Category Archives: Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre

POSITION AVAILABLE: Computer Programmer Research Assistant position available

Computer Programmer Research Assistant, Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre

The successful candidate will work with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre team at the Welland Campus. The work includes programming, testing and troubleshooting of agricultural data management and mapping web software. The position could involve development of web/cloud/IoT services, and helping to develop robotics technology. You will work with senior team members in Computer Programming and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and the Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Precision Agriculture & Environmental Technologies.

Click HERE for the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, October 14th, 2020 at 12pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, transcript and class schedule to [email protected] and reference job posting ‘COMPUTER PROGRAMMER RESEARCH ASSISTANT – AETIC ‘.

 

We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

NOW HIRING: Greenhouse Research Assistant position available with our Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre team

Greenhouse Research Assistant, Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre

The individuals will work with the Faculty Leads to oversee plant growth, apply fertilizers/irrigation, etc., and assess and measure growth. The successful candidates will collect data from the growing trials and help to prepare update reports and a final report summarizing the project results. Some duties will include: carefully observing plant growth progress, taking regular measurements and careful notes on plant growth progress, and reviewing and providing input on watering, lighting, and nutrient needs. 

Click HERE to see the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Friday, September 18th, 2020 at 4pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, transcript and class schedule to [email protected] and reference job posting ‘Greenhouse/Horticulture Research Assistant’ in the subject line.

We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

NOW HIRING: Computer Programmer Assistant position available with our Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre team

Computer Programmer Research Assistant, Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre

The successful candidate will work with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre team at the Welland Campus. The work includes programming, testing and troubleshooting of agricultural data management and mapping web software. The position could involve development of web/cloud/IoT services, and helping to develop robotics technology. You will work with senior team members in Computer Programming and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and the Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Precision Agriculture & Environmental Technologies.

Click HERE to see the full job posting. The deadline to apply is Friday, September 18th, 2020 at 4pm.

To apply, please email your resume, cover letter, transcript and class schedule to [email protected] and reference job posting ‘AETIC COMPUTER PROGRAMMER RESEARCH ASSISTANT’.

 

We thank all applicants; however, only those qualifying for an interview will be contacted.

Research team in spotlight at OFVC

Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division was well represented at this year’s Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in February. Known as Canada’s premier horticultural event, the annual conference brings together researchers, producers, industry experts, associations and educators. In its 18th year, the two-day event features world-class expert speakers, tradeshow exhibitors and network opportunities.

R&I had a number of experts speaking at the event: From the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), both Mike Duncan, PhD, and Sarah Lepp, senior research associate, presented thought-provoking information about weather, climate change and the resulting impact on soil. From the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre (CFWI Innovation Centre), Ana Cristina Vega Lugo, PhD, spoke about sustainable packaging for both consumers and commercial applications.

On the tradeshow floor, research team members from AETIC, CFWI Innovation Centre and also the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), showcased the division’s resources and capabilities.

Read more about our featured panelists at OFVC here.

For more information on the resources and capabilities of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, visit the website.

Testing a pioneering organic silica product

Northern Hemp 1
(left) Greg Marsh, president at Northern Hemp Specialists, is with Laurie Zuber, horticulture technologist with NC’s Commercial Cannabis Program.

UPDATE: June 18, 2020: 
In March 2020, Niagara College had to suspend all on-campus classes and applied research project work requiring presence on campus, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This project was unfortunately cut short due to this suspension of activities before longer term results could be achieved. However, the groundwork laid in the Niagara College project will enable Northern Hemp Specialists to expand its products successfully.

Northern Hemp Specialists is aiming to “greatly advance” the cannabis and hemp industries with its silica-based organic product. Once the growing trial by Niagara College cannabis students is complete, the Huntsville-based start-up is hoping to show significant improvements in nutrient uptake by the plants.

The post-graduate students from the Cannabis Production Science 2 class have been involved in an extensive growing study in the College’s cannabunker and greenhouse this past semester for the industry partner. The course-based applied research project is managed by Research & Innovation’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, and funded by the Ontario Centres of Excellence through its College Voucher for Technology Adoption program. 

Greg Marsh, president at Northern Hemp Specialists, says his organic silica-based biostimulant also acts as a pesticide for the cannabis and hemp plants, to increase pest resistance.

The class has been overseeing and analyzing the growth of cannabis plants, amended with the silica-based product against control plants. During the trial, researchers have assessed the nutrient composition of the cannabis plants by taking leaf samples of the most recently matured leaf (MRML) at two-week intervals. This gives an indication of the nutrient uptake of the plants in the different treatments.

The cannabis plants have been harvested, and the flower buds will be appropriately dried, and sent for analysis of the cannabinoid and terpenoid content for treatment comparison.

Marsh checked in on the growing trial results this month at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and reports a growth improvement to the treated plants to date, compared to the control plants.

“We are hoping the trial will prove that we can increase the absorption rates of silica in cannabis and hemp plants from three percent to 60 percent,” explains Marsh, adding that his pioneering approach – which has been five years in development – should strengthen plants, enabling higher yields of both flowers and leaves, reduces transplant shock and is more pest resistant and efficient through the added strength created in the root zone.

“A 15 percent increase in yields can translate into millions of dollars of extra revenue for growers and producers,” he predicts.

“One of the most important benefits of using our process is that it’s 100 percent organic,” says Marsh. “We have this product that’s two-in-one; when it spreads over the soil, not only does it stop pests from coming through the soil, it also stops them from going from plant to plant on the ground.”

Northern Hemp 2
Northern Hemp Specialists is pleased with the visual growing results so far. The cannabis plant on the left, showing a larger yield, has been treated with their organic silica-based biostimulant product, contrasted against the control plant on the right.

For the burgeoning commercial cannabis growing industry, one of the most significant issues in scaling-up quickly has been combatting disease and controlling pests, says Bill MacDonald, coordinator and professor of NC’s Commercial Cannabis Production (CCP) program, started in 2018.

“You’re extremely limited in your toolbox of pest control products you can use,” says MacDonald. “Growers have to follow Health Canada regulations and, of course, since it is a consumable or inhalable product, it has to be grown and maintained as organic.”

A lot of what MacDonald and his faculty team are teaching in the one-year CCP program is environmental control – learning how to control the environment in terms of heat, humidity and light as well as biological control – which is using “good” bugs to control the destructive pests.

Marsh says his company uses a proprietary mixture of specially engineered bacterial and fungal inoculants, mixed with the silica flour. The product is soil soluble, enhancing the root, stem and leaf strength of cannabis plants, coupled with the ability to resist soil-based pests, such as gnats, borers, snails, aphids and others.

“This product could revolutionize this part of the business and give stronger, pest-free plants, with better yields,” adds Marsh.

“We have found Bill MacDonald, Laurie Zuber and the Niagara College students very knowledgeable and extremely helpful in setting up and administering the project.”

For more information on projects conducted for industry in partnership with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre, visit the website.

‘Unique’ climate data can help farmers prepare: NC researcher

If sophisticated weather data analysis is any indication, Mother Nature does not have a farm-friendly forecast in store for Southern Ontario growers.  

Instead of historically predictable weather – one reason Niagara has flourished as the fruit belt – one high-tech projection is calling for more significant, more extreme, and more variable rain rates. This according to forensic weather data processed and analyzed by Niagara College’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) team and led by Research & Innovation’s Mike Duncan, who has his PhD in Agricultural Physics. 

“Instead of being even and reliable, it will be heavy and sporadic, which is not crop or soil friendly,” says Duncan, who is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair for Colleges, specializing in precision agriculture and environmental technologies.

His team is looking at two data sets; the first is a forensic, or very detailed, recreation of the weather in the farming areas of Southern Ontario for the between 2000 and 2018, and the second is based on the IPCC RCP(6.0) climate change scenario for the years 2030 to 2048, covering the same area. 

“The second data set shows a snapshot of what ‘might happen’ if CO2 levels keep increasing,” says Duncan. “It is unique in the sense that there are very few realizations of climate change data that show what might happen at the ground as the climate evolves.” 

Duncan and his team wanted to look at what farmers might face in a changing climate and he says the positive news is that the growers can be prepared.

“This data doesn’t lie … I’m not showing probabilities; I’m showing raw data. I’m not predicting that the rainfall in 2017 is going to flood the Great Lakes … it did.”

The 2000 to 2018 forensic meteorology data was generated using a numerical weather model operating on a global data set called ERA-Interim, which can re-create the weather over the last 18 years in Southern Ontario at one-hour intervals. This expensive data set was purchased as part of an industry partner project looking specifically at weather statistics for growing tree crops.

The state-of-the-art model generates 140 weather variables at more than 30,000 grid points across the farming areas of Southern Ontario, to allow the Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to make very accurate maps of suitable growing areas for a given crop.

“It’s $155k worth of knowledge that nobody else has,” says Duncan, adding that the detailed weather data can re-create the growing conditions for any crop and offers a look at what’s happening at the ground level.  

“It also allows us to evaluate whether crops that currently grow in the area will be able to grow given various warming scenarios resulting from climate change,” he explains.

The data shows that while the summers aren’t getting any hotter, they are extended, and winter temps are rising, to the tune of one degree Celsius every year. 

The research team also found 2014 to be a pivotal year in our area. Before that year, rain fell like clockwork; there were very few droughts or deluges. Then it all changed, says Duncan.

“We had a rain rate that was pretty much constant up to 2014, and then it dropped in half, and then it doubled … and that is typical of systems becoming unstable.” He notes that while there have been erratic temperatures previously, it hasn’t before been in concert with fluctuating rainfall. 

“This data doesn’t lie … I’m not showing probabilities; I’m showing raw data. I’m not predicting that the rainfall in 2017 is going to flood the Great Lakes … it did.”

And while the forecasted increase in temperatures may be concerning, the water – the amount and variability – is what’s most important to agriculture. With higher temperatures and a longer summer, it also means a greater chance for pest survival. Couple this with crop stresses from variable rain rates, it only worsens the potential for disease, explains Duncan.

It’s a high-risk combination for growers because with low rain rates, the land becomes extremely dry and hot, and then when increased rain hits, the ground won’t soak up the water, and the soil/seeds can get washed away in an afternoon via erosion. 

Duncan’s team took this 2000 to 2018 data set and created a climate change scenario for 2030 to 2048. And he calls the projection data “depressing.”

“Rain rates will be 10 to 25 percent higher than what they have been historically – at least prior to 2014.”

The rain will come in higher rain-rate clumps, and the variability rate will also climb, he says. “Rain rates will be 10 to 25 percent higher than what they have been historically – at least prior to 2014.”

Duncan recently shared his findings at the annual Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention (OFVC), Canada’s premier horticultural event, in Niagara Falls, and also with local stakeholders, including Vance Badawey, MP for Niagara Centre. 

“I don’t think it’s a complete disaster, but there’s going to be a big change,” says Duncan.

It won’t be just farmers affected either; urban infrastructure won’t be spared, Duncan warns. “The urban effect can be huge – commensurate with the agriculture effects.”

‘I’ve seen high rain rates before and the effect can be stunning in an urban environment,” he says, adding industries such as insurance, farming banks bankrolling crops, and construction will all be affected.

The good news: such simulation data can help farmers prepare, and his AETIC team can help provide specific weather analysis. “Growers and other urban industries need to implement water management strategies, which means local reservoirs and pools. They need to have tools in place to deal with high rain rates and have a plan to manage how the water either pools or runs off their property.”

While there are still questions to be answered, Duncan says his team is open to work with growers or other industries who would like specific data analysis.

Niagara College’s AETIC team works with private and public sector partners to develop innovative solutions to address today’s challenges in agriculture, local and sustainable food production, plant growth, horticulture practices, greenhouse operations, aquaponics and environmental management.

For more information, see the website.