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Agriculture researcher finalist for Public Impact Award

Posted by stephanie Rogers on October 12, 2022 in News, Research
Dr. Percival in the blueberry fields in Oxford
Dr. Percival in the blueberry fields in Oxford

Dr. David Percival, a Professor of Whole Plant Physiology in the Department of Plant, Food, and Environmental Sciences at Dalhousie University is one of three finalists of a Public Impact Award presented by Research NS.

The Public Impact Awards are part of the Discovery Awards program that honours those who put science achievement in the minds of the local community, along with serving as role models for youth who will be the innovators of the future.

The awards will be presented November 23 at the Halifax Convention Centre.

“I am so pleased to see one of our most dedicated researchers being recognized in this way, said Faculty of Agriculture dean David Gray.  Dr. Percival is a great example of how researchers can work with industry partners to make a significant difference to the economy of our region and the country.”

A Public Impact Award recognizes a Nova Scotian researcher whose work has benefited Nova Scotians by tangibly improving the economy, environment, healthcare system, or society. The recipient’s work has developed in response to the needs of society, and is solving a problem, managing a risk, or creating an opportunity for Nova Scotians.

Twenty-six year Industry Partnership

For 26 years Dr. Percival has undertaken wild blueberry research and development activities and has been instrumental in growing and strengthening the wild blueberry industry in Nova Scotia.

As director of the Wild Blueberry Research Program and as the Manager of the Wild Blueberry Research Centre, his research and close collaboration with industry has positively impacted growers, harvesters, and exporters across the province and beyond.

The wild blueberry industry relies heavily on research and innovation to improve yield. The industry's largest local producer, Oxford Frozen Foods, knew research was going to be key to growth and John Bragg, Chair of Oxford Frozen Foods, supported Dr. Percival's work in the mid 1990s. At the time, Dr. Percival was not sure what the Wild Blueberry Producers Association and the Bragg Group wanted him to focus on, despite having a list of research priorities.

In his first meeting with John Bragg, much-needed clarity was provided with the statement, ‘Your job is to find the technologies that will put more berries in the box.’

Impressive results

Dr. Percival's research and his collaborative support from industry has resulted in wild blueberry production in Nova Scotia quadrupling to over 400 million pounds annually.

“The dedication and passion David brings to the wild blueberry industry as a researcher is unmatched and truly unlike anything I’ve seen across the many excellent relationships our Faculty has within the agricultural sector,” said Dr. Chris Cutler, associate Dean Research.  “Dr. Percival, almost without fail, presents at every producer meeting and attends every field day, and has been steadfast in his commitment to the wild blueberry industry through collaborative research projects and training of students.”  

The wild blueberry industry is Nova Scotia’s largest agricultural export industry. With over 50 million pounds produced every year, over 40,000 acres in production and more than 630 growers, the wild blueberry industry plays a critical role in the Nova Scotia economy.

“Oxford Frozen Foods has been working closely with Dalhousie University and Dr. Percival for several years to find solutions to efficiently improve production and overcome challenges including cost reduction in the production of wild blueberries,” said John Bragg, Oxford Frozen Foods.  “Our industry is a key player in the economy of Nova Scotia and Dr. Percival’s research was instrumental in helping us get to where we are today.”

When Dr. Percival started in 1996, the industry produced approximately 124 million pounds of wild blueberries and an average crop was between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds per acre. Through more careful management of the fields and reducing pest pressures, production in the same field today should yield over 3,000 pounds per acre and some growers have experienced fields more than 12,000 pounds per acre. The estimated economic impact of this exported fruit to the Nova Scotia economy is well over 100 million dollars annually.

Dr. Percival’s research includes assessing the impact of climate change on biotic and abiotic factors affecting plant growth, development and berry yield, remote sensing of wild blueberry fields, pest and nutrient management technologies, and berry composition, quality, and safety.

He has developed new technology-based products, processes, and services and provided ongoing production management training to producers and industry representatives. This has allowed producers to remain competitive in an increasingly globally competitive market and mitigate threats including emerging pests and late spring frosts associated with climate change.

Impact on next generation of researchers

In addition to his teaching and research, Dr. Percival has also been an executive member of Plant Canada, served as the President of the Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, and has been the representative for Canada on the Council of the International Society for Horticultural Science.  

His work has also helped develop the next generation of researchers and professionals, having supervised and evaluated over 200 Masters, PhD, and Postdoctoral fellows over his career. A former student noted that Dr. Percival was always “an inspiring instructor who linked theory to practice especially for the lab, but always emphasized the importance of supporting the local agricultural community and industries.”

His work has also been recognized by several noteworthy awards including a Canada Foundation for Innovation Research Excellence Award for two research initiatives examining the environmental regulation of plant growth and development and wild blueberry physiology, protection, and production.

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