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.
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.