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EDITORIAL: Shining beacon in agricultural development

Your vacuum cleaner might be in for light duty a couple of Januarys from now. Move over marijuana, there are other green plants worthy of our scientific focus.

Think of it, a Christmas tree – a natural one, mind you – that doesnt shed its needles. That would be to the liking of any cleanup crew, and to anyone who thinks putting up the Yuletide decorations for a mere week and a half or two just isnt enough.

Dalhousie Universitys Agricultural Campus in Bible Hill has just celebrated the unveiling of a product developed there: a balsam fir with greatly improved needle retention. As detailed in a feature in the Halifax Chronicle Herald regarding the SMART Christmas Tree Research Co-operative project, other engineering aims could be to improve the colour, the scent, pest resistance and the shape of the tree.

The season might be short, but Christmas tree growers in this province account for a burst of domestic economy toward the end of each year. They provide trees not only to brighten up holiday homes in Nova Scotia, but a portion of them have also been exporting the product for nearly a century. The Christmas Tree Research Centre places the value to the regions economy at about $100 million a year.

Just consider the effect of extending the period of marketability of a Christmas tree by increasing the length of time for colour, freshness and needle retention by a couple of weeks. Those are the kind of factors that will work nicely on the side of growers focusing on an export market.

The SMART Christmas Trees and Technologies Initiative Project began in 2011 with the founding of the Christmas Tree Research Centre, headed by Dr. Rajasekaran Lada. A central aim was to find the best in characteristics for balsam firs and combine them for a superior gene pool.

After a lot of search, research and hard work, the result is clonal propagation technology that will see SMART tree seedlings available as early as spring of 2018.

This is a great success story. And something that needs to be emphasized is what products like this mean for rural Nova Scotia.

This is a province with a long history of farming. But with some of the changes in a number of traditional industries theres a lot of acreage that has fallen out of production over the years. With the right innovations, there is always the opportunity to develop new or improved agricultural products.

This SMART Christmas tree is just one example. But with a world class agricultural institution in the province that conducts such research, and perhaps people tackling new entrepreneurial challenges we could take greater advantage of this natural resource.

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