Protein cluster funds precision spraying work

Protein Industries Canada will also fund research into artificial intelligence and data trusts to improve plant breeding

Protein Industries Canada has made two more investments as it works toward increasing innovation in the plant protein sector.

The first is a $12.8 million investment into the use of artificial intelligence to detect weeds and crop pests when passing over a field.

Led by Precision.ai., Sure Growth Solutions Inc., Exceed Grain Marketing and the Global Institute for Food Security, the project is designed to reduce pesticide use through technology. The partners will contribute $13.4 million toward developing a working prototype that should be available by March 2023.

Precision.ai chief executive officer Daniel McCann said the investment represents a changing appetite toward investment in ag tech.

As well, he said consumers want cleaner products and this should help increase marketability of commodities by lowering chemical residue.

The company has previously used drone prototypes and modelling to show pesticide use could be reduced up to 95 percent while maintaining yield. That would save farmers about $52 per acre per growing season, depending on the crop.

While Precision.ai is working on the technology and robotics, Sure Growth at Langenburg, Sask., offers the on-farm testing and Exceed is working on marketing to processors willing to pay a premium for commodities grown in a more sustainable way.

PIC CEO Bill Greuel said that is a critical part of the project.

“Because how many times have we seen this great new technology being launched into the marketplace and the value being captured along the value chain and not necessarily going back to producers?” he said.

Greuel said this project fits the organization’s mandate because it focuses on innovation along the value chain from production to end markets and builds on an already strong sustainability story in prairie grain production.

The second project involves artificial intelligence and data trusts to improve plant breeding particularly for yellow peas.

PIC is contributing $1.75 million and the partners, Sightline Innovation, DL Seeds and SeedNet, are spending the same amount.

The idea is to bring together companies that might not ordinarily work together.

“It’s putting together a technology company that has a data trust and uses artificial intelligence to help select plant varieties of high yield and high protein,” Greuel explained. “One of the limiting factors to the success and growth of the yellow pea industry is protein content in varieties.”

Often varieties have high yield or high protein, but not both.

Greuel said the establishment of a data trust allows multiple organizations to put their data inside the trust while retaining ownership of it. The partners can then mine the data and combine it, with the goal of more collaboration and new variety development.

DL Seeds will introduce unique yellow pea parent lines from Europe, which will then be adapted through a breeding program and proprietary data. Sightline Innovation will provide the algorithms and SeedNet, which includes 12 certified seed growers, will market and distribute the new products.

More announcements are expected as PIC works toward using its five-year funding from the federal government.

Greuel said the organization is developing a long-term strategy with a view to continuing beyond March 2023.

“We have no intention of winding this organization down. There’s too much opportunity in the plant protein sector to say five years and done,” he said. “We are in talks with the government of Canada about a re-up of funding, in talks with the provincial governments and private sector about an expanded and extended mandate.”

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