents a challenge, both Peter and Jake believe Darpa will continue to grow in the newly formed industry. “We truly have a unique business,” affirms Peter. The Ketler brothers see the opportunity for state-side business development with new farmers and investors looking to get into the greenhouse sector and hope to establish a new location in Mexico in the next few years. Overall, Darpa Systems & Technology Inc. is a leading example of innovation, quality service and accountability in meeting standards of each valued customer.