Cluster highlights

Canadian nursery sector research updates

BY RITA WEERDENBURG

As a member of the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance (COHA), Canada’s nursery grower sector will benefit from several research projects which are included in COHA’s research and innovation cluster, which is collaboratively funded by industry with assistance from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Growing Forward 2 (GF2). In total, the current COHA research cluster includes nine projects which are being conducted at several research institutions across Canada, including University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Laval University and Memorial University in Newfoundland.  

Although several projects are ongoing research initiatives, most COHA research cluster projects commenced in the spring of 2015 and are scheduled for completion in March of 2018. A separate Science and Industry Advisory Committee, chaired by University of Guelph’s Dr. Mike Dixon, provides ongoing oversight to these projects to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the industry. A webinar series, allowing each of the scientists to provide interim, one-year updates, was held in early February 2016. These webinars were recorded and are now available on the COHA website, along with brief two-page project summaries.

It is always a given that there can never be enough funding, scientists or research institutions to meet all of industry’s research requirements, however, the projects selected for COHA’s research cluster are very diverse and will make a significant contribution to the advancement of the sector. The following is a very brief overview of the nursery-specific research projects; readers are invited to visit the research section of the newly updated COHA website for further information.

Greening Canada’s highways
This ongoing project by Dr. Darby McGrath and her colleagues at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre addresses the issue of survivability of newly planted trees at highway and urban planting sites. With an objective of developing recommended best practices for tree planting at these challenging sites, the project will evaluate six tree planting treatments at several highway sites in both Ontario and Alberta. The very high level of interest from growers, landscapers and the municipal sector are strong indicators of the need for this research work. 

Precision NURSERY irrigation using wireless tensiometers
Access to water and water conservation are important priorities for the nursery and greenhouse sectors and are the subject of a number of research projects. One high-tech solution being proposed by Dr. Charles Goulet of Laval University is the use of wireless tensiometers for precision irrigation. Tensiometers can measure the precise amount of water in growing media available to plants, with resulting data sent to growers via mobile phone, thereby allowing for watering systems to be turned on or off in direct response to plant needs. This technology requires the clustering of plants with similar watering requirements, a water-saving method already employed by many growers.

Development and marketing of new hardy woody plants
This project, led by Todd Boland of Memorial University, addresses the consumer’s seemingly insatiable demand for new and improved plant varieties and at the same time provides new revenue opportunities for nursery growers. This plant introduction project will focus primarily on native Newfoundland flora. A total of nine pre-selected plant varieties are currently undergoing commercial trials with eight separate nurseries across Canada. The data accumulated through these trials will be used to identify varieties that are best suited for moving into the commercial and retail marketplace.

Optimal fertilizer application rates in container production
As the cost of inputs such as fertilizer continue to rise, there is an increased need for growers to better understand optimum application rates and methods. Conducted by Dr. Youbin Zheng and his team at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, the focus of this project is to ensure better nutrient uptake, thereby producing more vigorous and healthy plants more quickly, helping growers to increase sales and market opportunities.     LT

The Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance (COHA), founded representing the ornamental industry: Flowers Canada Growers (FCG) Federation Interdisciplinare de l’Horticulture Ornementale du Quebec (FIHOQ), and the Canadian Nursey Landscape Association (CNLA).