Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre Team
The seeds of sustainability and efficiency in agriculture have firmly taken root at Niagara College Research & Innovation through the efforts of Dr. Mike Duncan, the first NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges. With a specialization in Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies, the five-year mission of the Chair is to continue the work Duncan has already started when he arrived at Niagara College in 2001; to develop new tools; and to engage provincial and national farming communities.
Duncan came to Niagara College to found the Centre for Advanced Visualization (CFAV), a research group dedicated to exploring the use of virtual reality (VR) for urban and land use visualization. A year later, Duncan received one of the first large grants ever awarded to colleges, when the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) invested more than $330,000 dollars in CFAV. Two years later, he received one of six NSERC Community College Innovation Pilot Program grants awarded across Canada. While it was a research facility, CFAV worked with international firms like Parsons Engineering, and Delcan Engineering, as well as local governments and cities. In 2006, CFAV Inc. was incorporated to commercialize the CFAV group, and to pursue private contracts, so Duncan then founded the Augmented Reality Research Centre (ARRC) to continue research into VR and to expand its use into other areas such as precision agriculture.
An Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) grant in 2007 established ARRC and Niagara College firmly in the area of agricultural remote sensing and visualization with the PrAgMatic project which aims to help farmers increase crop yields while reducing dependence on fertilizers and water, therefore reducing environmental impact. The PrAgMatic system currently encompasses a host of technologies, including GIS/GPS, databases, 2D and 3D visualization, digital soil mapping (DSM), image classification, sensor networks, LIDAR, and other remote sensing technologies.
In 2009, Niagara College received one of the first Community College Innovation (CCI) grants of $2.3 million for the development of the Land Use Technology Centre to further focus on the PrAgMatic project. This work attracted the attention of local and international partners, including Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and IBM.
Maintaining a healthy respect for the fact that farming is a business, Duncan and his team of students and collaborators are examining questions like how to establish management zones in farm fields, how to recognize the onset conditions of killer frost events, and how to interpret and use remote sensed data in the context of a farm field.
Kimberley Cathline is the Research Project Manager of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC). In her role, she oversees projects in the areas of precision agriculture technology, environmental technology, horticultural practices, and greenhouse research.
Kimberley has 15 years’ experience in applied agriculture research – most recently at the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre – managing numerous horticulture research projects, and previously at the University of California, Davis, where she managed viticulture research in lab, field and greenhouse environments. Kimberley holds a BSc (Hon. with Distinction) in Plant Biology from the University of Guelph and an MSc in Biological Sciences, specializing in Plant Sciences, from Brock University.
Sarah Lepp is not a farmer, but her research focuses on bettering the agricultural industry.
The senior research associate first came to Niagara College to complete the Environmental Technology program as a field and lab technician. While she considered consulting in such areas as soil and water sampling for corporations, institutions, or government; she decided instead to study physical geography.
She therefore attended Brock University, co-majoring in physical geography and Great Books/Liberal Studies. “I really love reading and I figured this was a way to get in more time with some great books.”
While still in college, Lepp started working with Agricorp on the plum pox problem across the Niagara region. During her work, a friend encouraged her to apply to Niagara College Research & Innovation. Initially, she worked with the GIS research assistant as well as with environmental students, helping them with projects on the lagoon and tree planting on the Niagara Escarpment. As her experience with research grew, she was given the opportunity of working with the computer programmers on the GIS-based projects. In the summer of 2012, she was promoted from research assistant to senior research associate. Most of her work is done in partnership with farmers, or with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
Under the umbrella of precision agriculture, Lepp’s current focus is on projects aimed at both saving farmers money and protecting the environment. For example, she has been working with several computer programmers on rebuilding and redeveloping software called LandMapR, which calculates land classifications. These land classifications help farmers determine which areas of their field render high and low yields, which allows the farmers to adjust the levels of fertilizer across the field.
She is also working on a farm resource optimizer specific to fertilizer application. This application determines how much of each fertilizer to put in certain parts of the field, which promotes higher yields. The application helps farmers save money and helps protect the environment by diminishing the amount of fertilizer runoff in nearby streams.
In her downtime, Lepp can often be found in the kitchen baking, but when the weather turns nice, you might also find her in a nearby park, walking and bouncing on a slackline hung low between the trees. Slacklining is distinct from tightrope walking, in that the line is not held rigid, allowing the participant a feeling of walking across a trampoline.
Bill MacDonald has extensive expertise in greenhouse production, plant agriculture, soil science, LED lighting, and nutrient-use efficiency. As well as a teaching faculty member and coordinator, Bill co-designed and developed the current Commercial Cannabis Production Ontario College Graduate Certificate program curriculum. He has experience supporting licensed cannabis producers in their production systems, advising on many aspects of their production and he serves on the Cannabis Jobs Steering Committee with the Niagara Workforce Planning Board.
With a strong background in the applied and research horticultural fields, Bill has managed and owned greenhouse operations in Nova Scotia and Ontario. He began his time at Niagara College in 2007 teaching Plant Science, Soil Science, and Nursery Management courses, as well as conducting ongoing applied research projects with the College’s Research & Innovation division. Bill holds a BSc in Soil Science (1983) and an MSc in Plant Agriculture (2013), both from the University of Guelph.
It’s simple really. Mary Jane Clark adores plants – any and all plants. Indeed, she cannot remember a time she was not passionate about plants.
“They’re just so beautiful and majestic … they make the world such a lovely place to be,” enthuses the Niagara College (NC) horticulture professor.
Besides teaching first- and second-year Greenhouse, Horticulture, and Landscape Technician students, Clark’s curious nature has also led to her interest for applied plant research and work with the Agriculture & Environment Innovation Centre team at the College.
Her most recent work with the team includes a collaboration between industry partner Gro-Bark, one of Ontario’s major organic horticultural supply companies, and her Greenhouse Production Science I class. Students completed valuable research with an organic substrate for the company, enabling Gro-Bark to move closer to its goal of getting the product to market.
“We’re pairing this research project with learning the theory in class,” explains Clark. “The students first learn the theory behind greenhouse growing and then put it into practice growing the plants themselves. That combination makes for a great student learning experience.”
Clark holds a Master of Science in Plant Agriculture (2009) and a Bachelor of Science, Plant Biology (Honours 2005) from the University of Guelph. Prior to her arrival at NC, Clark was involved with horticulture research at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.
She never really veers far from her roots, growing up on a farm near Blenheim, Ont. When asked about her role here at NC she simply states: “It’s a privilege to teach and inspire the next generation.”
When she’s not at the College, or volunteering for local community garden groups, she can be found tending to the 100 or so different plants found in her St. Catharines garden. That number didn’t take long to grow, given that she hosts upwards of 30 varieties of vegetables – and that includes during the winter, in her cold-frame outdoor garden.
Derek Schulze has been a faculty member at Niagara College since 2016 for the School of Environment and Horticulture Studies, and the Coordinator for the Greenhouse Technician program. Prior to this, he spent 15 years in industry as a commercial greenhouse owner/operator (TJ Greenhouses Inc.). Derek received his MSc in plant biotechnology and biophysics from the University of Guelph (1996) and a BSc (Hon) from the University of Waterloo (1994). In the years between graduation and his time in industry, Derek worked as a Research Associate at Queen’s University in the Cancer Research Institute (CRI). While there, he contributed to grant applications, designing experimental protocols and performing research at both whole animal and cellular levels.
Ian Smith is a Fluvial Geomorphologist and Land Information Specialist with wide-ranging experience in stream restoration, natural channel design, erosion control, and bank stabilization, plus the design of constructed wetlands for storm and wastewater treatment. He has extensive practical experience developing innovative fluvial geomorphic and wetland designs as well as undertaking complex river/stream systems analyses, using geospatial tools (GIS/RS).
Ian has also taught and developed curriculum at the postgraduate level for more than 20 years in Ecosystems Restoration and GIS/Geomatics, domestically and internationally, and has been with Niagara College since 1994. He holds a certificate of registration (CR125) under the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (AOLS) as a GIS/GIM Professional.
Michelle Smith is a Technologist for the Commercial Cannabis Production Program with Niagara College, where she helped to implement the current cannabis growing containers for the academic/teaching crops. She has expertise in plant and greenhouse production, growing trials, plant analysis, and plant nutrient needs. Michelle joined Niagara College in 2014 as an instructor for several courses within the School of Environment and Horticulture Studies.
Since joining Research & Innovation as a Research Lead, she has provided support and leadership to a number of Research Assistants in multiple areas, including growing trials, crop health troubleshooting, data collection, greenhouse crop care, landscape maintenance, and garden oversight. She holds a Bachelor degree (Hon) from the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture (2000).
Sebastien Jacob is a professor in the Horticulture, Greenhouse and Commercial Cannabis programs at Niagara College’s School of Environment and Horticulture Studies. He joined the College in August 2018 after 15 years of practical experience in the greenhouse horticulture industry, which included advising, training and teaching growers and their staff – throughout North, Central and South America – the art of implementing and maintaining a successful Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.
He also served as Research Assistant for both Laval University and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and as an IPM Specialist and R&D Manager for a biological control company. Sebastien holds an MSc in Entomology (Biocontrol Science) from the University of Montreal (2004) and a BSc in Biology from University of Quebec in Trois-Rivieres (1998).