Assiniboine faculty researcher receives NSERC funding to kickstart new sustainable growing project

Dr. Poonam Singh stands just the the right of the centre of the photo with green plants in the background and foreground. She is wearing a blue t-shirt and holds a hose that is water the plants in front of her.

An Assiniboine-led research project to determine a low-environmental-impact growing media alternative to peat has received $25K funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to help kick the project off.

The research project, officially titled “Exploring new sustainable growing media for ornamental crop production”, began this month. This grant will give Dr. Poonam Singh the opportunity to work through the initial phases of research, ultimately determining an appropriate peat reduced growing media for plant growth and development.

“Peat is currently the most common single-use growing media for ornamental crop production in Canada, but it’s extracted from sensitive ecosystems that sequester considerable amounts of carbon and store excess precipitation,” said Dr. Singh. “Peat extraction results in the release of high carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, thus contributing to the greenhouse gas effect and furthering the impact of climate change.”

“The goal of this research is to identify a substitute for peat, thereby lowering the environmental impact of ornamental crop production.”

She says that identifying local, sustainable materials will also bring about alternative benefits, like reducing production costs and increasing efficiency.

The project will see the college partner with Vanderveen’s Greenhouse Ltd. in exploring soilless growing media to partially or completely replace peat. If successful, Vanderveen’s will be the first greenhouse in Western Canada to use these new growing media for commercial greenhouse crop production.

“The results will encourage other nurseries/greenhouses in Canada and elsewhere to grow crops using these sustainable and eco-friendly practices,” added Dr. Singh.

Students in the Horticulture Production and Sustainable Food Systems programs will have the opportunity to complete work related to this project, and one student will receive the opportunity to work directly on the project, gaining valuable applied research training and work experience

Dr. Singh joined the college in 2015 and has since led and worked on various applied research projects aimed at adopting sustainable practices and improving the production of horticultural farms.