Feds commit $5 million to expand smart farm network


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Smart farms in Canada have been given a $5-million boost by the federal government.

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Canadian Agri-foods Automation and Intelligence Network announced the funding on Thursday morning from the Inventures conference in Calgary, and is geared towards expanding a national network of smart farms.

Francis Drouin, parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture and agri-foods, said the advancement of this network is critical for dealing with growing demands and supply issues.

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“The pandemic and now Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine are applying significant pressure on our global food supply chains,” he said. “With one of the world’s leading wheat producers in crisis, the world is looking to major producers like Canada to step up, but to do so we need to rely more than ever on agricultural innovation.”

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The current Pan-Canadian Smart Farms Network began in 2021 and consists of Olds College, which began its smart farm in 2018; Lakeland College in Vermillion and the Glacier FarmMedia Discovery Farm in Langham, Sask.

The network was created as a means to push the technological boundaries of farming to improve the efficiency and capabilities of producers in Canada. They have helped develop programs using GPS, drones, satellite imagery, digital traceability of barley, soil potential software and precision ranching among other research.

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Expansion of the network will help increase knowledge-sharing and build out connections within the industry and with technology developers.

“The goal of the Pan-Canadian Smart Farm Network is to have representation from as many different agricultural systems and agro climatic zones as possible,” said Joy Agnew, vice-president of applied research at Olds College. “Currently, the three core sites that are on the network are very much western Canadian based and focused on crop production. So we are really looking forward to the opportunity to connecting with other smart farms in irrigation production or in dairy production or in horticultural production, etc.”

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The $5 million is coming out of the federal government’s $50-million strategic innovation fund and will add to the $26 million already invested by the Canadian network in the program to 24 different recipients through three intake periods.

The network will fund projects with two additional partners up to 40 percent to a maximum of $3 million.

Key to this announcement, however, is they are changing the program to a continual intake to better align with producers and their growing cycles and schedules.

The applicants can include a wide variety of agri-business, from farms and ranches to dairy, horticulture, greenhouses and other applications.

“We’re doing it on the applicants’ timeline and not on ours,” said Laura Kilcrease, the network’s board chairwoman. “We hope this is going to encourage not just more entrepreneurs to apply in the ag sector across the whole country, but we also want to see more collaboration on these projects so that we can make the kind of impact in the agri-food business that we think is possible and we’re actually already starting to see.”

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Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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