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UFV berry expert appointed Canada Research Chair

As climate change continues to threaten food security, the world looks for answers. In Canada, the federal government is seeking expert insight from Dr. Lauren Erland, Director of Berry Horticulture Research at UFV. Erland was recently appointed a Canada Research Chair, Tier 2. Supported by federal funding, she's spending the next five years studying the climate resilience of berry horticultural systems and ecosystems.

The Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program is part of a national strategy to make Canada a top country in research and development. It's designed to recruit and retain the world's most innovative scholars and fund ground-breaking research that has positive, tangible impacts on Canadian lives. Erland is thrilled to become the third current UFV professor in the CRC program, along with Dr. Keith Carlson and Dr. Cindy Jardine.

"I'm excited to do this, and I'm particularly excited to do this at UFV," Erland says. "The agriculture program is one of our flagship programs, and to be able to help that program grow is a great opportunity. And to do this in the Fraser Valley is significant, too, because the Fraser Valley produces most of British Columbia's berry crops. We're surrounded by all that, which means we've basically got a living lab in everyone's field."

UFV's Dr. Lauren Erland said relatively little is known about the environmental adaptations of berry species. She calls this a critical gap in understanding climate resilience.

Garry Fehr, UFV AVP Research and Graduate Studies is equally enthusiastic.

"UFV is very pleased to receive the support and funding from the Canada Research Chair Program, which enables the university to support sustainable economic development of the agriculture sector and enhance the region's food security. This wouldn't be possible without the funding and dedicated time for research that these programs support," he says.

BC's cranberry sector produces $37 million in farm cash receipts, and the blueberry sector has an annual economic impact of over $7 billion each year. But despite being high value with established nutritional and health benefits, Erland said relatively little is known about environmental adaptations of berry species. She calls this a critical gap in understanding climate resilience.

"This research will enable us to answer questions like which varieties perform well under climate change? Which suffer? Why? And can we mitigate these effects?" Erland explains.

As an example, she says using in-field warming experiments with cranberries, we can simulate 2°C warming that crops are expected to experience after climate change. Previous research Erland has done has produced computer-modelled predictions on how future climate conditions will impact the viability of existing cranberry growing regions. The next step includes comparing predictions with what happens in the field.

"We might find that the plants produce 30 percent less cranberries in the climate we expect to have 20 years from now," Erland says.

If research can determine why that happens, research can then develop field-level interventions.

"Maybe there's a new product we can suggest, or maybe there's a new variety that's more resilient," Erland muses. "Maybe we find ways to better protect plants at a certain time of year to mitigate those effects."

Erland will be conducting her research in a renovated space on the UFV Chilliwack campus at Canada Education Park. The Berry Environmental Resilience Research & Innovation (BERRI) lab in building Q will provide 980 square feet outfitted with state-of-the-art tech that will allow Erland to examine plants and berries down to a single molecule.

"My favorite part of my job is getting to play with plants," Erland says with a smile. "This will be the first tech of its kind that we have at UFV, so it will be cool to share that with students. I've been joking that I'd like to get over to that building with a sledgehammer and start renovating myself because I can't wait to get into that space.

"It's going to be a cool resource, not only for our students but also for our regional agriculture industry partners."

The BERRI lab is partially funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The CFI is an independent corporation created by the Government of Canada that invests in research facilities and equipment in Canada's universities, colleges, research hospitals, and non-profit research institutions. The CFI John R. Evans Leaders Fund has contributed $617,125 to the construction of the lab and purchase of tools and instruments.

In addition to Erland, Carlson, and Jardine, UFV's Dr. Lenore Newman and Dr. Hugh Brody are past Canada Research Chairs.


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