A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to the AgriTech Innovation Challenge.
This was a unique event presented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the B.C. Innovation Council that invited producers, processors, entrepreneurs, startups, companies and researchers to listen to a presentation on challenges in four areas: Improving Berry Competitiveness with Mechanization, Pest Management and Loss Reduction, Greenhouse Efficiency and Nutrient Management. These areas have specific challenges that can be solved with technology.
I was invited as an industry expert because of my 18 years of experience as a software engineer. My hope was that my experience in the defense and energy industries could be applied to help the very important agriculture industry. We have an extremely diverse agriculture industry in B.C. and it was fascinating to learn about how technology can improve our competitiveness and become more efficient.
One presentation pointed out that in the next 30 years we will need to produce more food than we have in the entire history of our planet. This is an incredible challenge! I think my favourite part of the event was watching how a Delta dairy farm helps educate their neighbours about how they process manure into fuel methane and fertilizer.
I was sitting beside Jerry and he explained how demonstrating the humane practices used on Canadian farms to urban families helped them understand better how well farms are run in Canada.
Another interesting area is drone technology and satellite imagery. Currently high resolution satellite imagery is updated every 16 days, but this is not fast enough to monitor pest infestation to target interventions. Drones could be used to fly over fields more often so that pesticides could be applied to smaller portions of the field. One company is designing a drone to fly in random patterns to scare birds instead of using noisy bird scarers. Even something seemingly simple such as a non-plastic option that is both biodegradable and strong enough to hold up tomato vine stalks in greenhouses is a bigger issue than one might realize.
The event was finished off with a pitch competition by four up-and-coming startups that spanned a centralized pathogen database to a chemical free automated greenhouse system. It was great to see the diverse and talented individuals and companies at this event.
I particularly liked that there is a business accelerator called Bioenterprise that reminds me of Accelerate Okanagan to help businesses in Canada grow and expand locally and globally in this challenging and competitive industry. With our entrepreneurial spirit and strong economy, B.C. looks poised to be a technology leader in AgriTech.
If you are interested in submitting a solution, a Letter of Interest must be submitted by Dec. 16 (https://agritechinnovation.ca/challenge-submissions/), and successful candidates will advance towards funding opportunities and an opportunity to pitch at the #BCTechSummit, the largest technology conference in B.C., (http://bctechsummit.ca/) in March 2017.
Keith MacIntyre is a tech columnist for the Penticton Western News and the owner of Big Bear Software Inc.