Prof seeks N.W.T. gov't funding to launch northern LED greenhouse

A professor at the University of Guelph wants to repurpose technology developed for growing food in space and apply it to the harsh environment of Canada's North, but a lack of funding is holding up the project.

Northern Farm Training Institute in Hay River says it's willing to host the project

'There is no shortage of champions in the Northwest Territories,' said Dr. Mike Dixon of the University of Guelph. 'It just depends on aligning the stars to get the appropriate funding and just doing it.' (Courtesy University of Guelph)

A professor at the University of Guelph wants to repurpose technology developed for growing food in space and apply it to the harsh environment of Canada's North, but a lack of funding is holding up the project.

Dr. Mike Dixon, a director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility at the University of Guelph, has developed a way to grow plants with LED lights instead of sunlight.

The computer controlled system produces vegetables and fruits indoors and year-round. 

"You need to know the recipe of what colours to use," said Dixon. "Believe it or not you can change the size, shape, colour and taste of a plant by messing with the spectral quality of the light that services photosynthesis."

Dixon says the technology is ready for a pilot project. His team finished a prototype commissioned by the Kuwaiti government for $200,000 in 2015, and he says he would prefer to launch the pilot project in Canada but he doesn't have a funding partner.

"There is no shortage of champions in the Northwest Territories," he said. "It just depends on aligning the stars to get the appropriate funding and just doing it."

One of those champions is Jackie Milne, the president of the Northern Farm Training Institute in Hay River, N.W.T.

Milne says an insulated barn at the institute could house Dixon's pilot project, which could in turn generate year-round produce for the institute to sell.

"We have the knowledge. We have the ability. We have access to the technology," said Milne. "It's time to do it."

Dixon wants enough money to build a five-unit system for the training institute, and to cut a deal with the Northwest Territories government for cheap power from the hydro grid.

"You don't want to be growing tomatoes with diesel energy," said Dixon. "The sweetheart energy deal would offset the subsidy that you currently have to pay for strawberries from Mexico. The money would stay in the Northwest Territories."

Milne says a government economic development committee has visited the institute and is interested in the pilot project, but no funding has been committed.

CBC has requested comment from the N.W.T. government, but an interview has not yet been granted.
 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.