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How a new greenhouse at UBC Okanagan could help make your next beer

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January 07, 2019 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA - Finding ways to make rubber from breadfruit plants and creating new flavours for Okanagan craft beer moved one step closer to reality today, Jan. 7.

Kelowna city council gave its support to an application by the UBC Okanagan to build a 5,000 square foot greenhouse that will allow it to greatly expand some of its groundbreaking agricultural research.

Chemist Susan Murch is one of the professors pushing for the new greenhouse which will let her expand her research on breadfruit and 50 million year old extinct pine trees.

“Breadfruit is staple in the diet in many parts of the world,” Bud Mortenson, Director of University Relations told “Breadfruit is under attack by viral infection so you can’t necessarily move a breadfruit tree. What Susan has been looking at is: how can we propagate breadfruit trees without passing along the viruses that might be in the plant material itself. She has been working for at least a decade on the propagation of virus free breadfruit.”

But, she’s also found that the latex produced by those trees may provide a natural source of rubber.

She’s also studying the Wollemi pine tree that was thought to be extinct for 50 million years until it was discovered growing in 1994 in Australia. Murch got one of the first seedlings and has been studying it ever since, knowing that it has survived 20 major climatic changes.

But Murch isn’t the only one who will benefit from plants grown in and around the greenhouse.

“There’s an intense amount of interest in different varieties of hops because of the opportunity to create different craft beers based on hop plants that are maybe not grown here,” Mortenson said.

Washington State has a quarantine on transporting hops plants because of a mildew outbreak, so researchers here are also looking at ways to develop disease resistant plants.

Other research is looking at developing “elite” rootstocks for apple, grape and cherries, that are not currently available in Canada.

“As climate changes, we need to figure out what kinds of varieties might be new opportunities for growers in the B.C. Interior or across British Columbia,” Mortenson said. “This will give us the opportunity to do research on what they consider elite root stocks or varieties that people may not have come to understand how well they would grow in the Okanagan.”

He doesn’t expect new varieties to be developed at the university since that is already done at places like the Summerland Research Centre.

“We’d be looking at understanding how to grow them in arid conditions,” he said. “We need to understand the farm management that would work for those varieties, so it might be examining the kind of fertilizer application rate for some of those varieties or how much water they need.”

Then there’s new crops like Haskap, which is grown in the Okanagan and produces vitamins and nutrients.

The greenhouse is proposed for a treed site near the Upper Campus Health building and is part of a 250-acre parcel between the university and the Glenmore Landfill that the university bought from the city in 2010 and is mostly leased out to an alfalfa farmer.

Since some fill is needed, an application had to be made to the Agricultural Land Commission, which first had to be supported by city council, which was done today.

Mortenson said the hope is to have the building running by later in 2019. Two more greenhouses with a total of close to 8,000 square feet are projected for construction in the future.

While there is a fair amount of cannabis research done at the university, no cannabis will be grown in the greenhouse or elsewhere on university land, Mortenson said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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