Farmers, ranchers, farming equipment manufacturers, and investors have gathered from all over Canada (and the world) to participate in Agri-Trade 2017, an agriculture exposition that boasts 470 exhibitors and approximately 28,000 attendees each year. Having walked the show floor this year and seen the dazzling farming innovations, it is easy to see an amazing future for agriculture all over the world.

National Geographic recently published a piece about sustainable farming in the Netherlands. Using cutting edge techniques, the small country has managed to increase their production while decreasing the amount of resources needed to grow their crops and raise livestock. According to the article, the Netherlands is “the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.”

Sustainable, high-yield, low-resource farming seems to be the way of the future. How are the Dutch already achieving such success? And why should Central Alberta agribusiness embrace sustainable practices?

Sustainable farming: How?

Agricultural Technology

Huge greenhouse complexes, futuristic farming equipment, seeds produced through molecular breeding (avoiding the hot-button issue of GMOs), and even cell-phone apps that measure the properties of soil… these are all tools employed in the Netherlands’ farming industry to keep operations sustainable and high-yield.

There are sure to be signs of this kind of technology at the aforementioned Agri-Trade Equipment Expo, held in Red Deer, Alberta in November of each year. Along with showcasing the latest in equipment and technology, Agri-Trade focuses on innovative agri-business operations. According to an Agri-Trade press release, “exhibitors are invited to enter their newest ideas and advancements into the Ag Innovations awards program… A panel of innovative farmers and business people look over each submission and pick the very best to highlight.”

Spearheading Institutions

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in the Netherlands has spearheaded a program they are calling “Food Valley” (a reference to Silicon Valley in the US); the project is “an expansive cluster of agricultural technology start-ups and experimental farms.” There are “more than a thousand WUR projects in more than 140 countries.”

Here in Central Alberta, Olds College will be home to the Werklund Agriculture Institute; the Olds College website states that “Olds College will provide access to land and facilities so that researchers, entrepreneurs and start-up companies can test, demonstrate and scale up their Smart Agriculture technologies, products and services.” Olds College is also home to various Research & Innovation Facilities and a Crops and Horticulture division.

Government Buy-In

The piece in National Geographic informs us that “almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry ‘Twice as much food using half as many resources.’” That kind of buy-in in high places makes a difference.

We can see that our government is making a similar commitment and backing it up with programs that help farmers update their operations:

Agr.gc.ca describes a new program to help agri-business become sustainable. Launching in 2018, “the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) is a five-year, $3 billion investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments to strengthen the agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector.” The program will provide funding for six priority areas including “[helping] industry use science and innovation to improve resiliency and increase productivity” and “enhancing sustainable growth while increasing production.”

A Smart Agri-Food Supercluster is set to receive government funding in Alberta. The Supercluster intends to “accelerate agri-food innovation efforts through a unique collaboration framework.” The collaboration of thought leaders in agriculture and agri-foods is just what we need to spearhead a sustainable agriculture movement.

Sustainable Farming: Why?

A growing demand

The National Geographic article revealed a startling fact: “By 2050, the Earth will be home to as many as 10 billion people, up from today’s 7.5 billion. If massive increases in agricultural yield are not achieved, matched by massive decreases in the use of water and fossil fuels, a billion or more people may face starvation.” Why not become part of the solution?

Increased productivity means increased profits

It seems like simple math. Though there will obviously be costs associated with upgrading equipment and practices, we can hope for the aforementioned government buy-in to support innovative farmers in the form of grants and loans.

Compliance with future regulations

There’s nothing like planning ahead; think of it as future-proofing your business. In a world increasingly concerned with green initiatives and sustainable growth, one can expect that regulations in the not-so-distant future will include certain standards of practice. Agribusiness can fast forward to a future where factors such as sustainable water usage and pest control are no longer issues to be resolved.

 

What do you think? Are you inspired to take your agribusiness to the next level of innovation?

Pam Steckler
Investment Attraction Officer
Central Alberta: Access Prosperity