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Kentville Research Centre opens its doors for open house, talks strawberry research

Keegan Latham, centre, of Coldbrook, is shown with research assistants Josh Robicheau and Alison Purcell at the open house of the Kentville Research and Development Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Keegan Latham, centre, of Coldbrook, is shown with research assistants Josh Robicheau and Alison Purcell at the open house of the Kentville Research and Development Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. - Paul Pickrem

‘You always want a happy farmer’

More than half of the strawberry varieties currently grown in Canada got their start in Kentville.

Dr. Beatrice Amyotte is a research scientist who specializes in breeding and genetics research at the Kentville Research and Development Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“As the markets change and the methods of production change, we require new types of varieties of plants to grow,” she said in an interview.

“With strawberries, consumers are looking for better tasting fruit, with good size and good shelf life. And producers are looking for plants that can meet the consumers demands so they can sell well.”

That means plants that are easy to grow and have resistance to pests and diseases and have a good yield, she says, so there will be a return on their investment.

“As well, they need to survive in their production environment, which means for us that they can be cold hardy,” Amyotte says. “The cool thing about breeding is that we are always trying to improve and so we are always making advances on the previous generation of plants that we have.”

Amyotte said breeding and genetics research also focuses on ways to meet the demands of climate change on farmers.

“Our research, in part, is looking at what types of varieties can thrive in different parts of Canada with very different climatic conditions,” she said.

“Our hope through that research is to be able to identify plants which have good adaptation in a lot of different environments which we think could help predict their ability to withstand a lot of variation in one environment.”

Lea Mackean, left, and her children Mason and Madison are shown with friend Julie Bond enjoying the gardens at the Kentville Research and Development Centre. - Paul Pickrem
Lea Mackean, left, and her children Mason and Madison are shown with friend Julie Bond enjoying the gardens at the Kentville Research and Development Centre. - Paul Pickrem

Open house

The public was invited June 15 to learn more about the latest research behind food production that makes farms successful here in the Valley and across the country as researchers, technicians and staff at the research centre opened the doors so the community could get an inside look at their latest research and have fun at the same time.

The bi-annual open house included wagon rides around the centre’s research field crops, vineyard and the world’s largest orchard collection of apple varieties. Visitors also toured the centre’s new research winery.

“Every two years, it’s a chance for the public to see the type of research we do and how the centre supports the agriculture community at large,” the centre’s associate director, Dr. Mark Hodges, said in an interview.

“We have a national mandate, but we also have a regional focus. We have certainly expanded our focus as agriculture in the region has diversified over the last hundred years, and we have followed closely behind. You always want a happy farmer.”

Hodges said the centre’s research focuses on primary production through the development of new cultivars of small fruits, including strawberries, and supports the development of tree fruit and some forages for the region. It also does food safety and quality work and focuses on environmental sustainability.

Kentville resident Darren Hatt and his daughter Kaylee took the tour of the centre for the first time. Kaylee, who is in grade one, said she enjoyed learning about insects. Her dad was impressed by the wagon tour of the fields and orchards.

“I have driven by the centre a lot,” Hatt said in an interview. “I didn’t really know what the facility was used for. I always wondered.”

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