Dr. Raj Lada, left, talks to Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, about the new SMART Balsam Fir Technologies he and his research team created giving Christmas trees longer needle retention time. Raissa Tetanish - Hub Now

BIBLE HILL – Years of work should soon give the local Christmas tree industry a boost.

Dr. Raj Lada, a researcher and professor at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus, and his research team have developed and licensed the first SMART Balsam Fir Technologies, improving upon balsam fir trees grown in the area.

“There’s always a story behind all the successes we celebrate,” Lada said, during a celebration at the campus that included a visit with Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. “Nine years ago, a gentleman who I never met before walked into my office with two photos showing his trees shipped to B.C. were rejected due to loss of needles.”

Lada said the man wasn’t paid for his product, and wasn’t sure what to do next.

“I saw in his eyes the pain and fear of not just losing his trees, but losing his reputation,” said Lada. “From that time on, my journey with Christmas trees started.”

At the beginning of his research, Lada tested some products and noticed how quickly the trees lost their needles. A steering committee formed and identified industry challenges, research priorities and needs.
“It came clear to me that if you do not fix the needle loss problem, the industry would lose its reputation and we may lost the Christmas tree industry in the region,” he said.

Lada’s research gained the support of many organizations, departments, and funders, and a Christmas Tree Research Centre was formed. Genetic markets of the top-ranking trees were identified, and researchers were able to make a hybrid of the plants using desired traits. The hybrid was cloned and seedlings raised, which growers from across the province are already on a waiting list to access.

Through the new technology, trees can retain their needles longer post-harvest – up to about 55 days.

“That means we can ship the trees around the world twice,” said Lada.

Angus Bonnyman, the executive director of the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, said growers can’t wait to get their hands on the trees.

“There’s real excitement in the industry with the thought of being able to plant some of these trees for the first time in the spring of 2018,” he said.

Bonnyman also brought greetings from Jim DeLong, the president of the Smart Christmas Tree Research Cooperative.

“It’s hard to comprehend what this research done here in Atlantic Canada has the ability to do for the Atlantic Canadian balsam fir Christmas tree and greenery industry,” Bonnyman read on behalf of DeLong.

“This opportunity has already begun to enhance the economic growth of the balsam fir industry with market growth, but we believe the true potential of the cooperative’s success and all that has been achieved will only be realized in generations to come,” his comments continued.

Bains told those gathered he smelled fresh trees as soon as he walked through the doors, and said it must be Christmas every day.

“Making Christmas better must really be rewarding work indeed,” he said.

Because of the work Lada and his team have done, Bains said trees stay fresher longer, which increases marketability and export potential.

“We were talking about numbers earlier this morning, and in Atlantic Canada, we export more than three million trees. Just imagine the potential that exists with two more million in market demand. There’s so much potential in this area.”