Is the future of Canadian agriculture in trouble? Critics often talk about the country lagging behind when it comes to innovation. But, if you spent any time at this year’s 4-H Canada Science Fair, held at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon this past March, you’d know the critics are out to lunch.
The annual event is a chance for teenagers to flex their brainy ideas, present innovative and unique concepts to remedy a host of issues, all while showcasing Canada’s vital agricultural value.
So buckle up because you are about to go on a wild ride with six of the country’s brightest young minds.
What they have created will shock, amaze and, ultimately, assure you that Canada’s agricultural future is in good hands.
Maple Leaf 4-H Club, Yarmouth, NS
PROJECT: Does seaweed help reduce mould growth in bread rolls?
Living near the shore of the Bay of Fundy is a joy few can lay claim to, and 14-year-old Caelan Deviller is one of them. The Yarmouth, NS, teen often walks along the rock beach near his house and spots seaweed that has washed ashore.
Plentiful, gooey and chock full of anti-fungal properties, the seaweed intrigued him.
Specifically, he wondered if he could build upon a previous hypothesis where different edible sea items are introduced into bread products to slow the growth of mould.
Seaweed seemed like a new, suitable candidate, so he set to work. In short order, results bore out what he sought to prove.
By baking as little as 0.3 grams of seaweed into his 25-gram bread roll, he extended the typical shelf life to between 11 and 14 days from seven to 10 days. The more seaweed he added, the longer the shelf life.
Seaweed’s flavour, which Deviller describes as “like nothing,” did not have an adverse affect on taste and relatively little on colour.
“There’s basically no downside to eating seaweed,” he says plainly, adding that this could help reduce food waste. “It’s healthy and it does the exact same job as preservatives, so why not?”
Small-scale, double-blind testing showed equal or better results for his seaweed-injected bread products. Deviller is confident seaweed may become part of healthy longerlasting bread products in the future.
Otter Flying Feathers 4-H Club, Langley, BC
PROJECT: Identifying and controlling the spread of salmonella pathogens in the poultry industry.
Chicken is the protein of choice for many Canadians. However, salmonella is an everpresent concern for chicken producers prior to getting their product to market. Lab analysis takes days and the resulting delays ultimately cost producers. Well, not anymore.
Mac Dykeman, a 15-year-old 4-H’er, created a novel device — through an original assay device — that successfully detects salmonella in chicken feces. Yet, as Dykeman prepared her experiment, she set the bar low, believing it could easily fail.
“I was definitely surprised the device worked so well when I was testing it,” she says. “When I was initially designing the device, I was expecting that it might not even work.”
Well, not only does it work, it works fast. This onsite test, which Dykeman is now working to patent, produces results in about 15 minutes. Designed to be as simple as a pregnancy test, a strip simply shows a positive or negative indicator line and producers then take whatever actions necessary to ensure biosecurity at their operation.
Her inspiration for the project came in 2017 when she designed a safer container to ship day-old chickens, to help reduce morbidity and mortality in transit. As salmonella outbreaks can also be associated with such shipments, Dykeman’s new device could be used to limit the spread of salmonella infections.
Wishart Multiple 4-H Club, Wishart, SK
PROJECT: Inspecting how light impacts bacterial counts in sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut. You either love it or hate it. Regardless, there is no denying the positive gut-health implications of sauerkraut’s good bacteria. For this reason, 16-year-old Ruby Kinash wanted to investigate what types of light one of the main bacterium — Lactobacillus plantarum — grew best under: no light, LED light or variable sunlight.
Her inspiration came directly from a previous experiment that showed her homemade unpasteurized sauerkraut contained a thousand times more Pediococcus bacteria compared to store-bought pasteurized versions.
Results from her Lactobacillus plantarum experiment plainly show that LED lights foster the best environment for the healthy bacteria growth at the fastest rate. In fact, by the time Kinash studied findings under a microscope, the LED test site displayed a bacterial count of 2,000, which was anywhere from four to 10 times greater than the other test jars.
“I looked at the samples in my microscope and then just leaned back and said, ‘Whoa,'” says Kinash. “There was so much activity it was disorienting. There were so many tiny dots.”
She is encouraged by the results of her project since it may have positive implications for people who want to make their own good bacteria-rich sauerkraut under LED conditions, especially because this light source is increasingly popular and affordable.
“It could make all sauerkraut better,” she says. “And this research could be applied to other areas of science that have to do with bacteria.”
Stony Riders 4-H Club, Stony Plain, AB
PROJECT: The affect of cellulose nano-crystal coated packaging on shelf life of fresh produce.
Last year, single-use plastics came into the federal government’s crosshairs — targeted to become a distant, synthetic memory. Out of the disruption comes change-maker Amanda Hardman.
The 18-year-old rural Albertan focused her project on the study of different fibres and their respective applications.
It led her to take a crack at the plastics problem with fibre packaging lined with cellulose nano-crystals and then testing the shelf life of lettuce wrapped in that versus a traditional plastic clamshell.
Her early results showed promise and, most importantly, much less microbial formation.
Sideby- side testing on agar plates showed no more than 30 colony-forming units of microbials in the natural packaging, while the plastic clamshell had 300-plus, at which point Hardman lost count of the microscopic mayhem.
“There’s great promise to be a viable solution to plastic clamshells,” she says.
“There’s going to have to be something that’s at least the same quality or else shelf life will go down and food waste will go up.”
She still has work to do, but Hardman is encouraged by how the test lettuce performed — it did not shrivel up, change colour or lose its moisture content.
She joins many others looking to solve the plastics problem and create sustainable solutions for all Canadians.
“There’s tons and tons of people looking into this,” says Hardman.
“There are some really good solutions coming up in the next few years for alternatives to plastics.”
Balzac Beef Club, Balzac, AB
PROJECT: A corrosion comparison of beet juice and road salt.
Winter driving can be treacherous even when you have snow tires, which is why road salt and gravel are often applied for increased traction.
However, salt corrodes, causing rust and faster wear and tear on a vehicle.
Knowing that vehicle degradation is a big issue in winter, Norregaard examined traditional road salt versus a beet brine solution, known as Beet55, which is a waste product of Alberta’s sugar beet industry.
Norregaard, a ranching teen, wanted to see if agricultural waste could be used to stop metal from weakening.
Beet55 is used in Calgary as an alternative to road salt and has also been trialled in Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
He compared Beet55 against common salt with five everyday metals used in bridge and car construction.
His findings did not disappoint.
“There was more crystallization with the salt across concentrations compared to the Beet55,” he says, adding that mild steel, a common component in vehicles, showed the most damage.
The exciting results come with a straightforward message: Beet55 is good for vehicles and farmers.
“If Beet55 was used more often on roads as compared to the traditional road salt, bridges and vehicles would last longer reducing the cost of repairs and replacement,” says Norregaard.
“Greater use of Beet55 would also develop a greater market for sugar beets here in Alberta, supporting the agriculture sector.”
Saanich 4-H Lamb Club, Saanich, BC
PROJECT: Preen oil versus mites — the affect of chicken uropygial oil on red mites.
Uropygial oil is not a household word — yet. This unique oil is produced through a gland at the base of a chicken’s tail feathers, and, despite its relative obscurity, did not stop Danae Kong from exploring its properties.
Her project focused on the oil’s potential to fight pests.
Chicken scent naturally repels mosquitos at a rate of about 95 per cent, and uropygial oil contains flavour esters that produce scent.
So, the exuberant 16-yearold thought perhaps there was application for the oil — officially classified as a waste product during bird processing — to fight against one of her chickens’ most reviled predators.
“It suddenly occurred to me: ‘What if I could use our oil to repel red mites?'” she says.
“I’d be using a waste item to solve this problem.”
She tested the mites in two petri dishes from November 2019 to January 2020 — one with uropygial oil on paper and one without — in a darkened room to simulate coop conditions.
The experiment ran for two days at a time and, while results were inconclusive, Kong was heartened by what she learned during the process about the oil being used in different settings.
“It’s accessible, it’s already being removed from the birds and they’re literally throwing it away,” she says, adding that Canada processes 700 million birds annually.
“There’s a lot of capacity or possibility for uropygial oil.”