Just as it has for most of its history, the ample and multi-leveled agricultural and agri-food sector of Canada continues to play a fundamental role in the country’s economy.
Experts predict that all agricultural and agri-food exports from Canada will reach a value of $75 billion by 2025. In fact, the sector employs one out of every eight Canadians and in 2016 generated $111.9 billion – 6.7% of the country’s GDP. It is also significant to note that export sales have reached a new high at $56 billion, which makes Canada the fifth largest exporter of agri-food products globally.
Canada is continuing in its efforts to grow the output of the sector. It has a semi-privatized and semi-federalized approach to agricultural development. These two groups play a dual role in funding research and development, applied research and commercialization in the market.
With federal programs like the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (a five-year, $3 billion investment program launched by the federal government), Canada is looking to prompt new agricultural innovations such as new crop varieties, livestock breeds, nutrient management practices, tilling methods and farm machinery, as well as advancements in biotechnology, precision agriculture, communication and information technologies.
Select Canadian companies in the agri-tech sector have enjoyed the benefits of this program since the beginning of last year (funding began April 1st, 2018). However, it is unknown how many startups will benefit from the program compared to established corporations. The program is devoted to supporting Canadian agriculture in three ways: growing trade and expanding markets, promoting innovative and sustainable growth and a diversity initiative.
An example of Canada’s post-secondary institutions leading the charge in the agritech sector is Olds College. In the summer of 2018, Olds College officially launched the Olds College Smart Farm, an exciting new initiative that will see the College transform its existing farm operation into a farm of the future by incorporating the latest technologies aimed at improving productivity while increasing efficiently and sustainably of resources. It is a place for innovation, validation, demonstration and scaling of smart connected agriculture technology through industry partnerships such as Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) (recently part of the $100 million in funding from the Government of Alberta to invest in high-tech industries), Decisive Farming, Intelliconn, Raven Bay, Stream Technologies, Weather Innovations Consulting and Zedi solutions.
While the Canadian government’s stated goal is to prompt growth and innovation in the sector, some may still be curious if it will really be enough to compete globally when much smaller countries like Israel have a significant lead when it comes agrifood tech startups.
Canada faces heavy competition from top players such as the US: according to AgFunder. Canada’s agtech startup’s raised just 3.4% of funding dollars in 2018 ($577m), accounting for 3.4% of deal-flow (49 deals) in 2018, while US startups raised 48% of funding dollars and 39% of deal-flow – with a population of 37 million next to the US’s 327 million it puts Canada behind on investment in the space.
However, Canada is home to some of the strongest, most prominent and leading agtech companies globally; let’s have a look.
Genetics and Breeding – Genetics and breeding companies typically devote their time to the breeding of plants and bacteria with improved traits to help plant growth. There are a number of companies that use genetic technologies to accomplish this. A few examples of Canadian genetics and breeding companies are Agrisoma, Frontier Agri-Science, Linnaeus Plant Sciences, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, and Smart Earth Seeds.
Featured company: Agrisoma is the company behind the first transatlantic flight that was powered by bio jet fuel. This biojet fuel replaced 30 per cent of the fossil fuel with fuel made from a type of mustard seed.
Farm Management Platforms – These companies make use of big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics to offer farmers solutions on daily farm issues (in the areas of precision agronomic, crop management, risk management, etc.). Decisive Farming, Farm At Hand, Farmers Edge and Siga are a few examples in this sector.
Featured company: Decisive Farming’s patented MFM data platform, recently selected as a finalist for the 2019 Vision to Reality (V2R) Awards in the Visionary category, provides a crop farmer the ability to make better decisions on all critical operational functions. By connecting farm service and technology providers in one platform, crop farmers are able to deliver top-quality products more efficiently than ever before. Through strategic partnerships with leading distributors across the agriculture value chain like INTL FCStone, the platform has over five million acres representing 1.5 billion in annual production and is being used on 40 different crop types in North America.
Crop protection and Nutrients –companies that produce biological or chemical substances used for protecting crops from pests & diseases, and providing nutrient to enhance plant growth and health, including technologies that are nontoxic and environmentally friendly. Some examples of Canadian start-up companies are Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies (which recently acquired the Seattle based company Multiform Harvest on Jan 2, 2019), Concentric Ag, Terramera, Thymox Technology and Vive Crop Protection.
Featured company: Terramera announced it successfully acquired Stem Shock™, a promising platform technology from Cotyledon Consulting Inc. for developing natural RNA-based precision herbicides that target damaging weed species.
Machinery and Robotics – These companies supply the robotics, machinery, and equipment that agricultural workers rely on to automate farm work, harvest and; subsequently, sort crops. Cleanseed and DOT Technologies have focused more on farm machinery. Other companies that fall into this category include: Inno-3B and Northstar Robotics.
Featured company: DOT Technologies partnered with New Leader Manufacturing and are collaborating on the world’s first autonomous dry spreader that will be utilizing the DOT Power Platform.
Irrigation and Water Management – Startups dedicated to promoting water and soil conservation through advanced management of water. Companies innovating irrigation methods and water efficiency such as Agricast, Hortau, Rachio, Skaha Remote Sensing and SkyDrop.
Featured company: Hortau closed a $20 million equity funding round that will help fuel irrigation management product development, company growth and continued international expansion.
Post-Harvest – Solutions to reduce losses in storage, packaging, treatments, climate management technologies, and the selling of goods. For example, Agexchange Group and Farmlead provide grain marketplaces for farmers.
Featured company: Farmlead announced a partnership with Family Farms Group Canada, which provides a wealth of business, agronomic and risk management expertise, enabling Farmlead’s membership to better manage their operations, and drive growth and prosperity for future generations.
Farm to Consumer – Companies focused on shortening and simplifying the supply chain by connecting the farm to the end consumer. Many Canadian companies have sought to achieve this through the use of digital platforms. Such as Carbon Credit Solutions, Renterra, Localize Your Food and Meatme.ca.
Featured company: Carbon Credit Solutions is a world leader of measuring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas emission reductions in the agricultural sector. Recently, they won the 2018 Alberta Business Awards of Distinction of the Alberta Best of Business award.
Novel Farming Systems – New types of greenhouses, urban farming, hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems including AVA Technologies, Lettuce Lads, Renterra, TruLeaf and Verticorp. Most of this group is focused on sustainable and more efficient growing systems.
Featured company: From a simple hydroponics hobbyist’s setup to a complete farming system for controlled environment agriculture, Lettuce Labs’ patented high-density hydroponic solution significantly improves current indoor production through lighting efficiencies that increase yields.
Livestock and Poultry – Technology for raising farm animals and pets. GrowSafe Systems Ltd. is great example where the company provides RFID-based automation solutions for the beef industry. Other companies include Feedlot Health Management, Integrated Traceability Solutions, Prevtec Microbia and SomaDetect.
Featured company: Dairy Farmers of America invested in SomaDetect, a dairy technology start-up that will help farmers utilize AI to more closely monitor the health of their herd and improve milk quality.
Waste Tech – These companies focus on the reduction of harmful substances and reuse of materials within agriculture for example, NuWave Research, CRB Innovations, Hop Compost, Livestock Water Recycling and Lystek International.
Featured company: Livestock Water Recycling was selected as a finalist for PwC Canada’s 2019 Vision to Reality (V2R) award in the visionary category, recognizing to create a technology that would give farmers a tool to treat livestock manure in a way that would eliminate the need for lagoon storage.
Aquaculture – These companies develop technologies that enable the more efficient rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants for food. Some of the Canadian companies that fall into this category include AgriMarine, Open Ocean Systems, ReelData, Rocky Mountain Shrimp Company Inc., and XpertSea.
Featured company: Currently the XpertSea Growth Platform is sold in 48 countries. The company previously raised $10 million in Series A funding in 2018 to bring more data driven insights to farmers so they can be more efficient with their production.
Foodtech – The Foodtech sector is a growing segment of the startup space that’s aiming to improve or disrupt the global food system. These are a few of the companies that represent the sector: Dockside Pet Products and Services, Enterra, Fresh Prep Foods, Foodee, and Mazza Innovation.
Featured company: Enterra Feed Corporation, an insect production company, completed a major global funding round that will allow it to go ahead with the construction of three North America production facilities, including an 180,000-sqaure-foot, $30 million warehouse facility near Calgary Alberta in 2019 and another new facility in British Columbia by 2020.
IoT – Internet of things in agriculture includes the use of sensors, and other devices to collect data on all farm actions and events. Agrimatics, Be Seen Be Safe, GrainViz, Intelliconn, OPIsystems and Precision Weather Solutions are just a few of the start-up companies in this sector.
Featured company: GrainViz, in collaboration with GSI, a core brand of AGCO will provide an opportunity to improve grain quality by changing the way grain is monitored and managed through exclusive technology.
Pest Management – Research trials, product registration support, pest management strategies, and other ways to help Canadian growers protect their agricultural crops from the negative impacts of weeds, diseases and insect pests. Start-up companies involved in this sector include BioTEPP, Ecoation Innovations Solutions, HeadsUp Plant Protectants, My Green Space and Semios.
Featured company: For the second consecutive year, Semios was named to SVG Ventures’ THRIVE Top 50 annual ranking of the world’s leading scaling and visionary agriculture technology companies. Semios recently secured $9.9 million in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada in support of its big data initiative to improve crop yield while reducing the use of chemicals and water during production.
Remote Sensing – Companies providing field-level analysis using drones/airplanes or develop large-scale macro analytics using globally available satellite data. Companies include Aeryon Labs, Deveron UAS, Draganfly Innovations, Practical Precision and Resson.
Featured company: Deveron UAS was awarded an AI for Earth grant from Microsoft to help further their efforts in AI and making recommendations and predications using agricultural data. AI for Earth is a $50 million, 5-year program that will provide Deveron UAS with Microsoft Azure computing resources and AI tools to accelerate work on utilizing in-season imagery and AI to apply nitrogen fertilizer to corn.
Moving ahead, it can be expected that a country like Canada whose economy has been so heavily focused on agriculture since the country’s inception will continue to be focused on its biggest opportunity of how it can turn raw agriculture commodities into value-added goods.
Editor’s Note: Remi Schmaltz is CEO of Decisive Farming, a company dedicated to increasing farmers’ profitability, sustainability, and technology ease-of-use by providing a single integrated platform that is the farm’s primary operating system. The complete solution covers the three core farm functions; Farm Management to improve performance, Precision Agronomy to increase yield and Crop Marketing to grow farmer revenue. Decisive Farming’s platform currently has over 5 million acres representing 1.5 billion in annual production and is being used on forty different crop types in North America. The company is headquartered near Calgary, Alberta and has strategic partnerships with the leading distributors across the agriculture value chain.
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