Harnessing the digital wave in ag

New technology is flying at farmers and industry at a stupefying rate, and the agricultural sector is struggling to keep up.

EMILI (Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative) was created four years ago to prepare Manitoba’s agricultural economy to leverage digital disruption for success.

EMILI’s specific focus is on digital agriculture. The not-for-profit organization works with industry and universities to accelerate the adaptation of intelligent technologies in the ag sector. A major component is providing people with the skills and training required to extract the greatest value from a digital economy, with emphasis on technologies such as AI and machine learning.

EMILI intends to be an accelerator of the Manitoba economy, according to Ray Bouchard, president and chief executive officer of Enns Brothers John Deere, and one of the EMILI founders. Bouchard said the initiative came from industry and academic leaders who wanted to create an environment that would foster development of intelligent technology integration, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it to learn for themselves. It applies artificial intelligence to build computer systems that automatically improve from their own experience without being explicitly programmed. Bouchard says EMILI depends on four basic pillars in the future of digital agriculture.

1) Innovation and research — “EMILI is not concerned with creating new technology. That’s the place of industry and academia. We’re involved with finding ways to apply it. We foster an open data source that will allow individual researchers, universities, government and industry to benefit,” said Bouchard.

2) Skills, training and talent development — “We are co-sponsoring the Manitoba Digital Ag Table. The whole digital ag community gets together to ensure that we are aligned in finding the skills training gaps. We collectively work on appropriate curriculums to meet the needs of the workforce. Also integrated learning initiatives.

3) Intelligence technology integration — “The Agriculture Enlightened conference we held on Nov. 4 is an example of the activities we are working on to foster the integration of new technologies and promote collaboration. We’re right now finalizing a technology and talent platform that will allow industry to access a data access map and training tools. We’re looking at building a research and innovation platform to connect all actors and players in ag technology research.”

4) Capital enablement — Bouchard puts aside any notion that EMILI is another government project. The impetus came from the ag industry as did core funding. He says that industry in Manitoba put up the initial $700,000 to get EMILI going. And industry is hands-on involved with management.

“We’re looking at forming some collaborative partnerships with other entities to promote start-up and scale-up activities around ag tech in Manitoba. We would align with groups like the Manitoba Technology Accelerator, with a focus on ag tech. We’re talking to some venture capital funds right now to see how we might align.”

During EMILI’s Agriculture Enlightened Conference Manitoba and the federal government announced a $630,000 grant to EMILI to help the group promote their mandate and to address the need for skilled workers in the ag sector.

For more information, visit emilicanada.com/about-emili/.

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