Innovations to grow by

January 11, 2010
Written by André Dumont
Higher yields and better quality, over a longer season, in order for local producers to take a bigger share of the local market – such has been Dr. André Gosselin’s lifelong mission, one that has considerably altered the face of horticulture in Québec.

Last November, the Université Laval (Québec City) researcher was honoured with the Prix Lionel-Boulet 2009, the Québec government’s highest distinction in industrial R&D. For the first time, the award was given to a researcher in horticulture.

“I see this award as a recognition of the importance of our horticulture sector by the government of Québec,” Dr. Gosselin told Greenhouse Canada.

His early work involved testing and implementing new strawberry varieties to his native Orléans Island. The growing season was successfully extended from three weeks to up to five months. In 1979, he founded Les Fraises de l’îles d’Orléans with family members. Still today, Dr. Gosselin’s involvement in the company keeps it at the forefront of berry growing technologies. It grows the world’s first nutraceutical strawberry and raspberry varieties, producing fruits with record levels of antioxidants.

Some of the new facilities at Laval University;
Dr. André Gosselin, at home in a greenhouse. (Photo by Rémy Boily)
Dr. Gosselin was one of two co-chairs of the international Symposium on High Technology for Greenhouse Systems (GreenSys) conference hosted in Québec City last spring. It attracted many of the world’s leading researchers. Among highlights was a tour of Laval University.
Dr. Gosselin obtained a masters degree and a PhD in greenhouse cultures at Université Laval. In 1977, he did a one-year internship at the University of Guelph. He became a professor at Laval in 1984.

In the early 1980s, lighting in greenhouses was mostly only used for flowers. “People were telling us that for vegetables, artificial lighting wouldn’t be feasible, because of costs.”

With his colleagues and graduate students, along with partnerships with Hydro-Québec and private growers, Dr. Gosselin succeeded in providing year-round lighting in greenhouses, at reasonable costs. High-pressure sodium lights were used. Low electricity prices were a big help, he admits.

In the last 20 years, sodium lights have become about 30 per cent more efficient, he notes. The heat they generate helps raise the temperature inside the greenhouse. The technology is now used in several parts of Canada, as well as in France, Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia and the U.S. They allow year-round production in areas where winter sunlight is insufficient.

In 1989, Dr. Gosselin co-founded Les Serres du St-Laurent, which became Québec’s most important tomato grower. The company markets its produce under the Savoura brand. It now employs 350 workers and its six greenhouse complexes cover 18 hectares.

“We were probably the first ones in the world to produce with artificial lighting on such a large area,” says Marie Gosselin (no relation to Dr. Gosselin), general manager of Les Serres du St-Laurent.

Marie Gosselin remembers André Gosselin from the time she was a student at Université Laval. “He was always a forerunner, someone with a lot of ideas,” she says. “I think that we wouldn’t have gone all this way if it weren’t for him.”

“André is a very well organized person, who knows how to gather competent people around him,” says Les Fraises de l’île d’Orléans R&D director Louis Gauthier. “If you have a good idea, he’ll always give you a chance at trying it out.”

Despite his involvement in two prominent horticulture businesses, Dr. Gosselin says he is first and foremost a university professor interested in research. In 1989, he founded Université Laval’s Centre de recherche en horticulture. “We have had more than 600 graduate students. They are now employed everywhere in Québec’s horticulture sector.”

Dr. Gosselin has held the positions of director of the phytology department and dean of the faculty of agriculture and food sciences. He was a key player in the $12-million construction project of the Envirotron building, a university greenhouse research facility. He also founded the Institut des nutraceutiques et des aliments fonctionnels, a 300-member research group on nutraceutics and functional foods.

In 2006, he founded Nutra Canada, a company that will market extracts from berries and other functional foods. The concentrates will be extracted in a newly constructed facility.

“Our goal is to concentrate molecules that have health properties,” Dr. Gosselin explains. “We only work with foods from northern regions, like blueberries, cranberries and strawberries.” The extracts could be added to juices, yogurts or energy bars, for example.

“I have always worked with the same objective, that of increasing productivity. Over the last few years, however, I have added a nutrition component to my research.”

Among his many achievements is also the development of a chlorine-based nutrient solution recycling system. Heat or ultra-violet systems used in Europe are very expensive, he says. “Our chlorine disinfection system works superbly well.”

All this R&D is necessary if domestic producers are to stay in business despite competition from California, Mexico or China. “We try to develop technology that will allow our producers to have an increased presence on the market, over a longer period in the season and that will make Canada more self-sufficient for fruit and vegetables.”

André Dumont is a freelance writer and photographer in Québec.

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