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Robots harvesting vegetables in automated modern greenhouse
5 must-seize opportunities for agri-business innovators
Blog

Five must-seize opportunities

for agri-business innovators

Takeaways

  • Canada is poised to become one of the top 5 global leaders in the agri-food sector by 2025.
  • Canadian agri-food exports have grown by 103% over the last 10 years.
  • Global spending on “smart” agriculture technologies is expected to reach US$15.3 billion by 2025.
  • In 2021, Canada launched a $165.7 million program to provide clean technologies to farmers and agri-businesses.

The Canadian agriculture sector is ready to harvest new ideas about growing, marketing, and consuming better

Are you an innovator looking to make a social, environmental, and economic impact? Do you have an amazing idea that could revolutionize the way we grow, market, or consume food? If so, you may want to turn your attention to Canada’s agriculture and agri-business sector.

Generating $113.8 billion annually and employing more than 2.3 million people, agriculture and agribusiness in Canada is fertile territory ready to sprout the next game-changing innovation. Canadian agriculture and agri-food exports have grown by 103% over the last 10 years and, with those exports amounting to some $56 billion a year, it’s also an opportunity-rich sector that’s ripe for researchers, innovators, and disruptors.

According to a report from Canada’s Economic Strategy Tables, Canada is also poised to become one of the top 5 global leaders in the agri-food sector by 2025. In the meantime, there is a vast array of industry issues that need to be tackled, from agricultural productivity, farm management, and food security to sustainability, connectivity, and rural development.

With new Government of Canada initiatives aimed at expanding agriculture-focused R&D and innovation, including a $2.78 million partnership between the Governments of Canada and Ontario to drive agri-food research and innovation, the time is now to dive in and make a difference.

Here are five agri-business opportunities to seize right now:

1. Nanotechnology

Some of the tiniest objects on the planet have the potential to help solve some of agriculture’s biggest challenges, and that means opportunity is knocking for anyone specializing in the field of nanotechnology. The use of nanoparticles — be it nano biosensors assessing soil health or cellulose nanocrystals used in “smart” packaging — can improve efficiency, effectiveness, and environmental protection throughout the agri-business supply chain, quite literally from farm to table. The use of nanoparticles is particularly helpful in the development of new pesticides and fertilizers, as they allow for the application of precise quantities (thereby reducing waste and runoff) and precision targeting at the cellular level.

Innovation in action: Mississauga, Ont.-based Vive Crop Protection Inc. is using nanotechnology to improve pesticide and fertilizer delivery processes, which in turn helps boost crop yields.

2. Cleantech

Clean technology is a rapidly expanding market — so much so that the Government of Canada has created a hub geared towards clean-energy innovation, as well as a $165.7 million program dedicated specifically to the development and adoption of clean technology in the agriculture sector. Whether it’s finding new ways to harness renewable energy from the sun, wind, and water, or helping farmers produce their own renewable energy and biofuels from animal and plant waste, the agri-business sector is wide open to new ideas from innovators focused on developing products or services that reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Innovation in action: Saskatoon, Sask.-based Agrisoma has developed novel technology to increase the oil content in oilseed crops used to create biofuels.

3. Sustainability

As the world’s population continues to grow and climate change continues to affect the agriculture sector, the need for sustainable solutions is exploding. More and more, farmers are looking for ways to boost their production while reducing their impact on natural resources. And while nanotechnology and clean technology both support sustainability initiatives, so do a wide array of innovation streams that focus on societal, economic, and/or environmental stewardship. These include innovation in the opportunity-laden areas of soil regeneration and crop rotation processes; resource, crop, pest, and waste management solutions; livestock health; precision agriculture to preserve resources; and climate-smart agriculture, which looks for climate-resilient approaches to growing.

Innovation in action: Vancouver’s Terramera is a sustainable agriculture company whose innovative technology aims to reduce global synthetic pesticide use by 80 percent by 2050.

4. AI, IoT, machine learning, and more

The areas of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, and IoT (Internet of Things) are revolutionizing agri-business in the same way they’ve upended so many facets of our everyday living, and global spending on “smart” agriculture technologies is expected to reach US$15.3 billion by 2025. AI has vast applications across the sector and through the agriculture life cycle, from crop monitoring and harvesting, to processing, marketing, delivery, and data management systems. New machine learning, IoT, robotics, and device-to-device communication solutions can be applied to crop surveillance and measurement, pest management, irrigation maximization, autonomous “smart” machinery, crop yield maximization, and price forecasting... even facial recognition technology for livestock.

Innovation in action: The industrial vehicles developed by Winnipeg-based autonomous equipment company Northstar Robotics help farmers safely boost production without having to hire more staff.

Innovative partnerships between industry and academia have further catapulted AI into Canada’s agricultural stratosphere. Sask.-based agri-tech company Precision AI is a shining example of a business that is using custom-built AI technology to remove chemical waste from the food supply chain. With the help of Dr. Malek Mouhoub, Professor at the University of Regina, the start-up has developed autonomous aerial and ground robots to conduct precise weed spraying missions, helping farmers save on input costs while putting greener food on our plates.

5. Emerging technologies

Vertical farming. Indoor growing. Aquaculture. Insect farming. Bio-enrichment, bioengineering, and bio-fortification of crops. 5G technology and its applications. Cellular agriculture. Take your pick. The agriculture sector is evolving in myriad ways, the future of farming is changing, and new technologies — which can revolutionize the way agricultural products are produced, stored, processed, packaged, and/or transported — continue to appear. Entrepreneurs and businesses seeking niche markets can certainly find them by tapping into these emerging areas of research and carefully cultivating them to build cutting-edge, solution-driven, agriculture-forward innovations.

Innovation in action: BC’s Okanagan Specialty Fruits, an early adopter of agriculture biotechnology, uses genetic engineering to develop novel, sustainable tree fruit varieties.

Ready to plant the proverbial seeds of the next great agri-business innovation? Mitacs can help! With more than 20 years of experience in the innovation ecosystem, and over 5,650 agriculture and agri-food internships — and more than $85 million in project funding — since 2012, Mitacs is ready to help grow your concept and bring it to life. For more information, visit mitacs.ca.

Iman Yahyaie

Account Manager
Ontario

Iman Yahyaie received his bachelor’s and master's degrees, both in Electrical Engineering, in Tehran, Iran. In 2007, he moved to Canada to start a PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Manitoba and later joined the Centre for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels (CCI Solar) at Caltech as a research collaborator. Iman also completed a postdoctoral fellowship studying CMOS-compatible dynamic memory structures based on conducting polymer systems. 

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