On oilsands and oilseeds: ag and energy join technology forces in innovation supercluster

Pump in a grain field
Can two acronyms help strategically position the Canadian economy and environment for future success?

And make it a global leader in the process?

Put another way, what do oilsands companies and oilseeds producers have in common?

Here's a hint.

Air.

Water.

Land.

Just ask SASC and CRIN.

The first is the Smart AgriFood Supercluster; the latter, the Clean Resource Innovation Network.

One is obviously a product of Canada's agriculture and food sectors; the other a creation of the upstream oil and gas sector's efforts to create a focused critical mass around clean technology.

Thanks to a new (but still emerging) way of contemplating collaborative innovation, SASC and CRIN find themselves likely bedfellows, bound together at the innovation hip by dynamics like emissions reductions, land impacts and water quality.

SASC is one of nine supercluster groups currently awaiting Ottawa's word on whether or not it will share in nearly $1 billion of innovation funding announced last March. The process brought together industry, government and the post-secondary world in a unifying way previously not heard of in Canada. SASC, for example, in its effort to create a pan-Canadian platform, counts more than 100 companies and 20 post-secondaries in its ranks. More join daily as the momentum builds. It has identified more than $250 million of projects to be matched one-dollar-to-one-dollar by Ottawa. Each initiative comes with a defined set of benefits.

CRIN, too, applied for the funding but didn't make the short list. But because the two groups were doing what they ought to have been -- collaborating -- they had a handshake deal to support each other. Now, CRIN is represented on the SASC board.

It's not a stretch to claim that it's the first time two resource sectors have aligned so prominently in the twin interests of the environment and the economy.

It is air, water and land that binds them.

They're major concerns for all of Canada's resource sectors, with each devoting considerable time and attention to the technologies and business and innovation processes that will produce substantive results.

But traditionally, in Canadian economic and political contexts, they're treated as separate sectors with only vaguely perceived linkages.

Governments, provincially and federal, haven't contemplated strategic policy frameworks that incented sectoral collaboration.

Until the concept of the supercluster came along formally to Canada.

Now, thanks to SASC and CRIN, the oilsands sector is at the table with the oilseeds industry and the innovation talk will turn to better ways of sharing game-changing thinking that Canada can take to the world.

What's also critical about the CRIN-SASC alignment is its potential to educate the next generation of Canadians and their leaders. Both agrifood and energy are burdened by a common travail: a general ignorance among the folks at the end of their respective value chains about where their food and energy really come from. And yet that ignorance carries an unexpected weight: call it the social licence to operate...and grow.

Now, the supercluster process permits for the shining of the innovation spotlight on what happens beyond the gas pump and dinner plate. Canadians (including their elected leaders) ought to pay attention to tectonic shifts are occuring in sectors that exist because we like to eat and drive.

There are also the benefits that flow from a global brand reputation from such unique collaboration.

Finally, wells-to-wheels meets farm-to-fork in a powerful alliance.