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Sask. Farmers Embracing Locally Developed Ag Tech

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Sask. Farmers Embracing Locally Developed Ag Tech

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Jake Leggy Farm is an advanced grain, oilseed and legume farm that cultivates intercropping on approximately 14,500 acres near Fillmore, Saskatchewan.
Sask. Farmers Embracing Locally Developed Ag Tech

Jake Leggy Farm is an advanced grain, oilseed and legume farm that cultivates intercropping on approximately 14,500 acres near Fillmore, Saskatchewan. ©Jake Leguee Jake Leguee Farm is a 14,500-acre mixed grain, oilseed and legume farm near Fillmore, Saskatchewan.

Jake Legge can test the application at any time during the growing season and knows exactly how much moisture is in the soil in the field.

He installed half a dozen weather stations on the property — third-generation land he and his family farm near Fillmore, Saskatchewan, in the southeastern province of the province — to make operations more efficient. Stations monitor various conditions that affect crops, such as air and soil temperature, humidity, and wind. An app developed by an agricultural engineering company in Saskatchewan helps him interpret the data.

"In fact, if we manage our crops more sustainably, by cultivating them more sustainably, we don't use up resources," says Leggy.

The federal government's two-year target of reducing fertilizer use by 30% between 2020 and 2030 was revisited in the spring and winter with a series of consultations to achieve this target. .

However, Canadian farmers have long worked to make their jobs as efficient as possible, including using resources, and a willingness to learn, experiment and apply new technologies is essential to the job, Legui said.

According to many industry experts, this is one of the reasons Saskatchewan is a hotbed of new agricultural technology. The province's farmers also have a track record of adopting new technologies and supporting local startups, said Sean O'Connor, CEO of Emertech, a $60 million venture capital fund that Connex focuses on the tech startups of Saskatchewan has focused.

"We believe that farmers are the most innovative entrepreneurs in Canada and are looking for new solutions," he says.

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"You can't run a farm on Bay Street. They represent an agricultural ecosystem that interacts directly with the industry itself.

"Great place to do business."

Croptimistic Technology is one of Saskatchewan's agricultural technology companies loved by locals. Launched by Naikam in 2018, the company develops personalized Soil, Water and Terrain Maps (SWAT) for farmers.

"It was a great place to do business," says founder Cory Willness, who worked as an agronomist for many years before starting his own business. "Western Canada as a whole has many first mover farmers."

SWAT yield maps help farmers identify which parts of their fields need nutrients and which don't, says Wills, which can result in a 15% return. They gave this example: If a farmer spends $5 million on fertilizer and seeds but cuts 5% of an acre, that's a $250,000 loss.

Croptimistic is in good company. At Regina Precision, AI has developed AI drones that perform fully automated precision spraying, while Ground Truth Ag has developed technology to help farmers analyze and record grain samples in real time to better understand crop quality. At nearby Emerald Park, Crop Intelligence has an app that allows farmers to analyze data from their weather stations to make better production decisions, improve crop quality, and improve profits.

Best production capacity

The University of Saskatchewan doctor said the technology not only saves farmers money, but also increases production potential with lower harvesting costs.

For example, if a farmer has 320 acres of land and can determine that only 5% of the crop is affected by the disease, fertilizing the entire field can cost more than the value of the crop lost.

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"I tell my students that the use of these digital technologies over the next decade could change the face of manufacturing agriculture forever," says Smith.

Agriculture accounted for 10 percent of Canada's total emissions in 2019, and fertilizer use increased 71 percent from 2005 to 2019, according to federal government data.

"It's a win for the farmer and the environment," says Wills of the improved fertilizer efficiency. "If the rules or incentives are implemented, those people will be prepared."

start support

In addition to tech-savvy farmers, Saskatchewan has a thriving start-up ecosystem with big industry players like Brandt, AGT Foods, Protein Industries Canada and Innovation Saskatchewan, as well as provincial business and technology development agencies that favor agricultural technologies. . .

When he and Vancouver-based team Lucent Biosciences pitched their idea for Soileos at the 2019 Saskatchewan Tech Startup Competition, Jason McNamee felt the revitalization of this ecosystem was intensifying. such as productivity, costs and environmental compatibility.

Although they didn't win the competition, they caught the attention of AGT Foods' CEO.

"Murad Al-Khatib came up to me after the game and said: 'Are you saying what I think you're saying?' and handed me a card,” McNamee recalls.

A few months later, AGT and Lucent joined with a consortium of other companies to secure a $19 million grant from Protein Industries Canada.

Lucent is currently completing construction of its new manufacturing facility in Rosetown, Saskatchewan, which will employ approximately 20 people and produce approximately 7,000 tons of product per year. They expect Soileos to be available to Saskatchewan farmers next spring.

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"The farming community in Saskatchewan is very strong," says McNamee. "I often hear: 'You never get into a farmhouse – they do the same as your grandfather.' But I never saw him."

Overcome obstacles

Saskatchewan's technology industry has a long way to go before it really takes off, and major challenges lie ahead.

First, more investment is needed, O'Connor says, as evidenced by $182 million in venture capital invested in Canada's AgriTex last year, compared to $4.9 billion in the US.

One of the challenges in attracting investment in this sector is a lack of industry awareness, O'Connor said, and technology takes a long time to develop and deploy, so it takes investors a long time to see returns.

After all, it's difficult for small businesses to hire workers here, particularly those involved in software development, Wills says.

“It can be very challenging to compete for technical talent. It's a very hot industry."

Still, the fact that Saskatchewan is seeing this level of agricultural technology and investment is good news for western Canada, O'Connor says.

"At the moment there is no space in the big centers, instead of fighting for crumbs, we can get our own piece of bread."

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