The federal government continues to fund large agriculture organization networks with the aim to improve automation in the sector.
Why it matters: Tech-adoption on the farm is increasingly identified as an opportunity to make Canadian agriculture more competitive. Governments and industry are devoting resources to support this direction.
Up to $49.5 million has been pledged, by representatives from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, to the Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN) – a network of private-sector, academic, and research institution members with the goal of increasing the competitiveness of Canadian agricultural while reducing financial risk for farmers. The group is receiving this funding after winning one of two support projects from the federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund.
The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre is leading CAAIN alongside Alberta Innovates – a tech-focused corporation funded by the province of Alberta. According to information from Vineland, the network will establish a smart-farm platform to “develop and validate technologies” that will enable the automation of agricultural tasks, as well as overall digitization.
Canada’s strengths in artificial intelligence and precision agriculture, will help to develop scalable, exportable farming solutions.
Labour issues a main driver
Tania Humphrey, chief scientific officer at Vineland, says the major goals of CAAIN are to find solutions to persistent labour issues – particularly in the horticulture sector. However, she adds other areas such as food safety and animal welfare will also be considered as the network expands.
Humphrey says Vineland’s involvement came as an extension of work already being conducted under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s automation research cluster. The role will see Vineland researchers directly involved with some projects – such as an ongoing initiative with auto-parts manufacturer Linamar to develop better apple harvesting technology – but also acting as facilitators to help others apply technologies across sectors.
“If a robot can find a tomato on a vine it can find an apple in a tree. The technologies themselves can be adapted and applied across different parts,” she says.
“It’s establishing critical mass and collaborative opportunities for every group. There are a lot of alignments and commonalities across industry and commodities.”
Including other networks
While CAAIN received funding specifically, other pre-existing innovation communities did not; the University of Guelph’s Canadian Agri-Food Ecosystem Digital Network – which also focuses on sharing data and expertise across a wide range of agri-food stakeholders – is an example. However, Humphrey says there will be opportunities to partner with such networks.
“There may be funding opportunities under CAAIN to do some projects with those groups,” she says. “They can definitely become part of the network […] Part of the CAAIN mechanism might include calls for proposals.”
The press release says CAAIN is expected to begin with eight partners from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.
The private sector and other non- government partners are contributing an additional $59 million to CAAIN, providing a potential total of $108.5 million.