R&D solutions for greenhouse-technology sector


As Ontario’s greenhouse industry continues to grow, so too does the opportunity for small- and medium-sized greenhouse and related technology businesses to benefit from the research and development solutions at Niagara College.

The College’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC) – part of the Research & Innovation division – has been deeply involved in the greenhouse and technologies research space to encourage innovation in this rapidly evolving field.

And now, the AETIC team has expanded its applied research scope thanks to the recently-formed Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), an NC-led initiative that brings together research institutions and greenhouse and technology businesses to accelerate the development, commercialization and adoption of new technologies.

Greenhouse growers and technology providers can work with AETIC to access state-of-the-art equipment, services and expertise to develop, test, or implement greenhouse applicable technologies – all while de-risking innovation with funding opportunities. GTN funding is matched up to 1:1 on eligible industry partner contributions. That is, half the projects costs come from government funding, while the industry partner provides in-kind contributions such as time and materials, as well as some cash.

The NC research team (including faculty, scientists, graduates and students) has extensive experience in both high-tech and low-tech innovation, partnering with industry to either create the prototypes, and/or put those prototypes to the test in a greenhouse setting.

Industry partners have access to researchers who are well-versed in both the pre-market and commercialization sides of innovation, assessing technology, and focusing on proof of concept and validation, says Derek Schulze, a research lead with AETIC, faculty member with NC’s School of Environment and Horticulture Studies, and coordinator for the Greenhouse Technician program.

“We can assess equipment/chemistries that are directly related to growing or enhancing the growth of greenhouse crops. These could include sensors, irrigation, lighting, media, nutrients, and more.”

Projects can be at any stage of development as the research team is well-equipped for short- to medium-length studies, such as weeks or months, adds Schulze.

“Niagara College has a niche place in the ecosystem that can be described simply as nimble: Small projects, relatively quick turnaround, for pre-commercialization, in a low-risk setting,” notes Kimberley Cathline, AETIC project manager.

“Niagara College has a niche place in the ecosystem that can be described simply as nimble: Small projects, relatively quick turnaround, for pre-commercialization, in a low-risk setting.”
~ Kimberley Cathline, AETIC project manager

Based on the needs and requests for collaborations that the College has seen from industry, innovation assistance requests in the greenhouse technology sector have evolved into projects with two main methodologies (innovation and product/growth) and around four main research streams (infrastructure, biologic, technology and climatic).

The end result of these partnerships is prototypes and products moving toward commercialization, or obtaining validation data for products, processes, recipes, etc. in the pre-commercialization phase, says Cathline.

On the innovation side, partners with an idea but not the know-how, time or funds, could engage with NC’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) to put ideas into action. On the product and growth side, industry partners collaborate with AETIC for validation data to assist with getting their product to market.

With the project streams, examples of applied research can include testing development in lighting or proprietary fertilizer, integrated pest management and developing and testing vertical growing systems.

In one recent project, Zwart Systems, a Beamsville, Ont. horticultural technology company, partnered with AETIC, with partial funding by the GTN, to research and validate its newly designed multi-level growing system in order for the company to commercialize the product.

Following a short-term growing trial, the company received the research results proving a successful design, along with recommended structural and process changes.

For information on partnering with AETIC to help support innovation development or technology adoption, contact Elizabeth Best, business development coordinator, at [email protected] or visit the website.

To learn more about the GTN and how it can help advance eligible technologies, including information on funding possibilities, see the website.