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Agtech Creating the agriculture industry of tomorrow

Calgary Economic Development and Western Economic Development Canada released an Agribusiness Market Study in September 2020 detailing prospects for growth in regional and global markets for the agribusiness sector in Calgary and southern Alberta. This article is one of a series of stories about the study. 

Calgary and southern Alberta have been producing food for Canada and beyond for over a century. And more recently, the region has been responsible for creating some of the world’s most sophisticated agricultural technologies too.

As a hotbed for agriculture business knowledge with a technically adept workforce, world-class academic and research institutions and a legendary entrepreneurial spirit, the ecosystem rooted in Calgary has the resources to be a global hub for sustainable food production as well as agricultural technology.

Agricultural technology (or “agri-technology” or “agtech”) covers the development, design, testing, and production of specialized software and hardware to support core agriculture activities. These technology solutions can be applied in just about every subsector of agriculture, which makes it an historic industry with tremendous potential in its future.

Agtech is poised to become a $730 billion US industry worldwide by 2023 ResearchandMarkets.com said recently.

Calgary’s unique areas of opportunity

Calgary gets agriculture.

We understand the challenges faced by the industry, we know where the gaps exists and we’re already developing the solutions to fill them. Our Agribusiness Market Study identified two high-growth areas of agtech where Calgary institutions and organizations developing innovations: smart agriculture and precision farming.

Smart agriculture uses the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor and manage farm operations. Farmers use hardware linked by the internet to keep track of and manage their farms, especially across large areas of land. Rapid advances in autonomous equipment including drones, seeders, sprayers and on-farm sensors, all are transformative for how the modern farm operates.

One Calgary company developing smart agriculture solutions like these is Verge Permaculture, which uses current land data to create optimized paths for specific farming machinery. The machines can then follow specific paths guided by GPS and work land on behalf of the farmer.

Then there’s precision farming, also referred to as precision agriculture. Precision farming covers the use of information technology to simply collect data from various farm operations, but also to use that data to prescribe solutions for specific areas of the farm.  

The philosophy is founded on a fact of nature: a single plot of land is never uniform. Precision agriculture allows farmers to make strategic, informed decisions on how they can most efficiently use their resources throughout that plot of land to maximize yield, by not treating each section the same.

Decisive Farming, which operates from Calgary and the farming community of Irricana, has been part of the innovation ecosystem in precision agriculture since 2011. It has grown to develop solutions for farm management and precision agriculture for customers in Alberta and across Canada.

Seeding the future

On top of the advances in smart agriculture and precision farming on the ground, there are bright minds across southern Alberta working to ensure innovative, new solutions continue being developed.

The corridor from Olds through Calgary to Lethbridge is also home to the Olds College Smart Farm. It is a new venture that is the base for a farming operation being transformed by Olds College to become a living and working lab for smart agriculture.

Organizations of all sizes from startups to multinational enterprises have partnered with Olds College in this cutting-edge, hands-on learning environment where students are seeing how the innovative solutions they are working on are making a real-world impact.

Olds College has also recently launched the Werklund School of Agriculture Technology to foster the next generation of agricultural innovators. Providing students with the foundation for a future-focused career in agriculture, the school will deliver new agtech programs including the Precision Agriculture - Techgronomy Diploma and Agriculture Technology Integration Post-Diploma Certificate. 

The next step

There are important advancements in agtech being made in the region, but there is also significant focus on securing agtech as a sector making a sustained contribution to the economy in Calgary and southern Alberta. Those initiatives include:

  • Early-stage funding options: Making government grants and venture capital funding more readily available.
  • Access to business support: Having a proper support structure in place so entrepreneurs and agtech companies can focus on what they do best.
  • Networking: Helping companies meet potential funders, partners, or customers.
  • Talent: Making sure we have experienced talent in research and technology to take agtech to the next level.
  • Long-term commitment: Building a strong infrastructure of labs and agtech hubs and setting regulatory conditions.
  • Critical mass: Working towards securing major players in the region to attract other companies, talent, and investment.

There’s always more work to be done on a farm. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of what we’ve achieved already. From smart agriculture to precision farming, and transformative moves in agtech research and education – Calgary and southern Alberta are well on their way to making a name for themselves in a billion-dollar industry.

Watch for more articles to come in our Agribusiness Market Study series in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, see our Agribusiness page to learn more about the sector.

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