R&D essential for industry

November 02, 2010
Written by
How much of the success of your business do you attribute to research?

The federal government is currently reviewing its research and development funding process. Ottawa, say the pundits, isn’t too impressed with the results being achieved by corporate Canada. The country ranks sixth within the G7 in terms of business R&D. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says we’re in the middle of the pack in its study of 30 developed countries with respect to innovation.

We’re clearly slipping; this is a country of innovation. What do insulin, telephones, sonar, electric light bulbs, five-pin bowling, heart pacemakers, zippers, Robertson screws, electric wheelchairs, Java computer programming language, electron microscopes, birchbark canoes, basketball, alkaline batteries, superphosphate fertilizer, walkie talkies, BlackBerrys, snowblowers, snowmobiles, self-propelled combine harvesters, goalie masks, instant replay, Plexiglas, McIntosh apples, instant mashed potatoes, poutine, the Canadarm, frozen fish, green plastic garbage bags, newsprint and paint rollers all have in common? Yes, they were developed by Canadians.

Where we haven’t fallen short is in horticulture research. This industry has been ably assisted by the many production, yield and quality gains advanced through science at research stations and universities across Canada.

In our August 2009 issue, we looked at the history of research at one such facility – the Greenhouse and Processing Crops Research Centre, in Harrow, Ontario. The centre celebrated its centennial last year.

Among its crowning achievements was the development of the Harrow Fertigation Manager® in the late 1980s. This is a patented, computer-controlled, multi-fertilizer injector system for the precise application of fertilizers. It has also proven to be a valuable research tool for studies on plant nutrition.

A Harrow study of greenhouse cover materials in the late 1980s demonstrated that yields of tomato and cucumber crops grown under double-inflated polyethylene (D-poly) could match those of glass. The double poly is much cheaper than glass and has energy savings of 25 to 30 per cent. As a result of the research, a large percentage of southwestern Ontario greenhouse vegetable greenhouses is double poly, resulting in construction savings of close to one billion dollars in addition to considerable energy savings. D-poly has become a unique feature in greenhouse crop production in North America.

Pest management research at Harrow helped launch the commercial greenhouse biological control industry in Canada.

Research and development is essential to any economic system. Corporate Canada, which is apparently a little slow on the uptake, would do well to study the Canadian greenhouse research model. What they would find is a synergy between enthusiastic scientists and highly skilled technicians working with equally keen growers and allied companies. Grower input into greenhouse research in Canada has long been a given, and most projects are assisted financially by the industry. It’s a winning formula.

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