Category Archives: Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre

Innovation Centre re-name reflects emphasis on horticultural science

Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC)

To better reflect the evolution of applied research in one of our main research centres, we today introduce the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC) at Niagara College.

Formerly named the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), the main goal hasn’t changed; the Centre continues to offer a variety of applied research services for companies who are close to commercialization, or who could benefit from our expertise in informing innovation and business challenges.

The change is more about turning our focus more concertedly on horticultural science, which has been evolving as a major specialization for the past 15 years already. The Centre concentrates its resources on performing growth trials with horticultural crops that evaluate innovations and improvements. Our expertise includes assessing technologies, production practices, packaging, media and pots, pest and disease control approaches and more, providing third-party research and development services to meet the needs of our industry partners.

“Horticulture impacts our lives in many ways, whether it is through the fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables we enjoy, the medicinal benefits many plants provide, or the aesthetic characteristics of flowers, potted plants and trees that decorate our homes and communities,” notes Kimberley Cathline, Research Program Manager for HESIC. “We wanted a name that reflects this focus. We are looking forward to working with many more businesses interested in moving their innovations toward commercialization.”

Each applied research project includes a team of researchers and technologies, including faculty from the School of Environmental and Horticultural Studies, and from several programs – including Greenhouse Technician (Co-op), Horticultural Technician (Co-op), Commercial Cannabis Production, Commercial Beekeeping and Environmental Technician – to provide a wealth of knowledge to industry partners, giving them a competitive advantage in researching solutions.

Projects are conducted using specialized equipment and facilities at the Daniel J Patterson Campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, including a 16,000 square-foot training greenhouse, an enclosed facility for licensed cannabis research, the CannaResearchBunker (alongside a similar academic cannabis facility, the CannaBunker), and specialized equipment – all dedicated to exploring forms of controlled-environment agriculture.

To learn more about the resources and capabilities, including growth trials and research done in integrated pest management, and to read more success stories, visit the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre  on the Research & Innovation website.

R&I project time like long job interview for current position

Danylo Kukanova
Danylo Kukanov works remotely most days, but every so often he checks into the office of his employ-er, Soil Optix, in Tavistock, Ont.

Danylo Kukanov graduated from the Computer Programmer program in 2021, earning the Dean’s Award from NC’s School of Media for his efforts.  While working with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (now the Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre), Danylo worked on projects for Soil Optix, a company that was so impressed with his student work, that they hired him after graduation. 

Tell us about where you work and your position/title:

I work for SoilOptix Inc. as software developer and junior data scientist.

Describe your role and what you like about it:

Currently I am responsible for developing scientific applications for soil analysis. In other words, I translate scientific language to computer language.

How has your experience with Research & Innovation helped prepare you for your current role?

While working at R&I we worked on soil analysis tasks, statistics and web development. This experience later was used as a base for my future employment.

A memorable applied research project during your time at R&I?

While working for R&I I implemented soil analysis tasks using statistics and Python libraries. It opened the world of data science for me.

What led you to Niagara College in the first place?

Since getting my BSc in Ukraine in System Engineering [from Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute], I wanted to further expand my knowledge in electronics and software. Niagara College looked like a good option to learn software development.

Most memorable experience at NC?

My most memorable experience at Niagara College was tutoring other students. I like learning and I was glad to share my experience with others. It was my first experience teaching.

Is there a particular mentor at either R&I or a faculty member who influenced you? 

There are a couple former members who boosted my skills and helped me gain a lot of experience. They are Sarah Lepp and Mike Duncan. I do appreciate their efforts.

What advice would you impart to current research students or future alumni?

Always look for new knowledge about your field of study, even if it is not covered by your curriculum. For instance, if you are working as a web developer, be sure you learn modern design patterns (like gang of four), SOLID principles etc. As far as I know they are not mentioned during your studies, but they are must-have knowledge for your future career.

After being in the workforce, what have you learned?

Primarily how to work in a team.

Proudest achievement since graduating?

Worked with Convolution Neural Networks during one of our work projects.

What are you passionate about at the moment?

I really want to dive deeper into data science.  During my work I realized how interesting this field of study can be.

Interests outside of work?

When I’m not working, I usually play the guitar and care for my little garden. In future I plan to start again playing with electronics and make my own microelectronic projects.

If you could have a billboard message seen by many, what would it say?

The more you learn, the more bizarre the world looks.

App tracks greenhouse energy to determine efficiencies

David Arkell knows the appetite for local food produced year-round is only getting bigger.

The president and CEO of 360 Energy, a thought leader in energy and carbon strategies, also knows the greenhouse industry is poised to grow to sate our collective hunger in a corner of the world that doesn’t have a long growing season.

Problem is, production of food under glass is an energy-intensive endeavour that’s both costly for a greenhouse operator’s bottom line, and the planet, with increased carbon emissions.

Arkell is determined to provide relief in both cases with a secure cloud-based software that can collect energy-related data directly from greenhouse control systems and empower growers, owners, and investors to use the information to increase the profitability and sustainability of their business.

“If you can get data, analyze it and put it in front of clients so they can understand it, clients can do great things, and achieve measurable results,” Arkell says.

The challenge is getting the powerful 360 Energy software platform in greenhouse operators’ hands so they can control and reduce energy costs, in turn helping Arkell expand his business as well.

Arkell has been working on it for five years and recently turned to Niagara College’s Horticulture & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC) for help determining what growers want and need in such software, so they’ll be compelled to use it.

“We know in the past greenhouse growers have been the missing element,” Arkell says. “In the greenhouse industry, it’s the growers who have a tremendous amount of authority when growing a crop. But if we don’t have them involved in what we’re doing, they won’t do it, or they will think it’s in conflict with what they do.”

“If you can get data, analyze it and put it in front of clients so they can understand it, clients can do great things, and achieve measurable results.”  
– David Arkell, CEO, 360 Energy

For the past six months, 360 Energy has been working with handful of HSEIC researchers led by Kimberley Cathline, HESIC Research Program Manager, to determine how to make the software appealing to greenhouse growers worldwide. That includes those in Southwestern Ontario, which is home to the largest greenhouse sector in North America and where energy is an operator’s second-biggest expense.

It’s the first time the company has worked with NC, but not the first time it’s turned to post-secondary researchers for help. There’s a reason for that, Arkell says.

“We have been working with colleges and universities for years because they have the expertise we don’t have. You get outside perspective,” he explains. “To be clear, I’m not a grower. I don’t have that knowledge base to know what’s required so it’s been very helpful.”

Arkell chose HESIC because of its connection to the horticulture industry through NC’s academic programs.

“They actually teach growers, so if they teach growers, they understand what the industry wants and needs,” he says. “We can build a product but if you don’t understand what a customer wants or needs, there’s a good chance you’re going to fail.”

Work recently wrapped up on this particular project. Arkell is awaiting the final report with researchers’ findings and input. In the meantime, he and 360 Energy have begun working with another team in the Research & Innovation division to identify market opportunities and competition for their software.

“With the work we have done with the two different groups, it’s been very positive,” Arkell says. “Would I do it again? Absolutely. If people do not make use of academic expertise, shame on them. I don’t want my competitors to do it, but there is a real value to it.”

Professor’s work on tiny insects has big IPM impact

Sebastien Jacob knows well the big magic that a tiny insect can work.

It was 21 years ago while employed as a newly minted university graduate at a federal agriculture research station that Jacob learned how a microscopic parasitoid wasp called Trichogramma could have a huge impact protecting food crops and the environment.

Trichogramma could take on the European corn borer, considered one of the greatest pests to corn crops, by laying eggs on a corn borer and letting its larvae feast on the pest to kill it. In the process, Trichogramma showed itself to be a cornerstone of integrated pest management (IPM) plans with its predatory nature helping growers reduce their dependence on chemical pesticides to control crop-destroying insects.

Most fascinating to Jacob was how Trichogramma could determine certain traits about a pest and use that information to choose the sex of their eggs to lay on it and best propagate their species.

“That got the bug thing in me and it was very cool to me,” Jacob says. “In the insect world, (parasitoids) are one of the best pest control agents.”

From then on, Jacob, who originally had aspirations to be an ice and rock-climbing guide, has devoted his career to getting others turned on to biocontrols — controlling pests with other organisms — and how they can often solve pest problems that their chemical counterparts can’t.

Jacob worked as an integrated pest and disease management specialist for most of his career, espousing the merits of biocontrols and IPM to growers in North, Central and South America.

His efforts, along with those of his industry colleagues, have made a difference; for example, 10 years ago, only 20% of growers in floriculture, the predominant greenhouse sector in Niagara, were using biocontrols and relying mostly on chemical sprays. Today, around 95% use beneficial organisms in their operations, Jacob notes.

These days, he still sells growers on the benefits of biocontrols and IPM. But he’s doing it as a professor in Niagara College’s Horticulture, Greenhouse and Commercial Cannabis Production programs, reaching the sector’s future players.

He’s also effecting industry change as a researcher in the College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC), where he tackles questions about IPM for cannabis, in particular. His work holds the potential to shape industry practices, given the newness of commercial cannabis production in Canada and the lack of knowledge about the impacts of spraying.

Most recently, Jacob and his students have worked on a HESIC project with the company BioWorks to test the safety and efficacy of a biocontrol that can be used to control the rice root aphid in greenhouse cannabis production. He and his students have also tested the efficacy of a predatory mite on rice root aphids on behalf of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and the Canadian biocontrol supply company Applied Bionomics with the intention of bringing it to market.

All the while, students are learning what they need to do when it’s their time to enter the industry.

“Students are thinking about this and learning it’s not just bringing clones into a greenhouse but ensuring they’re clean,” Jacob says. “The principles of IPM are easy to teach on a slide but they’re not very easy to implement.”

Balancing research and teaching keeps Jacob busy. When time does allow, however, he still bugs out over rock and ice climbing. Among his favourite places to escape from the lab: the Sierra Nevada; Squamish, British Columbia; Cirque of the Unclimables; and Yosemite National Park.

Sometimes he chooses flat surfaces to blow off steam, taking to the soccer pitch, previously to coach, now to play.

Mostly, though, his attention is rapt by how small organisms can solve big problems in horticulture.

“It’s just the nature of research,” Jacob says. “IPM is always complex.”

Niagara College receives a $4.43M boost for applied research

NSERC funding supports cannabis, craft beer and advanced manufacturing sectors

Niagara College researchers welcome the news of a $4.43-million investment from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

On April 5, NSERC’s College and Community Innovation (CCI) program announced three new Applied Research and Technology Partnership (ARTP) funding grants for NC. Funds included an ARTP grant to support a NC project in sustainable cannabis and hemp production research, as well as two multi-institutional ARTP grants for NC-led projects: to support craft breweries in Canada, and to expand the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).

“We are thankful for NSERC’s significant investment in research and innovation at Niagara College, and for their outstanding support of NC-led applied research projects with our valued institutional partners – including SONAMI – that will benefit SMEs in vital and emerging sectors across Ontario and Canada,” said Marc Nantel, Vice President of Research and External Relations at Niagara College. “Innovation is a key priority at NC, and these projects will not only advance the applied research needs of industry, but will expand opportunities for students as they work with SMEs to provide innovative solutions.”

Supporting sustainable cannabis and hemp production research

The newly announced funds earmark $641,800 (over a two-year period) for research and development at NC to address challenges and continue advancement in the cannabis industry. This will provide research support in cultivation, as well as business and marketing, and will provide new applied research experiences for students within the College’s schools of Environment and Horticulture, and Business and Management.

“The ARTP funding for sustainable cannabis and hemp production will be instrumental in allowing our Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) and Business and Commercialization Services (BCS) teams to fully operationalize and support industry needs through the increased ability to execute more research projects,” said Kimberley Cathline, Research Program Manager of the College’s AETIC.

Thanks to the new ARTP funding, NC will be able to operationalize its dedicated cannabis space and begin assisting companies with cultivation-related challenges. It will support research in sustainable cannabis production, cannabis variety and growth trials, integrated pest management, and business and commercialization solutions. Cathline noted that the ARTP grant will allow NC to invest in these strategic areas while deepening AETIC and BCS’s role in contributing to the innovation ecosystem to support the sector.

By providing access to expert faculty, students, equipment and facilities, the College’s AETIC and BCS teams are ideally positioned to lead applied research projects that assist cannabis producers with meeting growth and competitiveness challenges.

In 2018, NC made headlines around the world when it launched the first Commercial Cannabis Production program in Canada. Over the last three years, the College has also been helping industry partners and associations address challenges and continue advancement in cannabis through course-based research projects.

In March 2021, the College expanded its on-campus cannabis education capabilities to include a Health-Canada-approved CannaResearch Bunker, funded through NSERC’s applied Research Tools and Instruments Grants program. This dedicated research space provides specialized equipment to grow crops, complete trials and conduct research in partnership with industry. It offers a controlled, sterile, and isolated growing space to perform safe, secure, and dependable research projects.

NC also has an Industrial Hemp licence, which is significant for research and academic endeavours, providing hands-on learning and research opportunities that enable students to advance Canada’s hemp and cannabis industries. Students learn to grow cannabis/hemp in a controlled environment, in a greenhouse and outdoors.

Improving Canadian craft beer competitiveness

An ARTP grant for $1,789,330 million (over a two-year period) has been awarded to NC to lead a project to support the Canadian craft brewing industry by improving quality assurance and control measures in small- and medium-sized breweries. Its goal is to create a Craft Brewer Quality program, which will be piloted across the country to train brewers and students.

The project will be led by Niagara College (through its Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre) – home to Canada’s first Teaching Brewery and renowned Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program –-and will involve Durham College, Collège Communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick’s CCNB-INNOV (New Brunswick), and Olds College (Alberta).

“We are absolutely thrilled for the support from NSERC. It really shows that the federal government is committed to supporting the craft beer industry in its ongoing growth and development,” said Lyndon Ashton, Centre Manager, CFWI Innovation Centre. “Since the 1980s, the craft brewing industry has grown to 24% of all beer made in Canada. Of key importance now for the growing industry is developing a systematic way to increase quality assurance and consistency in the products sold to the public.”

Ashton noted that the funds will be used to collaboratively develop a framework of industry standards and guidelines with college and industry experts. They will be operationalized into customized written quality programs and the concepts will be proven in partnership with 16 breweries across New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta. Analytical testing at key points during the project will gauge the effectiveness of the standards.

At every step, students will be trained alongside industry partners, exemplifying work-integrated learning and capacity building for the businesses. Ultimately, the intellectual property will be assigned to industry association partners for potential adoption upon project completion.

Expanding SONAMI into four strategic sectors

SONAMI – a Niagara College-led network of nine postsecondary institutions designed to support SMEs in the manufacturing sector across Southern Ontario – will receive $2-million in funding (over a two-year period) to expand into four strategic sectors for targeted growth. The areas of expansion include transportation (auto parts and aerospace manufacturing supply chains); energy systems (energy storage, renewable energy production); food processing; and medical devices (to support access to medical device research and expertise for SMEs). The funds will support eligible SONAMI academic members including NC, Centennial, Conestoga, Fanshawe, Lambton, Mohawk, Sheridan and George Brown.

“SONAMI is a prime example of how, when industry and applied research come together to innovate and grow, it can drive the development of national and regional economies and communities,” said SONAMI Network Manager Kithio Mwanzia. “In transportation, energy systems, medical devices, and food processing, given that they are fiercely competitive but highly rewarding global industries, innovation is a necessity.”

Mwanzia noted that the new ARTP grant will help SMEs in these industry areas leverage the growing SONAMI network to master multiple practices to commercialize products and processes that will catalyze their growth and success.

“These industry areas attract talent and investment from around the world,” said Mwanzia. “Industry leading companies in each of these industry areas choose Canada as the place in which to design and manufacture new products and from which to sell them to the world.”

Through the ARTP grant, SONAMI will conduct at least 42 applied research projects with industry partners in the four targeted sectors. These 42 projects will be assessed through a triple lens of sustainability, growth, and profitability, to best support the economic recovery for SMEs.

NC will be contributing to at least four of the projects and will have access to financial support for new equipment investments.

In addition to supporting applied research and SMEs, SONAMI projects support student success. Students gain access to industry experience, hands-on learning and exposure to working with industry partners – potential employers.

 


NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division administers research funding support from various regional, provincial and federal agencies. Students and graduates are hired to work alongside faculty researchers and assist industry partners with leaping forward in the marketplace.

Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.

NOW HIRING: Computer Programmer Research Assistant 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. 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 the Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Precision Agriculture & Environmental Technologies.

Read the full Computer Programming Research Assistant (AETIC) job posting. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, March 2nd at 12pm.

To apply: please email your resume, cover letter and transcript 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.