Tue. Dec 6th, 2022

At any given time in the course of the rising season, Jake Leguee can take a look at an app and see precisely how a lot moisture is within the floor on his farm. 

He has put in half a dozen climate stations throughout his property – third-generation land he farms together with his household close to Filmore, Sask., within the southeast a part of the province – to make his operations extra environment friendly. The stations monitor quite a lot of components that have an effect on crops, equivalent to air and soil temperature, moisture ranges and wind. The app, developed by a Saskatchewan agriculture know-how firm, helps him interpret the info.

“That has actually made a distinction in how we handle our crops, and it makes us extra environmentally sustainable, as a result of we’re not placing inputs in if we do not want them,” says Leguee.

The federal authorities’s goal to scale back emissions from the usage of fertilizers by 30 per cent beneath 2020 ranges by 2030, which was launched two years in the past, reignited within the public consciousness this spring and summer time due to a sequence of consultations on how that could possibly be achieved. 

However Leguee says Canadian farmers have lengthy been working to make their operations, together with enter use, as environment friendly as attainable, and the willingness to study, attempt to undertake new know-how is vital to the job. 

Jake Leguee farms together with his spouse, children and different members of the family in southwest Saskatchewan. (Jake Leguee)

That is a part of the rationale why Saskatchewan has turn out to be a hub for rising ag tech, based on a number of business specialists. Plus, farmers in that province have a monitor file of adopting new know-how and supporting native startups, says Sean O’Connor, managing director of Emmertech, a $60-million Conexus enterprise capital fund centered on Saskatchewan ag tech startups. 

“Farmers are probably the most modern enterprise homeowners in Canada so far as we’re involved, and so they’re on the lookout for new options,” he says. 

“You possibly can’t construct ag tech firms on Bay Avenue. They belong in agriculture ecosystems, the place you are straight interacting with business itself.”

‘An ideal place to do enterprise’

Croptimistic Know-how is among the Saskatchewan-based ag tech firms feeling the native love. Launched in 2018 in Naicam, it develops customized soil, water and topography (SWAT) maps for farmers.

“It has been an incredible place to do enterprise,” says founder Cory Willness, who labored as an agronomist for a few years earlier than launching the corporate. “In Western Canada usually, there are a variety of farmers who’re early adopters.”

Croptimistic’s SWAT maps assist farmers to pinpoint precisely which components of their fields require vitamins and which do not, Willness says, which might end in about 15 per cent extra earnings. He supplied this instance: If a farmer spends $5 million on fertilizer and seed, however 5 per cent of their acres are a write-off, that is $250,000 misplaced.

Cory Willness based Croptimistic Know-how together with his spouse, Shannon, in 2018. They’re based mostly in Naicam, Sask., 150 kilometres east of Saskatoon. (Submitted by Croptimistic Know-how)

Croptimistic is in good firm. In Regina, Precision AI has developed artificially clever drones that perform totally automated, precision spraying, and Floor Fact Ag has created know-how that helps farmers analyze and file grain samples in actual time to raised perceive crop high quality. In close by Emerald Park, Crop Intelligence has an app that permits farmers to research knowledge from their climate stations to make higher manufacturing choices, enhancing the standard of their crops and their earnings.

Higher yield potential

This know-how couldn’t solely permit farmers to economize due to decrease crop inputs, but additionally enhance yield potential, says Dr. Stuart Smyth, the analysis chair in agri-food innovation on the College of Saskatchewan. 

For instance, if a farmer has 320 acres and may decide that illness is just affecting 5 per cent of their crops, the price of making use of fertilizer to all the tract of land could also be larger than that of the crops misplaced. 

“I inform my college students that within the subsequent decade, the usage of these digital applied sciences actually has the potential to essentially revolutionize what manufacturing agriculture seems like,” Smyth says. 

Agriculture accounted for 10 per cent of Canada’s whole emissions in 2019, based on the federal authorities, and from 2005 to 2019, fertilizer use elevated by 71 per cent.

“It is a win for the farmer, and it is a win for the surroundings,” Willness says of enhancing fertilizer effectivity. “If rules occur, or incentives come, these folks shall be ready.” 

Startup help

On high of farmers eager on tech, Saskatchewan has a supportive startup ecosystem, O’Connor says, with the presence of main business gamers, equivalent to Brandt, AGT Meals, Protein Industries Canada, and provincial financial and know-how improvement businesses – like Innovation Saskatchewan – which have prioritized ag tech.

I typically hear, ‘You will by no means get into farmers – they simply do the identical factor the way in which their grandfather did.’ However I simply have not seen that in any respect.- Jason McNamee, Lucent Biosciences

Jason McNamee felt the embrace of this ecosystem when he and his Vancouver-based workforce from Lucent Biosciences pitched their thought for Soileos at a Saskatchewan tech startup competitors in 2019. It is a plant-based fertilizer that advertises advantages like improved yields, prices and environmental sustainability. 

Though they did not win the competitors, they attracted the eye of AGT Meals’ CEO.

“Murad Al-Katib came to visit to me proper after the pitch and mentioned, ‘Are you saying what I believe you are saying?’ And he gave me his card,” remembers McNamee. 

Months later, AGT and Lucent partnered along with a consortium of different firms to safe a grant from Protein Industries Canada for $19 million.

Lucent is at the moment ending improvement of its new manufacturing facility in Rosetown, Sask., which can make use of roughly 20 folks and have capability to fabricate about 7,000 tonnes of product a yr – to start out. They count on Soileos to be obtainable to Saskatchewan farmers by subsequent spring. 

“The ag tech neighborhood in Saskatchewan is extraordinarily robust,” McNamee says. “I typically hear, ‘You will by no means get into farmers – they simply do the identical factor the way in which their grandfather did.’ However I simply have not seen that in any respect.”

Overcoming hurdles

There’s nonetheless an extended street forward for Saskatchewan’s tech business to essentially take off, and a few main challenges forward. 

First, extra funding is required, O’Connor says, as demonstrated by the actual fact there was $182 million of enterprise capital deployed into Canadian ag tech final yr, in comparison with $4.9 billion in the US. 

Jake Leguee says Canadian farmers have lengthy been working to make their operations as environment friendly as attainable, and the willingness to study, attempt to undertake new know-how is vital to the job. (Jake Leguee)

One of many challenges of procuring investments on this sector is that it is a much less understood business, says O’Connor, and this know-how requires extra time to be developed and adopted, that means it takes longer for buyers to see returns. 

Lastly, small companies right here battle to rent native workers, notably in software program improvement, Willness says. 

“That is most likely one of many largest challenges: making an attempt to compete with everyone else to seek out tech expertise. It is such a sizzling sector.”

Nonetheless, the truth that Saskatchewan is already seeing this diploma of ag tech improvement and funding is an efficient information story for Western Canada, says O’Connor.

“For as soon as, it does not belong within the main centres. As a substitute of preventing over the crumbs, we will get our personal slice of the bread.”

By Admin

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