Sask. farmers embracing locally developed ag tech


At any given time throughout the rising season, Jake Leguee can have 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 along with his household close to Filmore, Sask., within the southeast a part of the province – to make his operations extra environment friendly. The stations observe quite a lot of components that have an effect on crops, akin to air and soil temperature, moisture ranges and wind. The app, developed by a Saskatchewan agriculture know-how firm, helps him interpret the information.

“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 using 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 might be achieved. 

But Leguee says Canadian farmers have lengthy been working to make their operations, together with enter use, as environment friendly as potential, and the willingness to be taught, try to undertake new know-how is crucial to the job. 

Jake Leguee farms along with his spouse, youngsters and different relations in southeast Saskatchewan. (Jake Leguee)

That’s a part of the explanation why Saskatchewan has turn out to be a hub for rising ag tech, in keeping with a number of trade consultants. Plus, farmers in that province have a observe document of adopting new know-how and supporting native startups, says Sean O’Connor, managing director of Emmertech, a $60-million Conexus enterprise capital fund targeted on Saskatchewan ag tech startups. 

“Farmers are essentially the most modern enterprise house owners in Canada so far as we’re involved, they usually’re searching for new options,” he says. 

“You cannot construct ag tech corporations on Bay Street. They belong in agriculture ecosystems, the place you are instantly interacting with trade itself.”

‘An awesome place to do enterprise’

Croptimistic Technology is likely one of the Saskatchewan-based ag tech corporations feeling the native love. Launched in 2018 in Naicam, it develops customized soil, water and topography (SWAT) maps for farmers.

“It’s been a fantastic 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 plenty of farmers who’re early adopters.”

Croptimistic’s SWAT maps assist farmers to pinpoint precisely which elements of their fields require vitamins and which do not, Willness says, which may lead to about 15 per cent extra earnings. He provided 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.

A man and woman wearing ballcaps that have branding for 'SWAT Maps' on them stand with their arms around one another. In the background, you can see a farmer's field and machinery.
Cory Willness based Croptimistic Technology along with his spouse, Shannon, in 2018. They’re based mostly in Naicam, Sask., 150 kilometres east of Saskatoon. (Submitted by Croptimistic Technology)

Croptimistic is in good firm. In Regina, Precision AI has developed artificially clever drones that perform totally automated, precision spraying, and Ground Truth Ag has created know-how that helps farmers analyze and document 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 information from their climate stations to make higher manufacturing selections, enhancing the standard of their crops and their earnings.

Better yield potential

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

For instance, if a farmer has 320 acres and may decide that illness is barely affecting 5 per cent of their crops, the price of making use of pesticide to your entire tract of land could also be increased than that of the crops misplaced. 

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

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

“It’s a win for the farmer, and it is a win for the atmosphere,” Willness says of enhancing fertilizer effectivity. “If rules occur, or incentives come, these individuals can 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 trade gamers, akin to Brandt, AGT Foods, Protein Industries Canada, and provincial financial and know-how improvement companies – like Innovation Saskatchewan – which have prioritized ag tech.

I typically hear, ‘You’ll by no means get into farmers – they simply do the identical factor the best way their grandfather did.’ But 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 concept for Soileos at a Saskatchewan tech startup competitors in 2019. It’s a plant-based fertilizer that advertises advantages like improved yields, prices and environmental sustainability. 

Although they did not win the competitors, they attracted the eye of AGT Foods’ CEO.

“Murad Al-Katib came to visit to me proper after the pitch and stated, ‘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 corporations 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 individuals and have capability to fabricate about 7,000 tonnes of product a yr – to begin. They count on Soileos to be accessible to Saskatchewan farmers by subsequent spring. 

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

Overcoming hurdles

There continues to be a protracted street forward for Saskatchewan’s tech trade to actually 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 within the United States. 

A low angle of a green farmer's field, ripe with crops. A row of silos can be seen in the distance.
Jake Leguee says Canadian farmers have lengthy been working to make their operations as environment friendly as potential, and the willingness to be taught, try to undertake new know-how is crucial to the job. (Jake Leguee)

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

Finally, small companies right here wrestle to rent native employees, notably in software program improvement, Willness says. 

“That’s in all probability one of many largest challenges: making an attempt to compete with all people else to search out tech expertise. It’s such a scorching sector.”

Still, 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 would not belong within the main centres. Instead of combating over the crumbs, we are able to get our personal slice of the bread.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here