New funding for KPU research to help agriculture recover from climate change impacts

Tue, Apr 5, 2022

New funding will help Kwantlen Polytechnic University researchers study ways to help agriculture recover from extreme climate change impacts like the heatwave and flooding that hit British Columbia in 2021.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has awarded the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture at KPU $440,000 over two years to conducted the research into accelerating agricultural innovation to address climate change challenges.

“Agri-innovation is alive and well in British Columbia and this is evident by the diversity of companies seeking research support at KPU,” says Dr. Deborah Henderson, director of the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture, which is based at KPU’s Langley campus.

“We will experience new challenges to agriculture at an increasing rate thanks to climate change. Innovation will help our producers and our food systems be more resilient and able to recover more quickly after events such as those we saw in 2021.”

From a June heat dome that led to destructive wildfires and an atmospheric river in November that caused landslides and extensive flooding, 2021 was a year of weather extremes in B.C. that strongly showed the effects of climate change.

There are three elements to the research. First, the team will test whether they can help soil recover and support healthy crops after flooding by using microbial consortia – a group of microbes that can act together as a community – and the metabolic products of microalgae, which are algae invisible to the naked eye.

Second, they will develop a pathway to meeting government regulations for these natural products to assist small and medium sized companies to bring them to market quickly. They will share the pathways with industry through in-person and virtual workshops.

Third, the funding will accelerate research of novel agricultural technological innovations such as using laser light to treat seeds and natural plant extracts called bio-stimulants that can improve germination and early crop growth. Researchers will also develop predictive disease models and use connected internet devices to make critical crop management data available in real time to producers.

“Technologies such as the laser and the Internet of Things applied to agriculture will provide producers with new tools to de-risk the farming enterprise as climate change increases those risks,” adds Henderson.

The funding, which is spread evenly across two years, allows up to seven industry partners to participate each year, as well as three KPU faculty researchers, several technicians and 12 student research assistants.

“We are very grateful for this timely funding from NSERC,” says Dr. Deepak Gupta, associate vice president of research, innovation and graduate studies at KPU. “Addressing the climate crisis is the existential priority of our times. This funding will enable the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture to support the innovation needs of multiple partners in the agriculture sector while providing invaluable and purposeful experiential learning opportunities for our students.”