The Research Themes of the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture support innovation and sustainability in agriculture and landscapes in three main areas:

1. Bioproducts and Biological Control Tools

2. Novel Growing Systems and Technologies Contributing to Sustainability

3. Clean Energy for Greenhouses and Closed Growing Environments

1. Bioproducts and Biological Control Tools


Native Trichoderma isolates as new bio-fungicides

Partner: BC Ministry of Agriculture, Innovation Branch. For management of soil pathogens of berry and vegetable crops. The project is taking native Trichoderma isolates (soil fungi) from discovery to generating data required for a registration submission to Health Canada, PMRA in late 2021. Activities have included efficacy field studies, determining non-target organism impacts, growth promotion trials, mass production optimization, temperature growth studies, identifying and quantifying secondary metabolites, QC and quality assurance protocols and assembling a data package.

Native Trichoderma bio-fungicide for nursery production

Partners: Van Belle Nursery, NSERC. This project is occurring in parallel with the one above, but its focus is pathogens in ornamental production specific to nursery production. The industry partner intends to produce and use the fungus once registered, and possibly in future, commercialize it. The goal is to submit a registration package to Health Canada in 2021.

Broadening the biological portfolio in Canada with new Trichoderma products and plant growth-promoting Rhizobacteria

Partners: Sylvar Technologies, NSERC. This project assisted the industry partner to register a new Trichoderma product in Canada for control of foliar Botrytis, as well as explore the value of the company’s Rhizobacteria product. ISH Trichoderma isolates were tested beside the Sylvar product to gather useful data about the ability of several native isolates to manage foliar disease. This was the 4th project with this industry partner, and resulted in the NSERC Synergy award for 2019.

Developing native Trichoderma isolate genetic microsatellite markers for field identification and QA

Partners: various. Isolates of eight native Trichoderma species differ functionally and a study of microsatellite markers in collaboration with Dr Paul Adams determined the unique genomic identity of each isolate. Future work will determine the geographic distribution of this group of disease-suppressive Trichoderma isolates in BC and explore the potential of using them as indicators of suppressive soils and ultimately their role in soil microbial health.

Bee-vectored biofungicide to manage three blueberry diseases

Partners: BVT International Inc., NSERC, MITACS. A three year study is testing the efficacy of the native fungus Clonostachys rosea delivered by honey bees to blueberry flowers, to control three pathogens that attack blueberry flowers, develop a specific molecular marker for this endophyte to positively identify it in field studies and  study its movement and retention in blueberry tissue from one season to the next.

Soil Microbial Health Indicator tools

Partners: BC Investment Agriculture Foundation, IRAP, West Coast Marine Bioprocessing. Until now, assessing soil microbial health has been an expensive time consuming study and not financially accessible to agricultural producers. We are developing a simplified test for healthy soil that starts with defining functional characteristics that a “healthy” microbial population should have and testing prototype “tools” for their value to agricultural producers.

Native Beauveria bassiana pilot products for controlling Lepidoptera in wine grape and other crops

Partners: BC Wine Grape Council, AAFC, BCIAF, NSERC. Two Okanagan B. bassiana isolates selected by AAFC for their efficacy against cutworm in wine grapes, have been studied for their efficacy against a range of other lepidopteran pests to determine if they would have broader value as a commercial product. At the same time, 11 B. bassiana native coastal isolates have been included to compare their efficacy with the Okanagan isolates. Four isolates (2 Okanagan, 2 Coastal) showed high value as new bio-insecticides and will continue development towards future registration for use in wine grapes and other crops.

Developing a biologically-based IPM program for cutworm pests in wine grape

Partners: BC Wine Grape Council, AAFC GF3 Research Cluster for Wine Grapes. This project studies and developed an IPM strategy which integrates nematodes and new B. bassiana isolates under study (see above), for management of cutworm in wine grapes. The next step will be carried out in partnership with Sylvar Technologies to implement the strategy and explore the value of adding a baculovirus to the IPM tool box.

Development of new viral biopesticides

Partners: various including AAFC GF2 Organic Research Cluster, Sylvar Technologies. Due to our work conducting field efficacy trials with the baculovirus product, Loopex, it’s registration in Canada was approved by PMRA in field vegetable crops. Current trials are improving efficacy with various low volume spray technologies. Future work is planned with mixes of baculoviruses and new strategies for pests occurring simultaneously in the same crop environment.

Baculovirus control of Spodoptera exigua and S. frugiperda in food crops in Cuba

Partners: University of Sancti Spiritus, Sanidad Vegetal Min. of Agriculture, province of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. An ongoing collaboration has developed production protocols and carried out field trials for control of Spodoptera exigua and S. frugiperda in Cuba, and contributed to a data package for registration of the S. exigua NPV in Canada.

Identifying and quantifying metabolites of a native Metarhizium robertsii strain

Partners: CropDefender Ltd., NSERC. The industry partner discovered a native fungal strain of M. robertsii. This project is assisting to build the registration package for use of the product in Canada by identifying and quantifying the key secondary metabolites responsible for its mode of action. A publication will result from this work.


Other Bioproducts:


Partners: Canadian AgriChar Ltd., NSERC, SRCTech. We have completed 4 projects with various types of biochar to document its value as a growth enhancer and water and nutrient -holding soil amendment in production of several vegetable, turf and floral crops, including hydroponic vegetable crops. The most recent project has tested several blends of biochar with compost on growth and quality of ornamental and vegetable crops.

New plant bioactive products from a BC kelp species Phase II

Partners: West Coast Marine Bioprocessing, NSERC. The project has developed a group of 4 new products in support of agriculture and the natural product market, some of which are being marketed now. It has also defined the mode of action of the kelp extract using gene expression tools and studied the value of extracts in tissue culture production.

Testing the Value of a Microbial Consortia on Growth and Fruit Quality of Blueberry

Partners: Concentric Ag. Ltd., NSERC. A field trial with the soil inoculant applied in varying concentrations and timings will provide information on the value of this microbial consortium to field blueberry production. A parallel trial with blueberry cuttings is exploring interaction of the consortium with other soil microbial players and the benefits to blueberry propagation.

Biological-demand Extended Efficiency Fertilizer

Partners: Lucent Biosciences Inc., NSERC. An organic substrate for delivering micronutrients which keeps them in the root zone and available as plants demand, shows no toxicity in high concentrations and does not leach, is being tested as a viable fertility option for agriculture through growth trials and quantification of specific nutrients in plant tissue, soil and irrigation drain water in a number of crops. This mode of delivery will benefit growers especially in intense rain situations related to climate change when other fertilizers would be lost. Next projects with this company include determining the interactions of the organic substrate with soil microbes.

A biofertilizer from brewery waste and its impact on soil microbial communities

Partners: Nutrienvisus Ltd., NSERC. As local breweries expand, so does their post process organic waste. Nutrienvisus developed a protein-rich biofertilizer from this waste stream and ISH tested it on one crop in three soil types and studied the changes in soil bacteria using NGS technology (KPU’s AGC laboratory). Benefits to the diversity and quantity of bacterial communities were demonstrated in all three soil types.

Exploring biotization in tissue culture of rare tropical plants

Partners: Headland Nursery Plants Inc., NSERC. Rare tropicals present challenges to propagate, yet they are in high demand for aesthetic purposes. This project explored optimizing various aspects of tissue culture propagation of three species with endophyitic bacteria and fungi (biotization).

Influencing the production of various steviol glycosides by Stevia with various stresses

Partners: NutraEx Food Inc., NSERC. Steviol glycosides vary in concentration in the leaves of Stevia plants, and the most highly valued of these are generally present in lowest amounts. This study tested various soil amendments and stresses to observe the impact on the more valuable glycosides to provide the industry partner with horticultural tools to improve their product.

Potential for endophytic microorganisms in Monk Fruit to produce high value mogrosides

Partners: NutraEx Foods Inc., IRAP. Endophytic fungi and bacteria are being studied from various growth stages of Monk Fruit for production of mogrosides. 


2. Novel Growing Systems and Technologies Contributing to Sustainability

Optimizing a membrane growing system for greenhouse tomato

Partner: Denka Corporation Inc. Japan. Membrane growing systems are highly conservative of water and nutrients but require different management strategies and crop information for good outcomes. This project compared a prototype membrane system with a standard coco system for tomato crops grown in the same greenhouse. The company is using the results to refine and improve the prototype and production protocols for the North American market.

Plant recognition for robotic crop weed elimination technology

Partners: Eleos Robotics, NSERC. Phase 1 of this project has programmed a weed recognition and AI learning module for the robotics company. Phase 2 will validate the recognition tool and expand the robotics ability to manage a larger variety of weeds in varying crops. Expertise in Horticulture and Computer Science were brought together to meet the needs of this partner.

Other robotic applications

Partners: various industry partners, NSERC. Research and development of robotics and AI are quickly increasing for agricultural applications. Current projects include delivering light mediated disease control in greenhouse crops.


3. Clean/Green Energy for Greenhouses

A variable insulation system with potential application in cold climate greenhouses

Partners: UBC, NSERC. A beta trial with a low energy variable insulation system combining sunlight-concentrating structures and low-cost thermal insulation was demonstrated to be potentially practical for food production in remote and northern communities. Engineering faculty and students recorded the performance of the insulated walls and baffles. The work has been published.

From waste to clean food

Partners: SFU, NSERC, Queen Elizabeth Scholarships, various greenhouse industry partners. New technology for collecting low grade and waste energy to create an energy self-sufficient greenhouse is in progress. This project includes a horticultural trial with Asian herbs as new crops for BC greenhouse growers, a biogas component and integration of solar panels and LED lights into the overall energy model.