Looking for inspiration on driving technology adoption and innovation? Look no further than Western Canada’s agriculture industry.
For those who don’t work in agriculture, the sector’s embrace of new technology and innovation may seem like a recent development. But as Wilson Acton points out, it’s been going on for generations.
“Farmers, out of necessity, have had to be rapid adopters of technology to survive tight margins as farms got bigger and bigger,” Acton told CollisionsYYC host Tyler Chisholm in a recent interview. [Tune in to 6:11 above]
Acton, who is Chief Commercial Officer at AgTech startup Verge, and Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs & General Counsel at data services firm Whipcord, says other industries could learn a lot from Western Canada’s agricultural (aka “AG”) industry because many businesses are already managing vast amounts of data fed from machines connected to the web via sensors.
“You climb into a modern day tractor and you’re going to see the equivalent of about six iPads all running [different] aspects of the tech,” says Acton. “It’s more like running a spaceship than that old-school analog tractor.”
When it comes to innovation driving transformation in Western Canada, Acton believes the agriculture industry is already well ahead.
AgTech is revolutionizing farming
According to tech-sector tracking platform Tracxn, Canada has more than 200 AgTech (or agritech) startups that provide everything from water and nutrient delivery, to equipment sharing platforms, to crop data collection and analytics.
A relatively new player in the space, Verge entered the market about a year ago and builds precision agriculture technology that uses data and artificial intelligence to optimize farm management.
Precision agriculture is a practice that uses technology such as GPS, drones, sensors and soil sampling in order to grow crops more efficiently. It allows farmers to use remote sensors and real-time data to deploy seeds, fertilizer, water and nutrients only when and where they’re needed.
Precision agriculture is often called the trend to watch because it yields farmers the most profit per square acre and eliminates waste.
With Verge, the company has two products for the farming industry:
- First Pass is software that improves the efficiency of in-field operations
- Launch Pad is a web-based geospatial application that optimizes machinery movement
Both products help growers increase productivity and profit while reducing soil degradation and equipment wear-and-tear. The company is also one of the few already preparing for autonomous farm machinery.
When asked what resources have been especially beneficial for Verge, Acton praised the generosity and collaborative spirit of Alberta’s business community.
“For me, the biggest thing which I was very pleasantly surprised about was everyone’s openness and willingness [to help],” said Acton, noting that his fellow tech entrepreneurs have offered to make introductions, discuss ideas and provide feedback. “That was actually really powerful, and continues to be so. I think that’s why this is going to stick. That’s how Alberta and Western Canada were built in the first place – everyone willing to help their neighbour. It wasn’t me versus you — it’s, we’re all in this together.”
Field of AgTech dreams
Acton believes Canada has emerged as a world leader in AgTech adoption thanks to farmers’ open-mindedness and the country’s challenging economic conditions.
“That incentivizes people to push the boundaries and adopt technology,” he says. “When things are profitable and everybody’s making money, you don’t tend to adopt a bunch of new technology. When things are tight and you’re not sure you’re going to get by — that’s when you start fine-tuning on the edges.” [Tune in to 14:40 above]
As a bedrock of Western Canada, the Ag industry can contribute to a stronger and more resilient economy and Acton believes it should be part of Canada’s diversification strategy.
The sector has long toiled in the shadow of the “bigger, flashier, sexier beast of oil and gas” and other industries, but as those falter, people are paying greater attention to Ag, he said. [Tune in to 21:58 above]
When asked what signs would be viewed as positive leading indicators in Ag, Acton brought up job creation and wanting to see more businesses migrate to Alberta, as well as more home-grown startups.
Several Ag businesses are looking to Alberta as their Canadian home, including chemical giant BASF who announced it was relocating its new Canadian agricultural headquarters to Calgary last year. Calgary is already home to other major global chemical and agricultural companies, including Syngenta Canada Inc. and Corteva Agriscience (a division of Dow/Dupont).
Acton believes that companies coming to Alberta and investing in the long-term will be key to economic growth and keep talent in the province.
“What are the indicators around new businesses starting here?” he asks. “What are the indicators around our new grads staying here?” he asked. “To me, those are the big indicators we want to look at because those are not just indications of prosperity in the moment, but the perception of future prosperity. If you’re a new grad who’s going to stay here, you’ve got a perception that you’ve got a pretty long runway.” [Tune in to 42:34 above]
Original Source: Digital Journal