Precision agriculture blossoms with new Industrial Research grant

Pictured: Mike Duncan has a brand new position at the College as Industrial Research Chair in Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies.

 

The seeds of sustainability and efficiency in agriculture have already taken root at the College’s Niagara Research department but now the project is destined to grow more than ever, thanks to new government funding.

Niagara College was recently awarded an Industrial Research Chair grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The five-year, $1-million Industrial Research Chair grant will be put toward developing new technologies in precision agriculture and pursuing commercialization opportunities with several industries including fruit tree growers and viticulture.

Along with the funding comes a new role for NC’s chair of Visualization Sciences Mike Duncan, who has become the College’s Industrial Research chair in Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies. Duncan has been leading the College’s work in precision agriculture for more than five years, including the award-winning PrAgMatic project, which helps farmers increase crop yields while reducing dependence on fertilizers and water, reducing their environmental impact.

“I’m very honoured to have received an NSERC Research chair,” he said. “It’s an affirmation that the research direction we took in late 2006 was the right way to go, developing technology to help farms be more efficient helps us grow better food with a smaller impact on the environment.”

Duncan noted that the central theme of the project is to show farmers how to get a return on investment from using these technologies.

“We, the College, and our project partners are working with an Ontario farmer who has been developing a precision agriculture methodology over the last 15 years and is very successful,” he said.  “The grant will allow us to verify the approach, document it, generalize it to other crops and then create the necessary software tools to make the process available to Canadian farmers.”

The College’s associate vice-president, Research Marc Nantel noted the importance of the project.

“With seven billion people in the world to feed and a limited planet, it is crucial to extract more out of the earth, while at the same time minimizing our negative impact on it,” he said. “Increasing crop yields and reducing our dependence on fertilizers and water are some of the benefits of precision agriculture.”

The funding and new role paves the way for Duncan to improve the PrAgMatic system; produce a new Resource Optimization Algorithm software with Yellow Gold Farms; further develop Digital Soil Mapping technique with scientists from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; and bring the agriculture software LandMapR into open source form.

Duncan will commercialize the techniques, bringing them to farmers across the Americas with AgInfoSys Inc., which will build new e-learning tools to teach farmers how to use precision agriculture and reduce their use of fertilizer and water.

Plans are in the works for Duncan and his collaborators to deploy precision agriculture to introduce hazelnut tree farming in Ontario. With propagation nursery EarthGen and orchard grower Village Harvest, the team will develop a new crop for Ontario farmers, which has the potential for much higher revenues. This comes at a good time since Ferrero, makers of the Rocher chocolate treat and Nutella spread, has built a factory in Brantford, ON.

Duncan and his collaborators from Brock University, Coyote’s Run Estate Winery and 30 Bench Winery will also use precision agriculture technologies to  develop of a cold-hardy grape bud for the viticulture industry – a key crop in the Niagara region.

Funding announcement

NC ‘s research funding was part of a larger announcement on May 8 by the Government of Canada to support the development of longer-term, business-focused applied research programs at colleges.

The Industrial Research Chair for Colleges grant available through the College and Community Innovation program, managed by NSERC in collaboration with the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Projects are awarded funding through a rigorous peer review process that includes an assessment by the CCI program review committee. Thirty five colleges and cégeps in this round will receive about $37 million in total for up to five years.

“These investments provide colleges with access to the people, resources and tools they need to be at the forefront of innovation,” said Suzanne Fortier, President of NSERC. “The ultimate goal is to create sustainable partnerships that will help sharpen our innovative edge and have a positive impact on the bottom line of our country and industry.”

About Niagara Research

Niagara Research, Niagara College’s Research and Innovation Division, works closely with business, industry and community partners to identify challenges that are in need of real-time solutions. Through applied research projects, skilled student and faculty teams help local businesses and community organizations become more innovative, overcome challenges, and develop, test or simulate new products or processes. Working on real-world applied research projects provides students with the opportunity to bring the skills and knowledge they have learned in the classroom to a new level, presenting fresh and innovative ideas to industry partners. To learn more about partnership opportunities with Niagara Research, contact 905-641-2252 ext. 4151, research@niagaracollege.ca or visit NiagaraCollege.ca/Research.

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