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‘I’d like to see more family farms staying in business and sustainable’

By Colette Wyllie 

BIBLE HILL, N.S. - The health of our environment often drives unique agricultural research and technologies.

Travis Esau, a former Nova Scotia Agricultural College student, is working on developing and evaluating an agricultural boom sprayer, with cameras identifying where target weeds are in fields. Submitted photo

Travis Esau's work to use fewer chemicals on wild blueberry farms results in more sustainable and green agriculture, but also a better business overall.

When Esau (Class of ’08, ’10 and ‘12) graduated from Cobequid Educational Centre in Truro in 2006, he received a scholarship to the then Nova Scotia Agricultural College. The rural setting, small class sizes, knowledgeable professors and friendly environment of the campus all appealed to Esau, who grew up on his family’s farm in Debert and whose parents, brother and wife also attended the NSAC.

Esau wanted to make a positive impact on the science and future of agriculture, so he pursued a two-year diploma in mechanical engineering at NSAC, then moved on to Dalhousie University’s Sexton Campus to complete his degree.

“It was a smooth transition to Halifax,” he said, adding, “Dalhousie is a North American-known university. There were the same benefits as NSAC at the time, but Dal provided further opportunities.”

The summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009, Esau worked in the engineering department on precision agricultural technologies under the direction of Dr. Qamar Zaman. After graduating in 2010, he went on to complete a master of science through the Faculty of Agriculture. Today he’s in the final year of his PhD in mechanical engineering and has a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada industrial postgraduate scholarship sponsored by Doug Bragg Enterprises Ltd.

Esau is working on developing and evaluating an agricultural boom sprayer that features cameras in front of the nozzles. His thesis is titled, “Smart sprayer for spot application of agro-chemical in wild blueberry fields.”Instead of uniformly applying herbicides, the cameras pick up where the target weeds are in the fields. “If it’s a fungicide, the nozzles shut-off in bare-spot areas,” says Travis. “It makes for substantial agrochemical savings and it’s better for the environment.”

Esau’s research focuses on science, and after he earns his PhD, he hopes to do a post-doctoral fellowship, followed by teaching, research or work in the industry. However, he hasn’t lost sight of the bigger picture and where his journey began—on his own family’s farm.

“There’s a lot in the media about fewer farms being operated in Nova Scotia,” he said. “That has its disadvantages, so I’d like to see more family farms staying in business and sustainable. In our region and across Canada, people can help make that happen by supporting their local farmers.”

Colette Wyllie is acting alumni relations officer at the Faculty of Agriculture in Bible Hill.

Organizations: Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Cobequid Educational Centre, Dalhousie University North American Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Doug Bragg Enterprises

Geographic location: Debert, Nova Scotia, Canada Bible Hill

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