Company plans regenerative ag centre in B.C.

Terramera has partnered with Microsoft to develop a research centre that will look into improving efficiencies in crop production, including a reduction in fertilizer and pesticide use.  |  File photo

A Vancouver firm has come up with an ambitious plan that it hopes will drastically slash global synthetic pesticide use

The head of a Vancouver company has an ambitious but seemingly impossible goal.

Karn Manhas, chief executive officer of Terramera, hopes to reduce “global synthetic pesticide load 80 percent by 2030,” according to the firm’s website.

That is definitely ambitious, seeing how 2030 is only 10 years away and 80 percent is a massive number.

The pesticide reduction target is just part of Terramera’s mission to help farmers do more with less. That’s similar to the objectives of regenerative agriculture, a set of practices including cover crops, reduced tillage, diverse crop rotations and integrating livestock into a farm’s operations.

The focus of regenerative ag is improving soil health, which reduces the need for crop inputs such as fertilizer and pesticide.

That’s why Terramera is planning to build a regenerative agriculture centre in Vancouver to improve efficiencies in crop production.

“Canada has the opportunity to lead the world in regenerative agriculture,” Manhas said in an early November news release.

“This is a historic proposal for Canada that builds an economic engine around two of our key industries, agriculture and technology.”

A key component of Terramera’s plan is its technology called Actigate. The company’s website says it increases the performance and uptake of active ingredients by delivering them directly to plant cells.

“In pharmaceuticals and medicine there’s this whole science of drug delivery. In agriculture … there’s not a lot of science around how to ensure the main active ingredient is delivered where it needs to get to,” Manhas said.

“About 50 to 90 percent of the active ingredients that we spray on farm don’t actually make it to the main place they’re designed to get to.”

Actigate is one of Terramera’s proprietary technologies. It has patents on more than 200 other intellectual properties.

The company will also employ machine learning and artificial intelligence to help farmers grow crops more efficiently.

The company has found a prominent partner for its venture. Microsoft’s storage and computing services will power the data collection and analysis for Terramera and the Global Centre for Regenerative Agriculture.

“Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and the work Terramera is doing with AI will go a long way to help farmers and ranchers fight climate change,” said John Weigelt of Microsoft Canada.

The fighting climate change comment is a reference to storing carbon in the soil. Terramera plans to “build and scale the technology … to quantify soil carbon sequestration” to show how farming can be part of the climate solution.

Building the regenerative ag centre in Vancouver, perfecting the technology to measure soil carbon sequestration and constructing field testing sites across Canada will not be cheap.

Terramera is seeking $730 million in private and public investment to make it happen.

Raising that much money seems like a mountainous challenge, but Manhas does have a track record of accomplishments.

In 2001, he was elected as a Liberal MLA in British Columbia at the age of 24 — the youngest person to ever serve in the province’s legislature. He also has a Juris Doctor in Law from the University of British Columbia and a biotechnology degree from McGill University. As well, a few major players in the ag space, such as S2G Ventures of Chicago, have already invested in Terramera.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has voiced support for the company and its proposed centre.

“Their work aims to bridge the divide between traditional and regenerative approaches in agriculture,” the CFA said in a statement.

“Using novel technologies to measure the GHG sequestration and reductions resulting from best management practices (BMPs) is key to ensuring that farmers’ efforts are recognized.”

The company plans to work with Canadian farmers over the next three to five years on trials to test out its technology and accurately measure the amount of greenhouse gases stored in soil.

It is seeking farmers willing to adopt cover crops or other practices that improve soil health.

In the longer term, Terramera sees a future where Canadian farmers practice regenerative ag, grow crops more efficiently and are compensated for storing carbon in the soil.

Manhas said a combination of “government and private companies” will potentially pay farmers for carbon sequestration.

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