New Research Project Manager plants roots in Niagara

Kimberley Cathline is the new Research Project Manager of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC).

Like two sides of the same coin, agriculture researcher Kimberley Cathline has always been captured by both the science and the artistic beauty of plant life. Take the orchid, for example. A favourite flower of hers, it’s an exquisite display of precision and grown with great patience.

While she was always drawn to the natural world, for her it’s the fusion of aesthetics and the pursuit of how it all works on a molecular level that keeps her enchanted. 

“I find it amazing to see the intricate design woven into how plants operate. Everything is coordinated and operates in beautiful harmony,” she explains. “It’s fantastic to see the order of things and to understand and analyze the amazing systems within the organism.”

It’s this creative curiosity, along with plenty of experience, that she brings to her role at Niagara College as the new Research Project Manager of the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC). There, she oversees projects in the areas of precision agriculture technology, environmental technology, horticultural practices, and greenhouse research.

“I am excited to be working with the team at R&I and AETIC. We have a number of fantastic projects that we’re working on in precision agriculture technologies and environmental technologies,” she says. “I hope to continue to build our research portfolio in greenhouse and horticulture and I’m excited about the team’s investigation into historic climate data and its application in looking at the suitability of crops and different plants to specific growing areas in the province.”

Part of that investigation includes technologies such as artificial intelligence, geo-mapping, data science, and yield monitors. All these technologies help AETIC to assist current and new industry partnerships in agri-food sectors, such as grain, hazelnut, and grape and wine.

She notes the significant research being done with Ferrero, makers of Nutella and Ferrero Rocher. The Italian confectioner has been seeking out areas in Ontario to grow some 20,000 acres of hazelnuts. Her team is gathering far-ranging weather and historical growing data in order to predict future climate changes and growth sustainability of the trees for potential hazelnut farmers.

The Innovation Centre is also utilizing agriculture robotics technology, with its AI drones and a new remotely operated land rover, called RoamIO Jumbo, which is equipped with GPS navigation capability and visual image-capturing cameras in order to help farmers by observing or identifying diseases early.

I’m excited about the team’s investigation into historic climate data and its application in looking at the suitability of crops and different plants to specific growing areas in the province.”

Kimberley is excited to manage these projects, and to put her educational background to work for AETIC. She holds a BSc (Hon. with Distinction) in Plant Biology from the University of Guelph (2002) and an MSc in Biological Sciences, specializing in Plant Sciences, from Brock University (2017). She also has 15 years’ experience in applied agriculture research, much of it in viticulture science.

She was first introduced to the world of wine after being persuaded to leave her Barrie, Ontario roots for a Staff Research Associate position at the University of California, Davis, one of the world’s leading cross-disciplinary research and teaching institutions. They needed someone with a strong background and understanding of plant biology that could be applied to research with grapes.

Not surprisingly, to offset the science in the lab, in her spare time, Kimberley took part in a part-time internship for an event planner, doing floral design. “It was great to flex my creative side as well as my scientific side.”

While in California she met her husband, Giovanni Rodriguez, a Chilean on a tennis scholarship, who was pursuing a business degree. They married there and share a daughter together. When permanent residency was not an option for the couple, they headed back to Canada in 2013, she accepting a Senior Research Technician position at the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre, and he as Tennis Coach (and later Director) at The Club at White Oaks Conference Resort.

While working full time, Kimberley earned her Masters degree from Brock (finishing at the top of her class), where she studied gene transcripts that are produced by grapes during the appassimento drying process, prior to winemaking.

After spending several years in applied horticulture research at Vineland and then serving as Manager, Special Projects for the Department of Strategic Planning and Research Management, Kimberley was promoted to assume the portfolio of Corporate Secretary responsibilities in 2018, ensuring compliance and facilitating regulatory governance. She was recently certified as a Governance Professional of Canada.

But she still had the call of learning more and putting that research into action. “I’m drawn to applied research because I get to see the immediate impact of solving industry problems – real-world problems,” she says of her decision to make NC her new home.

She will be overseeing a team of 13, including computer programming, data analysis, electronics, robotics, horticulture, greenhouse, and geospatial information systems GIS) students, and recent graduates, as well as research experts and faculty in environmental and horticulture programs. Given the breadth of research projects at both campuses, Kimberley will split her time between Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

These days, newly living in Fonthill, Kimberley and her daughter are involved in a special volunteer activity called Lunch Angels – Community Crew, through her church. The duo helps to write and decorate hundreds of custom inspirational notes that are attached to the lunch bags for each child at participating schools.

“It’s so wonderful; I had wanted my daughter to volunteer in some way, but at eight years old, it’s difficult to know what to do,” she says. “This way she and I go one night every other week and she gets to provide personalized messages for other children to brighten their day during lunch.”

And while Giovanni is a professional tennis coach and she did try her hand at the game early on in their relationship, she never took to actually playing the sport. However, she did discover a passion as a spectator.

“I had never given tennis a second glance before meeting my husband. Now we watch it together and love going to see it live,” she adds. “When we retire we would like to travel around the world watching tennis tournaments and all the Grand Slams.”

For now, she’s looking forward to picking out the perfect orchids to decorate her new office space.