A number of Canadian agriculture technology start-up companies were in the spotlight at the recent Ag Innovation Showcase. The Canadian government and Protein Industries Canada, one of the country’s five superclusters, were key sponsors of the event again this year.
Why it matters: Technology is a key driver of innovation in the agri-food sector, but entrepreneurs need support to successfully shepherd a discovery through to commercialization.
Held virtually for the first time this year, the event was founded in 2008 by the Larta Institute, a California-based commercialization organization, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre in St. Louis to drive innovation in the agricultural sector.
According to Carl Pilon, Senior Trade Commissioner with the Canadian Consulate General of Minneapolis, agri-food is one of their priority sectors and Canadian participation in the event is part of the country’s commitment to supporting continued growth in the ag sector.
The federal trade commissioner service helps Canadian companies connect with market and investment opportunities abroad. Pilon said the Minneapolis and San Francisco trade commissioner offices have teamed up to launch a new joint AgTech Canadian Technology Accelerator this year, where 13 high potential Canadian ag tech companies will make connections in the ag innovation space in California and Minnesota.
A selection of those companies presented their innovations at the Showcase to an audience of influencers, potential investors, innovators, and industry stakeholders.
EIO Diagnostics has developed a practical, real-time tracking tool for early detection of mastitis, the most common health issue in the dairy industry that is estimated to affect one in three dairy cows worldwide.
“All current solutions target a lagging indicator, looking for evidence of infection in milk. EIO is the only tool that looks at a leading indicator, which is early evidence in the udder of infection,” explained co-founder and CEO Tamara Leigh.
A sensor installed at the entry of a rotary milking parlour captures a thermal map of the udder and software analyses images in less than a second to detect hotspots of subclinical infection. At a cost of $1 per cow per month, Leigh noted that an investment of $12 per year can prevent an estimated $160 in treatment costs per cow with mastitis.
Early validation of the technology was completed at the University of British Columbia, and the patent-pending system is currently installed in barns in both Canada and the United States.
G2V Optics Inc.’s engineered sunlight solution is designed to help indoor agriculture solve the problem of costly, high energy lighting systems. G2V had its start bringing precision lighting to aerospace and research environments. They’re now translating this to high value indoor crops like spices, medicinals, and micro greens, where light technology is brought together with sensors and control software to optimize crop growth.
“We’ve done work with (insect producer) Enterra where lighting is a critical part of the breeding cycle for insects,” says CEO Ryan Tucker. “There are lots of analogs in insect health and development that you can monitor and make decisions on their growth cycles.”
Montreal-based ChrysaLabs has developed a portable soil probe that can produce results right in the field. A dashboard for field management lets users export results to any other software platform. Approximately 40 of its soil probes are currently deployed, mainly in Eastern Canada, California and the U.S. Midwest.
“We need precise mapping for precision agriculture, and in order to understand the soil, we need to sample it, which currently is slow and expensive,” Fournier said. “Our tool gives a real time result in the field at an affordable, per-acre fee and clients can do as many samples as they want.”
Obtaining a representative sample is the most important aspect of any grain testing program, but most on-farm sampling currently is manual and not certifiable. The solution, VeriGrain, is a digital and traceable automated grain sampling system.
A sample is extracted as grain flows into or out of a bin and sealed into a barcoded sample container. The user takes a photo of the barcode with app before the sample goes to a lab for analysis and results are then uploaded to the app.
“If the buyer trusts the sample, they will pay a premium price and we’re seeing growers getting $10,000 to $30,000 more if they have a precision representative sample,” said CFO Scott Cunningham.