Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC) specializes in performing growth trials with horticultural crops that evaluate innovations and improvements. We have extensive experience in innovations that are close to commercialization. Our expertise includes assessing technologies, production practices, packaging, media and pots, pest and disease control approaches and more.
Located at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Centre works with faculty experts and students 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 to challenges, as well as testing innovations and technologies.
The Centre leverages the resources of the college’s 16,000 square-foot greenhouse, IPM infrastructure, specialized testing equipment, licensed controlled-environment agriculture facility and equipment dedicated to cannabis and hemp research.
HESIC mainly performs growth trials, however other trials have involved monitoring environmental conditions in greenhouses to aid in the development of new technology and assessing a novel composter.
“When working with HESIC on a growth trial, an industry partner can expect that they will be working with an expert in the field of study, to successfully validate or test their product. All HESIC projects are led by a researcher, with a team of students eager to learn and grow,” said Christine George, Research Lead with HESIC. She added that they will communicate regularly with the partner to keep them informed on the progress of the trial and often, visits to the growing space where the trial is taking place are included.
The partner is involved from the beginning when deciding which crop type will be ideal for validating or testing their product. The research design process starts here, through taking into consideration the length of the crop (from propagation stage to maturity) to deciding what parameters will be studied to assess crop health. The growth trial will typically involve growing the crop from seed or seedling through to maturity – while attempting to mimic a commercial process as closely as possible.
The types of technology used for a growth trial will vary depending on the project goal. However, crop observations measured include soil pH and E.C., germination rate, leaf chlorophyll content, plant height, leaf area, wet/dry tissue, root development, fruit quality, and environmental conditions such as temperature, relative humidity, and light intensity. Photos are very important to track crop growth and project activities.
To illustrate the impact of a HESIC project, look no further than 360 Energy, an energy software tool company. The research team helped them refine their technology, which they are planning to roll out to greenhouses this year. HESIC did a deep dive into the greenhouse industry’s energy management software needs and growth prospects to uncover business relevant information that will allow 360 Energy to position and promote their product effectively. Over the course of the research, growth and sentiment trends, needs, and pains, competitive and consumer sentiment, as well as high value promotional opportunities, have been uncovered.
“When working with HESIC on a growth trial, an industry partner can expect that they will be working with an expert in the field of study, to successfully validate or test their product. All HESIC projects are led by a researcher, with a team of students eager to learn and grow.”
– Christine George, Research Lead, Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre
Another success story HESIC prides itself on is an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) trial completed with Koppert Canada Inc. last year. Koppert needed a natural biological control agent to fight against one of the most challenging pest pressures in cannabis production: the aphid.
The team studied natural candidates that could take on the cannabis aphid and be a product that Koppert could then market to growers as a vital part of their integrated pest management plans. By April, the industry partner had valuable insight into which direction they should go in their pursuit of a game-changing biocontrol.
The results demonstrated that sound cultivar selection and appropriate environmental set points can increase the efficacy of natural enemies by two to three-fold, without increased risk for fungal diseases. The findings could have a huge impact on the cannabis industry’s biological control strategies without impact or even improvement for disease control in their crop.
Looking to the future, the HESIC team will have the capability to run a wider variety of projects simultaneously, with the construction of a new greenhouse at the Daniel J. Patterson campus. This new facility will include seven unique growing spaces and a new scientific laboratory to also allow HESIC to carry out a greater range of analyses in-house.