LANGHAM, Sask. — For the past two years, the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority has picked up the travel costs to the Ag In Motion outdoor farm show for four companies from outside of Canada.
The companies are chosen through SREDA’s Agriculture Technology Harvest Program and this year slightly less than 30 companies applied.
“We went out to the world on social media and said, ‘hey, if you’ve got an interesting ag-tech innovation product, apply to this competition, apply to SREDA, and we will select a couple of winners to come to Ag in Motion to demonstrate your technology,’ ” said Alex Fallon, chief executive officer of SREDA.
The goal of the SREDA’s harvest program is to attract new business to the Saskatoon region.
“You can promote cities as much as you like, but until you get people to come here and meet with local companies and partner together, sometimes it just doesn’t translate into a new company opening up its office here,” Fallon said.
A harvest program winner from last year, PBD Biotech based in the United Kingdom, recently announced it’s opening an office in Saskatoon.
PBD Biotech has developed a highly sensitive test that detects live bacteria in the blood or milk of livestock in only six hours.
SREDA partnered with Agriculture Manufacturers of Canada (AMC) and AIM for the harvest competition.
“SREDA is a small team and we are not ag experts. We had this idea of a global competition, so who can we partner with? AMC was top of mind, and as fate would have it Ag In Motion was just getting going,” Fallon said.
“It’s a small thing but it’s a good example of how if you partner, especially in the ag sector, that you can do something that maybe you couldn’t do on your own.”
Here are the winners of the SREDA’s 2018 Agriculture Technology Harvest Program:
- NRGene, a software and genomics company that conducts genomic analysis and helps breeding companies increase the precision and efficiency of their breeding programs.
“We have ways to analyze with our software the entire genetic content in the breeding program and help design markers that help the breeders select and choose the exact lines that are relevant for breeding,” said Oori Weisshaus of NRGene.
“So if it’s disease resistance, or new traits or any trait that is desirable, we pinpoint it and we generate markers and enable very fast moving and selection of that trait from one line through to another.”
NRGene hopes to team up with Canadian seed companies developing new canola, wheat and pulse varieties.
“What we bring could dramatically speed up processes for crops even with complicated genetics like wheat and also to simpler genomes like pulses,” Weisshaus said.
He said a new wheat variety that normally takes seven to 10 years from the beginning of the breeding program to get to market would take only three to four years if NRGene technology is used.
- Australian startup Iotag specializes in remote management of farms through a combination of sensors, software and analytics.
“We focus mainly on livestock farms,” said Vijay Viswanathan of Iotag.
“The big innovation is long-range wireless. If you look at sensors on farms a lot of places there is no WIFI or no mobile reception. We use this new long-range wireless technology … that can transmit up to 40 kilometres.”
The system includes base stations that bypass the cellular network.
“So you have a sensor that has a little radio on it, and it can transmit to a base station up to 40 kilometres away using this protocol, and there is no data charges or anything, you just buy the hardware.”
Iotag developed a GPS-equipped collar for cattle that helps monitor where in the pasture livestock are located.
Location information from the collars are fed through and aggregated in the company’s FarmView platform.
“You start to get visibility into the farm. Not just stock, you can track feed and water as well. We have ultrasonic level sensors for feed tracking and water tracking,” Viswanathan said.
FarmView processes sensor data and then presents the analytics to users to help them make management decisions.
“So you have GPS trackers pinging locations every half hour, let’s say. Do that with 50 cows over 24 hours. You start to understand where the cows are grazing a lot, and where the cows are grazing a little,” Viswanathan said.
“Now suddenly farmers have access to this kind of stuff, then they can actually optimize the grazing. You’re not balding out certain parts of the paddock, you’re not over growing certain parts of the paddock, you can control weeds, you can design your grazing rotations properly.”
Operators can set the FarmView program to provide alerts to let them know when a water or feed trough is getting low, or when cattle have wandered off the pasture.
- Chicago based Aker Technologies used its fleet of drones to establish business relationships with some of the biggest crop protection companies in the business.
“They have a lot of chemistry that they want to put in the right places. But they don’t have any indication where the issues are in the field because they don’t have enough people walking the fields. So we become the crop scouters for them,” said Orlando Saez of Aker Technologies.
Using drones and software, Aker developed an automated process that looks into the canopy of crops and creates in-season pest and pathogen maps similar to a weather map.
Subscription to these weekly pest and pathogen maps are sold per region, however growers generally do not buy Aker’s regional maps directly.
Instead, Aker has contracts with companies like Bayer, BASF, Wilbur Ellis, and Winfield, who include Aker’s maps as part of their services.
However, growers can contract Aker directly to scout their crops with their sensor-equipped drones.
Aker drones are able to take readings from inside the crop canopy to collect plant health and pest indicators.
The drones take “a picture underneath the canopy, which is where the bugs are that matters. We do environmental sensors — we have CO2, humidity, barometric pressure, and temperature,” Saez said.
“We also are working and bringing to market a biometric sensor that sniffs the air quality in the air for spores, fungi and bacteria that can be correlated to plant disease. So we can proactively sniff the air for fusarium, aspergillus, cercospora.”
- Holganix manufactures and distributes soil micro-organisms for turf care and food production.
“Unlike most products on the market that have one or two strains (of micro-organisms), we have over 800. So we’re taking care of breaking down the organic matter of last year’s crop, turning the manure and other fertilizer into nutrients right in the root zone,” said David Stark of Holganix.
Holganix is better known as a turf care company in the United States.
Stark said Holganix’s product provides results because it promotes more extensive root systems.
He is hoping a Holganix facility begins manufacturing product somewhere in Canada by the end of the year.
“I need to manufacture here because why throw all that money at long-distance shipping?
“I’m looking for business partners that will help manufacture, distribute and represent the product here in Canada,” Stark said.