Sask. farmers embracing domestically developed ag tech

At any given time in the course of the rising season, Jake Leguee can take…

Sask. farmers embracing domestically developed ag tech

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 observe quite a lot of elements that have an effect on crops, resembling 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 cut back emissions from using fertilizers by 30 per cent under 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 collection of consultations on how that may very well be achieved. 

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

A man operates a combine on a golden field. He has a small child on his lap. A woman sits next to him with a child on hers, and another young boy sits on the floor of the cab by the wheel.
Jake Leguee farms together with his spouse, youngsters and different relations in southwest Saskatchewan. (Jake Leguee)

That is a part of the explanation why Saskatchewan has turn out to be a hub for rising ag tech, in response to a number of business 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 progressive enterprise homeowners in Canada so far as we’re involved, and so they’re searching for new options,” he says. 

“You may’t construct ag tech corporations on Bay Road. They belong in agriculture ecosystems, the place you are instantly interacting with business itself.”

‘An ideal place to do enterprise’

Croptimistic Know-how is without doubt 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 has been an ideal 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 typically, there are numerous 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 might 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 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 document grain samples in actual time to raised perceive crop high quality. In close by Emerald Park, Crop Intelligence has an app that enables farmers to investigate information from their climate stations to make higher manufacturing choices, bettering 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 barely affecting 5 per cent of their crops, the price of making use of fertilizer to your entire tract of land could also be larger 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 essentially revolutionize what manufacturing agriculture seems to be like,” Smyth says. 

Agriculture accounted for 10 per cent of Canada’s complete emissions in 2019, in response to 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 atmosphere,” Willness says of bettering fertilizer effectivity. “If laws occur, or incentives come, these folks shall be ready.” 

Startup assist

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

I usually hear, ‘You will by no means get into farmers – they only 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 visiting 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 corporations to safe a grant from Protein Industries Canada for $19 million.

Lucent is at present 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 12 months – to start out. They anticipate Soileos to be obtainable to Saskatchewan farmers by subsequent spring. 

“The ag tech neighborhood in Saskatchewan is extraordinarily sturdy,” McNamee says. “I usually hear, ‘You will by no means get into farmers – they only 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 12 months, in comparison with $4.9 billion in the US. 

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 doable, and the willingness to study, try to undertake new know-how is essential 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, which means it takes longer for buyers to see returns. 

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

“That is most likely one of many largest challenges: attempting to compete with everyone else to search out tech expertise. It is such a scorching sector.”

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

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