Bringing cutting edge research to Canada’s floriculture sector

As part of the research project, an experiment on chrysanthemum plants testing the effect of high or low fertilizer rates on western flower thrips populations.

The control of thrips and whiteflies is an ongoing concern for floriculture growers around the world and research into their control is a continuing industry priority, as growers look to reduce losses to these small but destructive insect pests.  At the same time, the need for more environmentally sustainable practices has led to a significant shift in how growers and research scientists determine best practices for dealing with harmful greenhouse pests.

Vineland Research and Innovation Centre has been at the forefront of research into the control of greenhouse insect pests. As part of COHA’s current AgriScience Cluster 3 program, VRIC’s floriculture greenhouse research team will continue the research undertaken in their Cluster 1 and Cluster 2 research programs with a new project focused on changing production practices to increase plant health and production efficiency in floriculture crops.

The project will continue to explore earlier work by Vineland on reducing insect infestation at the propagative stage through early intervention practices such as dipping cuttings and will expand that focus to the development of best management practices for plant nutrition and biostimulant inoculations designed to optimize a crop’s pest resistance.  Notes research team lead Rose Buitenhuis, “The principle is a universal one, but there can never be a one-size-fits-all solution, as the specific intervention, nutrient and biostimulant recipe will be very crop specific, depending on factors such as lighting requirements and nitrogen uptake.”

The project will therefore focus on the two commercially important crops of gerbera and chrysanthemum, and thrips and whiteflies as the two primary pests of economic concern.

The team (from left to right) Ashley Summerfield, Nadine Gaskell, Christine Cock and Zelda Pieterse, are sticking chrysanthemum cuttings to set up a new experiment. Missing from the picture is Taro Saito.

Although the project’s objectives can be simply stated, the multitude of factors to be considered add many layers of complexity.   According to Dr. Buitenhuis, “Our research results will strive to offer economic advantages to growers, including less use of fertilizer and water and the reduced use of plant growth regulators, but at the same time our recommended practices must be compatible with standard IPM practices.”

Also to be considered are the environmental considerations and the grower’s need to reduce production costs in an increasingly completive marketplace which has them introducing an ongoing myriad of new production technologies and practices.  The introduction of LED lighting technologies for instance, has been shown to improve plant growth, but there is little information available on the impact to insect populations and plant response to bio controls.

Noting that plant breeding is focused on saleability and therefore ornamental traits rather than pest resistance, it becomes the responsibility of commercial growers, aided by scientific research, to determine how they can tailor their production practices accordingly, says Dr. Sarah Jandricic.  And it is filling this gap where exciting new advances utilizing biostimulants can come into play.  “Currently, biostimulants are used by the floriculture sector to improve shelf life and improve plant tolerance to other stresses in the retail setting.  It is a logical addition to our research project to look at the role that biostimulants play in improving plant vigour and making them less susceptible to insect damage.  Although our findings are very preliminary, there is already good evidence to support our theory that use of biostimulants can also improve the efficiency and predictability of biocontrol practices.”

It is always the ultimate goal of the Vineland research team to arrive at results which can be transferred to industry.  Noted Dr. Michael Brownbridge, “Moving research from the lab to the commercial greenhouse is always messy.  By necessity, research environments are very controlled and sterile, and that is not the case in an active commercial greenhouse.”

The end goal is therefore taken into consideration at the very start of the project, at the research design phase.  Vineland works closely with their commercial greenhouse partners to understand their planting media, growing temperatures, watering regimens, pest control strategies and more.

“Ultimately, it is our commercial greenhouse partners and not the researcher or the new product manufacturer that drives the research design process,” noted Dr. Brownbridge, adding that, “It is mostly through word-of-mouth testimonials from our greenhouse partners, on their successes and failures that other growers will adopt new technologies.  They must see a benefit.   The benefit is usually only incremental, but substantial enough to be a component of the larger production picture.”

Although this project is at a very early stage, the research team are anxious to share their results with the greenhouse floriculture sector on an ongoing basis.  Check the links below for recent updates and research presentations and stay tuned to this website’s Coming Events column for further information on the COHA-ACHO research webinar update, tentatively scheduled for mid-February 2020.  Registration will be required.

Webinar presentation (March 2019)
Changing production practices to increase plant health and production efficiency in floriculture crops

Canadian Greenhouse Conference
Research Presentation
You are what you eat:  Lean and mean plants in IPM

Organization:  Vineland Research and Innovation Centre

Research Team:

Dr. Rose Buitenhuis, Research Scientist, Biological Control

Dr. Michael Brownbridge, Research Director, Horticultural Production Systems

Dr. Sarah Jandricic, OMAFRA, Greenhouse Floriculture Extension Specialist

Dr. Chevonne Carlow, OMAFRA, Greenhouse Floriculture Specialist

This project is part of the Accelerating Green Plant Innovation for Environmental and Economic Benefit Cluster and is funded by the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance (COHA-ACHO) and by the Government of Canada under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership’s AgriScience Program.