SASKATOON, SK – Balancing the imperatives of sustainability and economics is a daily challenge for farmers across Canada.
The Smart Agri-Food Supercluster (SASC) and its member companies and partners have announced a new approach they believe is part of the answer. Through SASC's “innovation communities”, a powerful combination of industry players, post-secondary institutions and sector organizations can bring to bear potential solutions to help producers make the right decisions.
Farms are Canada's original innovation ecosystem, noted Bill Whitelaw, one of SASC’s transition board members.
“Farmers have been innovating for generations...the supercluster is a simple idea to add more horsepower to the system by building bridges between the players and by defining pathways for collaboration."
Innovation communities are the platforms from which SASC will develop and fund projects with tangible outcomes. Four communities underpin the SASC operating model. They include 1.) digital and connectivity 2.) sustainable livestock 3.) genetics and processing and 4.) bioeconomy and sustainability. The proposed supercluster’s board is working hard to help Canada’s’ agri-food sector understand how the innovation communities and their stakeholders will produce tangible results through the farmer-focused initiatives they undertake.
As an example, Saskatchewan's record canola crop this year is potentially both a blessing —and a curse. As 2017 winds down, it appears the province will record a crop of 11.2 million MT, up nearly five per cent from 2016.
While growers are producing more, they are faced with increasing pressure from diseases such as blackleg and clubroot. Meanwhile, consumers are demanding more transparency regarding sustainability dynamics, such as soil health, water-use efficiency and greenhouse gas management. How best to balance the opposing imperatives between sustainability and economics is a challenge for farmers.
That’s where SASC and its innovation communities may have part of the answer. Two companies in the SASC digital innovation community are Ontario-based Weather Innovations and Agri-Trend, a division of Trimble. They're among the more than 80 companies and academic partners which form the foundation of the four innovation communities, along with key sector organizations.
"If you look at Saskatchewan's canola dynamic; this is something the SASC is born to help solve. Companies like WIN and Agri-Trend have the on-farm expertise and experience to help producers meet a sustainable balance ....," noted WIN executive vice-president Bill Whitelaw. “We know the crops, we know the soil and we know the challenges farmers face in balancing all those dynamics. When we leverage that knowledge with partners from outside the traditional ag space… aerospace, oil and gas, technology providers… we can drive greater advantages that will provide long term value to the agri-food industry.These companies show case examples of how industry expertise can be tied through technology to create more sustainable outcomes, notes Agri-Trend founder Rob Saik, also a transition board member.
"Producers and the value chains they serve need help from innovation investments that produce actionable results for producers and processors," said Saik. "The supercluster will help the producers make the right decisions for the right reasons, economically and environmentally. What’s really important is that we have created a platform that everyone involved in a space like canola can join and contribute to.”
SASC CEO Rob Davies noted that the federal Supercluster decision-making process is expected to proceed quickly. “Over the next few weeks, SASC will co-ordinate meetings of key stakeholders in several innovation communities. In the longer term, these communities will help drive the agenda of the SASC and ensure that projects are selected that can have the most meaningful impact on the value chain. It also ensures that space is available for those who aren’t currently part of the SASC to join and derive meaningful value from the Supercluster concept over the coming months and years.”
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The interim board of SASC is composed of:
- Doug Beever, Agrium
- Rob Saik, Agri-Trend/Trimble
- Andrea Brocklebank, Beef Cattle Research Council/CCA
- Stuart Cullum, Olds College
- Rod Snyder, Field to Market
- Mary Moran, Calgary Economic Development
- Joy Romero, Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN)
- Helle Bank Jorgensen, Global Compact Canada
- Bill Whitelaw, Weather Innovations & Glacier Farm Media
- Laura Kilcrease, Alberta Innovates
- Bryan Walton, Alberta Cattle Feeders Association
- Jan Harder, Councillor, Chair of Planning, City of Ottawa