Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre Team
Gregor MacLean is the Project Manager overseeing the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies portfolio. Prior to that, Gregor worked in the private sector as a program manager focused on program design and delivery in energy conservation and consumer engagement, and as an environmental consultant for hazardous materials and property assessments. Gregor also has experience in food service management, and municipal waste management programs. Gregor has a Bachelor in Sport Management (Honours) from Brock University and a post-graduate certificate in Environmental Management and Assessment from Niagara College.
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.
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.
At any moment in time, Ryan Tunis can tell you the relative humidity, the temperature and current weather patterns throughout southern Ontario. And it’s thanks to his involvement in Niagara College’s precision agriculture research into solving real-world agricultural environmental issues.
In his role as lead computer programmer, Tunis works with the team at the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre in advancing the tools and support technologies for the Canadian farming sector. These tools include the Research Crop Portal, an interactive website for farmers/growers to access precision agriculture technologies and the installation of numerous micrometeorological/weather stations in fields, vineyards and orchards that, combined with remote sensors, provide real-time measurements that help notify farmers of oncoming weather threats.
Tunis is responsible for summarizing all of the work done with the Crop Portal and the weather stations into one major data warehouse and one web application, which is used for data processing, analytics, and reporting.
A graduate of Computer Programming at Niagara College in 2015, Tunis worked as a research assistant with the Research & Innovation division doing software development, testing of agricultural data management and mapping web software.
Prior to his arriving at the College, Tunis was a guitar teacher and can still be found on stage as a guitar player for a Hamilton-based metal band called Men to Wolves.