Growing innovation for B.C.’s agriculture industry

‘Agritech’ boosts sustainability and profitability of B.C. farms

More than 100 years ago, Sukhpaul Bal’s great-grandfather founded the family’s Okanagan farm. The idea of today’s computerized systems and tech innovations were likely far from his imagination.

But traditional farming has come a long way, thanks largely to technology – highlighted by a recent competition from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and BC Innovation Council.

Launching the Agriculture Innovation Challenge last November, BC Innovation Council and the Ministry of Agriculture aimed to promote technological innovations in the province’s agriculture industry.

“The agricultural industry in British Columbia is worth $13 billion and it’s growing every year. We’re hoping through events like this we can further support the sector’s ability to expand its diversity and growth,” says Nadine Diner, BC Innovation Council Director of Industry Initiatives.

Challenge competitors looked at everything from recycling solid waste into a value-added product to improving greenhouse efficiency, and six winners, ranging from young start-ups to those working on prototypes and implementation, collectively received more than $200,000.

“BC Innovation Council is about matching industry needs with BC innovative solutions,” Diner said. “Now each innovator is pursuing some sort of project with their funding.”

Seed Funding Challenge Winners

  • $20,000 for Improving Berry Competitiveness – gUAVas, White Rock.
  • $20,000 for Pest Management and Loss Reduction – Ecoation Innovative Solutions, North Vancouver.
  • $20,000 for Greenhouse Efficiency – Gordon Shank Consulting, Burnaby.
  • $20,000 for Nutrient Management – Boost Environmental Systems, Vancouver.

Provincially Significant Project Challenge Winners

  • $50,000 for the Nutriva Group, Abbotsford.
  • $80,000 for Stem Shock, Surrey (previously Vancouver Island).

These kinds of innovations are vital to farmers like Bal, Okanagan farmer and president of the BC Cherries Association.

“You have to always be adapting,” Bal says. “Agritech is a term heard only in the last few years and I think the tech sector has found good potential in agriculture.”

Because Canadian land and labour costs are higher than some other producing regions, technology can be used to increase production and create cost-efficiencies.

Finding cherry varieties suitable to the climate and less susceptible to rain cracking can extend the growing season, for example. And where Bal’s family farm used to size and sort cherries by hand, innovations today let a computerized system do the work, freeing up sorters for other needed farm work.

“This has been quite a big advancement,” he said.

Other investments include an electronic scale system allowing for easier and more accurate measure of the harvest. Pickers receive payment direct to their account for the exact amount picked, while Bal can accurately track how productive each orchard section is.

“B.C. farms are a place where hard work, new ideas and technology come together, and the winners of the Challenge demonstrate the innovation and commitment to sustainable agriculture that B.C. has,” says B.C. Agriculture Minister, Lana Popham. “Agritech offers farmers and food producers greater productivity and efficiency, and simultaneously turns the creative minds in our tech sector to thinking about how their skills and ideas can translate to help grow B.C. products.”

BC Innovation Council aims to provide BC industries with innovation as the means to continue growing and competing. It works with industries like Agriculture, Health, Forestry and Mining to discover opportunities for applying innovation to solve sector specific challenges and business pains. In turn, these innovations access customers that can be an entry point to global markets. Interested in learning how BC Innovation Council can work with you to apply innovation? Contact ndiner@bcic.ca

 

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