November 23, 2020
A robot uprising is unlikely in our near future. Humanity is decades away from the type of artificial intelligence we’ve seen in Hollywood movies. But there are tasks that artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation can do amazingly well. Agritech is one industry that is embracing innovations of that kind and marrying them with existing food production processes.
Agritech is the art and science of producing more with less. Its goal is to produce more nutritious, affordable and abundant food with less space, water, soil, energy, fertilizer, chemicals and waste. The technology is not always new, but the applications are, and it’s a digital transformation that is improving agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture yields around the world.
In early 2020, as the world learned about the COVID-19 virus, countries closed borders, billions of people around the globe observed lockdown, and disruptions to our highly globalized food production and supply chains created food security tension. Today, global agriculture markets are mostly stable, although many countries worldwide struggle to control price inflation or have been made more vulnerable by multiple crises. In British Columbia, the federal and provincial governments are working together with industry, responding to the impacts of COVID-19 on farmers and food processors, and investing in programs that will support British Columbian farmers and processors through to recovery, so they can continue to supply high quality food.
Now more than ever, people are looking not only for ways to feed the world’s growing population sustainably, but also for ways to improve every part of the food production value chain, from primary production through to end markets. One of the growing trends for moving to a more resilient, nimble and sustainable global food system is innovation and improved technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked this food transformation.
Canada’s economy is heavily focused on agriculture and has an internationally trusted brand for sustainably produced foods, and British Columbia offers the most diverse array of agriculture commodities in Canada. Technology and innovation are key to adding value to British Columbia’s diverse production lineup, which includes over 200 land-based products and 100 fish, shellfish and marine plant products.
British Columbia is poised to become a world leader in the development of agritech. The Province is developing an agritech cluster to promote new opportunities for the sector to thrive and build food security while meeting our obligations under CleanBC – our plan for an environmentally sustainable future. Technology entrepreneurs, academic institutions and research facilities are located near agricultural areas. British Columbia’s unique biogeoclimatic zones create a living lab environment to develop and trial new agricultural technologies.
The province’s new agritech cluster provides the structure for technology companies, academics, government and industry to develop, test and implement technology solutions to address local scale opportunities while providing global-scale sales potential.
British Columbia is already demonstrating early success in the agritech sector, with local companies leading crop innovation for plant health, providing nutrients and protection from pests, weed and diseases.
Ecoation, a North Vancouver company, is passionate about enabling a cleaner future and food for everyone. Their autonomous scout robots can monitor plants’ health, forecast crop yields and perform spot treatments when required. The Ecoation team includes growers, scientists, engineers and business professionals. Together, they are merging biology, automation, sensing, AI, robotics and intelligence augmentation. The company received the 2018 Greentech Innovation Concept Award in Amsterdam, and its latest patent is for ground-breaking technology that helps greenhouse growers map pest and disease risk with daily reporting and plant images.
Terramera, a global agritech leader based out of Vancouver, is fusing proprietary green chemistry technology and artificial intelligence to reduce global synthetic pesticide loads. Terramera uses technology to replace synthetic chemical pesticides with high-performance, plant-based pest control products for agricultural and consumer use. Terramera is the 2020 recipient of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas award and the Ignite 2020 Award for helping farmers feed the world with significantly less chemicals through its game-changing technology. Terramera is also leading a collaborative effort in the battle against COVID, using computational chemistry, machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict new COVID-19 strains.
Semios is a visionary company that has twice been named to the Thrive Top 50 Global Agtech Companies annual ranking. Semios exemplifies the best in agriculture and food-focused innovation. Its precision farming platform provides real-time crop data and pest management tools for tree fruit and nut growers. Leveraging a proprietary, in-orchard Internet of things wireless network, machine learning and data analytics, Semios helps growers manage insect pests, disease, frost and irrigation. Semios and Terramera are also a recognized force in the clean tech sector and were among six British Columbia companies included in the 2019 Global Clean Tech 100 listing.
British Columbia is home to 150 strong agritech companies and start-ups. Read more examples of successful BC agritech companies involved in: aquaculture, breeding and genetics, IoT, farm to consumer, farm management, foodtech, irrigation and water management, health of livestock, machinery and robotics, and water tech.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2020. On December 11, 2020, the province of B.C. launched an Agritech Grant Program as part of its COVID-19 economic recovery plan to help B.C. agritech agriculture and technology companies scale up, expand and develop new technologies to help increase sustainable and regenerative food production in BC. Grants are available to B.C. based companies.
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