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Canadian Agriscience Trends: Tech Innovation

Some top predicted Canadian agriscience trends focused on disruptive technological innovations include the use of variable-rate technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to reposition the agricultural science sector. Canada’s agricultural industry is shifting from using a “one size fits all” approach to actionable data in making more informed decisions.

1. Variable-Rate Technology and Precision Farming

  • The innovative use of variable-rate technology will disrupt the agricultural science sector of Canada in 2021. A Canadian company (Clean Seed) is at the “forefront” of agricultural science innovations and will be rolling out SMART seeders that operate based on variable-rate technology in 2021.
  • Clean Seed” is the innovator of the “only” actual variable rate smart seeding technology (in the world).
  • Clean Seed’s smart seeders (SMART Seeder MAX S and SMART Seeder MAX) will be available on a commercial scale in 2021.
  • Variable-rate technology is a game-changing technology in the agricultural industry, and Clean Seed is leading its implementation. The use of variable rate digital technologies (like the one used by Clean Seed) reduces the cost associated with agricultural inputs. It also improves yields and gives higher gains (additional gain of $100/acre) than regular marketplace products.
  • With variable-rate technology, Clean Seed can take third-party soil sciences or soil samples and loads them into SMART Seeders for real-time analysis of available nutrients and make appropriate crop recommendations per square foot of a farm. The process defines parameters for an essential stage of the life of plants.
  • Seeding devices available on the marketplace cant deliver nutrients and plant crops into the soil with the level of precision that SMART seeders do. Regular industry devices are broad and more prone to spill seeds or nutrients.
  • Nutrient availability in the soil changes with distances (often in meters or kilometers) and variable-rate technology helps farmers maximize the use of available dry land in real-time.
  • Several experts (including Don Hauka) are discussing the use of variable-rate technology in Canada by 2021. The Financial Post advertised some devices manufactured by Canadian firms in August 2020. These devices utilize variable-rate technology.
  • At the International Conference on Mechanization, Agricultural Automation, and Variable Rate Technologies coming up in July 2021 in Ottawa, Canada, several experts (researchers, educators, and practitioners) will be discussing the use of variable rate technology and precision farming.
  • The market for Variable Rate Technology (VRT) is currently worth $1.6 billion and will grow with a CAGR of 8.3% between 2020 and 2027 to reach $2.9 billion. Canada is one of the countries that will positively promote the VRT market for the analyzed period.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • The Canadian agricultural science sector is embracing modern technologies like AI (artificial intelligence). These modern technologies are accountable for the booming agricultural technology sector.
  • The use of hi-tech seed spreaders with high computing ability is growing at a fast rate across Canada. Consequently, farmers are rushing to buy AI-capable devices like tablet PCs.
  • Artificial intelligence-based farming contributes to better product yields and ecology through image recognition and machine learning.
  • Farmers now use AI to analyze several aspects of their farms to check for readings like temperature, soil conditions, and water or harvest accuracy.
  • “Clean Seed” is one of the companies at the “forefront” of Canada’s agricultural science innovations. Clean Seed’s SMART seeders integrate with artificial intelligence (AI) data analysis tools. The seeders would hit the Canadian market commercially in 2021.
  • Clean Seed recently partnered with an American multinational IT organization to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) data analysis tools into its SMART seeder and planter technology platforms.
  • Several people will be meeting with an industry expert (Dr. Hossein Bonakdari) at Laval University, Quebec, Canada, in May 2021, to discuss how artificial intelligence (AI) techniques will revolutionize several agricultural processes.

3. Use of Actionable Data for More Informed Decisions

  • The use of actionable data for more informed decisions will disrupt Canada’s agricultural science sector in 2021.
  • In Canada, farmers use data-gathering technologies (like satellite imagery, drones, and sensors) to optimize agricultural processes.
  • Agricultural drones provide actionable data for service providers, growers, and agricultural researchers. They offer an effective way to supervise crops, create treatment plans, identify stress, track plants’ growth, and other benefits.
  • The use of high-resolution RGB cameras with professional multispectral sensors can identify crop health problems at an early stage for adequate action, thereby reducing input costs and boosting yield.
  • Actionable data specific to crop health or crop population can help farmers increase their agricultural management efficiency.
  • Many industry players are discussing the use of actionable data within Canada’s agricultural sector. Clean Seed recently disclosed to its audience on Twitter that big data has the potential to unlock the most significant amount of economic headroom for the agricultural science sector “than any other industry.” Clean Seed’s technology is at the forefront of other technologies in terms of executing actionable data.
  • A 2021 Brevant seed guide by Corteva (an agriscience company in Canada) reveals that the most recent advances in technologies, data analytics, and artificial intelligence give farmers actionable data. Farmers can utilize this data to make “more informed decisions” to implement less complicated operations.

Canadian Agriscience Trends: Business Strategy / Operations

Three important trends in Canadian agriscience that will affect farm business strategy and operations are (1) the trend toward precision agriculture, (2) the changes in the demographics of farming, including both farm owners and workers, and (3) the need to focus on the environment and sustainable farming practices. Canadian farmers will need to adjust their business strategies and operations to account for these trends. The total pattern of farming management decisions shapes the long-term capabilities of farm operations.

1. Precision Agriculture

  • Farming industry writers predict that drones, data and analytics, advanced farm equipment that works via robotics, and crop sensors are some of the innovations in farm technology that will affect Canadian farming during the decade from 2020-2030.
  • Farmers will have to budget to allow for a growing investment in technology and innovation to keep up with the trend. For example, drones will be used to assess plant health, crop sensors will let farmers know when crops are ready to harvest, and highly targeted insecticides can be triggered by field technology. But these advances have a financial cost required to implement them.
  • One writer predicted, “When you step onto a Canadian farm in the year 2030, you likely won’t see stacks of hay or a farmer riding a tractor. Rather, you’ll probably be handed a tablet to help you navigate the property, and the tractor may be driving itself.”
  • An “RBC report predicts that in a decade’s time, farms will be operated largely by autonomous machines and digital logistics systems. Therefore, they’ll be staffed by high-skilled engineers, scientists, communications professionals and other digitally savvy employees”, instead of the farmers and agricultural workers seen today.
  • The changes are already happening. Technological innovations have brought a fundamental shift in farming operations. The shifts include “smart farming and data analytics, indoor growing technologies and hydroponics, and better product tracking and labeling.” Farmers who have adopted these innovations are seeing their profits rise.
  • Technology has made it possible to better understand the health of farm “products, when to water, when to fertilize, when to pick.” In addition, Canadian farmers can adjust the amount of energy needed, the labor required, and the tools that “track and trace where a product originated, across the entire supply chain.”
  • According to a recent government report, “Canada’s agriculture is highly mechanized and capital-intensive, so precision agricultural technology is in high demand.” This demand is met by mostly American manufacturers.

2. Changes in Farm Size, Ownership, Focus, and Worker Demographics

  • The next decade will see increased changes in the “socioeconomic characteristics of farm businesses and farm operators” in Canada.
  • A Canadian government report predicts that there will be fewer farms, but they will be larger. More farmers will be renting land as prices of farmland rise. The larger Canadian farms will have more year-round employees. Farmers themselves will be getting older.
  • One of the most difficult aspects of change in Canadian farming operations will be dealing with the shortage of agricultural workers. This “labor gap” is expected to double, “putting nearly 114,000 jobs at risk of going unfilled by 2025. This is equivalent to 27 percent of the total demand for labor, or more than one in four jobs.” Canadian farmers will become even more concerned about recruiting workers than is true now.
  • The Canadian government has partnered with industry stakeholders to create a “Workforce Action Plan” that offers solutions to the expected labor shortage: (1) “Improve access to foreign workers to supplement the dwindling domestic workforce and enable employers to meet the labor needs of highly seasonal operations”, (2) “Attract more domestic workers by promoting the vast number and types of agricultural jobs available across Canada and delineating clear career pathways to job seekers, students, and educators”, and (3) “Increase awareness of agriculture careers and enhance recruitment and retention efforts with a collective career-promotion and training tool for job seekers, students, and educators.”
  • The numbers of Canadian dairy operations, beef cattle raisers, wheat farmers, and pig farmers will continue to decrease, following a trend since 2001 in Canadian farm types, while the numbers of oilseed operations will continue to increase. Changes like this for farm families mean complete alterations of their businesses to allow for different crops, animals, and climate conditions.
  • Crop mix and herd size are also changing on Canadian farms.

3. Increasing Influence of Sustainability, Governance, and Environmental Issues

  • Environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) is the latest industry hot topic” according to Bennett Jones.
  • Today’s Canadian farming companies “need to have a set of operational standards that shows awareness of and adherence to environmental issues and sustainable practices”, says Bennett Jones. Developing such standards and carrying them out in daily farming activities requires farmers to change their thinking and their management of farmland.
  • Jones says that farming companies in Canada must focus on sustainable agricultural practices, “driven by the needs for transparency and accountability. Consumers want to know how the product is farmed and where it originated, demanding the freshest and healthiest products possible.” Sales of farm products internationally may depend even more on consumer preferences, such that farmers feel the need to meet these preferences by changing or by marketing their farm management activities as product advantages.
  • Climate change has increasingly affected farm output. The “environmental risk from increasing greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts, such as nutrient run-off into waterways” have led farmers to pay more attention to sustainability, including clean energy sources. These risks will only increase in the next decade. Consumers want to know if the products they buy are grown using clean energy, sustainable practices, and worker safety precautions.

Canadian Agriscience Trends: Strategic Partnerships

Some top predicted Canadian agriscience trends focused on strategic partnerships include cost-sharing programs, expanding access to global markets, and collaborative research and adoption of new innovations.

1. Cost-sharing program

  • Under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership program, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will be supporting the provinces and territories in their delivery of cost-shared programming. This initiative aims to increase the competitiveness, prosperity, and sustainability of the agriculture, agri-food, and agri-based products sector by 2021.
  • This strategic partnership includes $1 billion for federal activities and programs and is a shared investment between the federal government and the provinces and territories.
  • The cost-shared programming is designed and delivered by provincial and territorial governments in order to address the needs in their jurisdiction while advancing the priority areas under the partnership.
  • Some priorities focused under this partnership include the innovative and sustainable growth of the agriscience sector, growing trade, and expanding markets, among others.

2. Expand access to global markets

  • With an increased global demand for food, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has planned a Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership with the European Union.
  • One of the key priorities of this partnership is to expand access to global markets for Canadian agriculture and agri-food products.
  • By 2021, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada department is also planning to establish and update sector-specific and thematic tables to address issues in the agriculture sector.
  • The agriculture department has planned to formalize opportunities for engagement through a modernized model.
  • This partnership aims to reach $75 billion in agri-food and seafood exports by 2025.

3. Collaborative research and adoption of new innovations

  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada department of Canada is planning to shift the way agri-environmental research is conducted by introducing a “Living Laboratories Initiative.” This initiative aims to advance agricultural discovery science and innovation by using $10 million in funds.
  • The Living Laboratories Initiative is a Private-Public-People partnership in which experts from various disciplines and backgrounds (government, non-government, local producers) work together to tackle a common issue.
  • This initiative will support collaborative research between farmers and scientists that develops, tests, and monitors new practices in a real farm context. It will also enable farmers to develop and implement beneficial management practices, and it will put technologies into their hands faster.
  • By 2021, a Living Laboratory will be established in British Columbia.

COVID and Canadian Agriscience

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to a shortage of migrant workers, reduced demand, and supply chain disruptions in the Canadian agriscience market.

1. Supply Chain Disruptions

  • In March 2020, there were rail blockades in Canada that affected the shipments of field crops and resulted in these crops being stuck in storage at various ports in the country.
  • As described by Top Crop Manager, regions like Vancouver were backed up, as “shipping containers carrying Chinese goods would typically be used to transport Canadian agricultural products back across the Pacific Ocean to Asia.”
  • Due to decreased demand and COVID-19 worries, intercontinental trade reduced, resulting in fewer ships entering Canadian provinces like Vancouver, and more supply than the “available space for Canadian shipments on return shipping trips.”

2. Shortage of Migrant Workers

  • Canada’s agriculture industry depends heavily on temporary foreign workers due to the seasonal labor required. These workers make up around 20% of total employment in this industry, with most being in the horticulture industry.
  • In the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, border restrictions were set in Canada and countries where these workers tend to be from – Mexico, Guatemala, and Jamaica – that impacted the availability of temporary foreign workers in the growing season.
  • Although temporary foreign workers have still been allowed to travel to Canada over the past few months – as they were exempted from travel restrictions imposed by the IRCC, requirements such as health tests and self isolation have resulted in delays that impacted their availability.
  • Canada has tried to address this issue by dedicating a $50 million fund to assist employers of temporary foreign workers and to ensure the safe arrival of these workers.
  • Despite the efforts of the Canadian government, COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred on multiple farms in the country. The outbreaks affected the health and safety of these workers and their ability to work.
  • Producers of vegetables are particularly affected by this issue because they are less mechanized, which means they are more dependent on foreign labor than on equipment.

3. COVID-19 Outbreaks in Beef Slaughter Facilities

  • Experts initially predicted that Canada will produce more beef in 2020 due to a forecast increase in demand, however, two of the largest beef slaughter facilities in the country have had COVID-19 outbreaks.
  • These facilities make up more than half of Canada’s beef slaughter capacity. The outbreak has significantly reduced cattle slaughter numbers. It has also resulted in over 100,000 head backlog of fed cattle which still have not been slaughtered.
  • In August 2020, it was reported that slaughter level reduced by 7% compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2020, beef exports reduced by over 70% year over year from April 2019.
  • Pork processing centers in Canada have also suffered. U.S. pork processing disruptions affected Canadian “swine farmers, who sell large numbers of weaned pigs and slaughter hogs into the American supply chain, resulting in selective euthanizing and considerable financial losses.”

4. Reduced Demand

  • Due to the pandemic, restaurants and food service establishments were shut down for a few months, as a result, the Canadian agriscience market saw lower demand for several products, including eggs, chicken, cheese, cream, and potatoes.
  • Prices for some poultry cuts, such as chicken wings, plunged whic,h triggered a “surge in volumes of product placed in cold storage for later consumption.”
  • When the Canadian economy started reopening in May 2020, consumers in the country turned to fast food restaurants with poultry and dairy items.
  • This strong demand helped “drive poultry production back to levels closer to what would have been expected for summer 2020, absent COVID-19.”

5. Crop Input Supplies

  • China is a major manufacturer of agricultural chemicals, which means virus related disruptions in the country also affect supplies of crop protection inputs like herbicides for farmers in the US and Canada.
  • In March 2020, it was reported that farmers in Canada already had most of the required crop inputs for 2020 produced, shipped, and waiting in Canadian warehouses pre-coronavirus.
  • Additionally, within the past few years, Canada has been importing the majority of its pesticides from the US, with China producing a relatively smaller portion of this product. Of note, the US still imports ingredients for pesticides from countries like China.
  • While crop protection companies in Canada like Syngenta admitted that the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted their operations in general, there has been no recorded impact on crop treatments like fungicides and herbicides.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at Simple Manifestation with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.


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