03 Apr 2024

One million dollars to develop winter indoor blueberry production in Canada


A team of researchers from Simon Fraser University (SFU) is working on developing novel plant varieties and precise indoor cultivation techniques to produce fresh, locally-grown blueberries during the off-season, marking the first attempt at such production.

Led by SFU's professor of biological sciences, Jim Mattsson, the team is investigating how biotechnology, advanced physiological methods, and precise indoor growing techniques can optimize plant productivity while minimizing water and energy usage, even during the winter months, resulting in fresher, superior, and more sustainable produce.

"In an indoor setting, you can dictate when plants produce leaves, flowers, and fruit," explains Mattsson. "You're not reliant on seasonal changes and weather conditions. By adjusting light intensity, day length, and temperature, you can unlock the full potential of various blueberry varieties."

The Canadian blueberry season typically spans from July to the end of September. Outside of this timeframe, Canada imports nearly half a billion dollars' worth of blueberries from countries like Mexico and Peru.

However, these imported berries carry a higher carbon footprint compared to locally-grown ones and are often four to five weeks old by the time they reach Canadian supermarkets. Like other imported produce, they are susceptible to shipping delays and supply chain issues, leading to spoilage and shortages that compromise food security.

A domestically-produced solution must prioritize both energy efficiency and profitability for farmers. The research is conducted in collaboration with BeriTech Inc., an agritech company based in British Columbia, with $1 million in funding from the Weston Family Foundation as part of the Shepherd Phase of the Homegrown Innovation Challenge.

The research team is conducting trials with selected blueberry varieties under controlled environmental conditions to better understand how factors such as temperature, lighting, and airflow can enhance their growth. The initial round of growth experiments is currently underway at BeriTech's research farm and at SFU.

Furthermore, the team is exploring strategies to use resources more efficiently, including reducing water and energy consumption and recycling fertilizers to minimize waste. They are also considering how to introduce this novel food category to Canadian consumers, with assistance from professors Terri Griffith and Andrew Harries of the Beedie School of Business.

Source: Simon Fraser University

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