media release

SFU research to bring fresh, local blueberries to B.C. markets in winter

March 27, 2024
SFU biological sciences professor Jim Mattsson, left, and greenhouse manager Mostafa Mirzaei. Mattsson is developing new plant varieties and growing techniques to produce fresh, local blueberries during the winter months. Photo: Erin Brown-John/SFU

A team of Simon Fraser University (SFU) researchers is working to develop new plant varieties and precision indoor growing techniques for producing fresh, local blueberries during the off-season for the first time.

The team, led by SFU biological sciences professor Jim Mattsson, is exploring how biotechnology, advanced physiological methods and precision indoor growing techniques will help maximize plant productivity while minimizing water and energy consumption, even in the depths of winter, resulting in fresher, better and more sustainable produce.
“If you have an indoor environment, you can tell the plants when to produce leaves and when to produce flowers and fruit,” Mattsson says. “You’re not dependent on the season and weather. You can change the light intensity, day length, and temperature to get the full potential of different blueberry varieties.”
The Canadian blueberry season runs from July to the end of September. For the rest of the year Canada imports nearly half a billion dollars of blueberries from countries such as Mexico and Peru.
These berries have a higher carbon footprint than local berries and are typically four to five weeks old by the time they reach Canadian grocery stores. Like other imported produce, they are vulnerable to shipping delays and other supply chain issues that can result in spoilage and shortages that undermine our food security.
A home-grown solution needs to be both energy efficient and profitable for farmers. The research is being done in partnership with B.C.-based agritech company BeriTech Inc. with $1 million in support from the Weston Family Foundation as part of the Shepherd Phase of the Homegrown Innovation Challenge.
The research team is evaluating selected blueberry varieties under controlled environmental conditions to better understand how factors such as temperature, lighting and airflow can be used to enhance their growth. The first round of growth trials are underway at BeriTech’s research farm and at SFU.
The research team will also be exploring ways to use resources more efficiently, reducing water and energy use and recycling fertilizers to reduce waste. They are also considering how they will introduce a brand-new category of food to Canadian consumers, with support from Beedie School of Business professors Terri Griffith and Andrew Harries.


JIM MATTSSON, professor, SFU Biological Sciences

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JEFF HODSON, SFU Communications & Marketing


Delivered over six years, the $33 million Homegrown Innovation Challenge supports the development of tools and technologies to enable Canadian farmers and producers to grow berries out of season – sustainably and competitively. We believe that by accomplishing out-of-season berry production, we can unlock solutions for myriad other fruits and vegetables.


At the Weston Family Foundation (formerly The W. Garfield Weston Foundation), more than 60 years of philanthropy has taught us that there is a relationship between healthy landscapes and healthy people. That is why we champion world-class health research and innovation with the same passion that we support initiatives to protect and restore biodiversity on Canada’s unique landscapes. We take a collaborative approach to philanthropy, working alongside forward-thinking partners to advance Canada and create lasting impacts. We aspire to do more than provide funding; we want to enable others to find transformational ways to improve the well-being of Canadians.


Who We Are

As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities—Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey—SFU has eight faculties that deliver 364 undergraduate degree programs and 149 graduate degree programs to more than 37,000 students. The university now boasts more than 180,000 alumni residing in 145+ countries.