The Institute for Sustainable Horticulture’s Lab is Breaking Barriers in Agriculture

Student and staff researchers at KPU are examining how fungi can keep plants healthy

The Runner regrets errors published in the print version of this article in its June 11 issue. This web version is factually correct.

Findings from the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture (ISH) laboratory on KPU’s Langley campus have been used to put more biological control into the hands of growers since the summer of 2009.

Trichoderma growing. (Submitted)

Lisa Wegener, Laboratory and Research Coordinator for the ISH, has been there since the lab was first opened. She has seen it develop into a multi-million dollar research lab over the last 10 years.

Right now, researchers at ISH are collecting data about Trichoderma, a fungus capable of suppressing pathogens that cause plant disease and enhancing plant growth. Its spores naturally exist in soil, and through various modes of action can kill other fungi that attack the roots of plants.

In 2001 the research team at ISH collected soil samples from the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Interior searching for beneficial fungi such as Trichoderma that have the potential to be developed into biopesticides—environmentally sustainable alternatives to chemical pesticides. Although numerous products like this are available in many parts of the world, the number of products registered in Canada is relatively limited.

“What we’ve done is we’ve gone out to sample soil from the area [because] we’re looking for what we call native Trichoderma,” she continues.

Farmers will have more success using biocontrol products derived from local fungal species than if they were to use a product containing a fungus native to another part of the world with different environmental conditions and disease populations.

The ISH also works with small businesses developing other types of products for the agricultural sector. This not only helps them get their products to the market, but more importantly, the industry as a whole.

“It’s finding opportunities to help horticulture students and let them get experience. We have a research greenhouse as well which supports work conducted in the lab,” she says.

At the moment in the greenhouse, they’re growing wine grapes and testing ways to control pests known as the Climbing Cutworm. Cutworms are also a common issue on golf courses, making this research beneficial to the turfgrass industry as well, Wegener explains.

Sustainability is at the heart of the ISH lab’s mission, which Wegener says hasn’t changed over the years, even as the lab itself underwent rapid growth. Making space for students to learn and grow is still one of its priorities, as is providing inventive and environmentally conscious research for everyone involved with farming around KPU campuses.

The work at the lab will continue to contribute to making that possible, and to ensuring that growers in B.C. have sustainable products to help keep their crops pest-free.

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