Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

What a SuperCluster!

No, I am not swearing at you. Or if I were, it would be to express excitement over the new innovation work in Canada. The Government of Canada set out a challenge to have public, private and academic institutions band together to create new innovations to support Canadian growth and jobs. A great example of blended finance, it asked for proposals that would link whole value chains and reach every corner of the country with exciting synergies of expertise.

Basically, imagine trying to create a Silicon Valley virtually. They are calling it a Supercluster. The five winners were just announced in the areas of:

  • The Ocean Supercluster (based in Atlantic Canada) will use innovation to improve competitiveness in Canada’s ocean-based industries, including fisheries, oil and gas, and clean energy;
  • The SCALE.AI Supercluster (based in Quebec) will make Canada a world-leading exporter by building intelligent supply chains through artificial intelligence and robotics;
  • The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster (based in Ontario) will connect Canada’s technology strengths to our manufacturing industry to make us a world manufacturing leader in the economy of tomorrow;
  • The Protein Industries Supercluster (based in the Prairies) will make Canada a leading source for plant proteins and help feed the world;
  • The Digital Technology Supercluster (based in British Columbia) will use big data and digital technologies to unlock new potential in important sectors like healthcare, forestry, and manufacturing.

The investment by the Canadian government of nearly $1 billion will be matched dollar for dollar by the private sector, and is expected to create more than 50,000 middle-class jobs and grow Canada’s economy by $50 billion over the next 10 years.

As always, it a is pleasure to see Canada focusing on the fact that innovation comes in many forms. There were several great proposals in agriculture and food and it was a special thrill to see Protein Industries Canada be selected as one of the final five. Sure, it may seem obvious to many that artificial intelligence and robotics would make the cut, but the decision to support food innovation demonstrates that that area of development is an equally important application of technology. An excellent proposal on precision farming was also shortlisted, and is particularly meritorious because Canadian agriculture has always been driven by innovation from seeding through to the final products delivered to consumers. One particular area where Canadian agriculture certainly needs to innovate is value addition.

We have traditionally shipped raw product out of our country. As a result, we are some of the world’s best at sustainable, efficient production of many raw materials, including grains, oilseeds, and meat. The opportunity stands to take greater advantage of this productive capacity. Protein Industries Canada is aimed at substantially increasing global market share in novel protein (and co-products) fractions, ingredients, food and feed products, and technologies.

This consortium involves everything from farmers to multinationals; academic institutions to food processors; crop breeders to marketing groups. And the focus now is on developing the potential of plant-based proteins from pulses, hemp, oats, wheat, canola flax, and other crops for export to the world.

One of the great things is that this is a pan-western effort spanning Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are great opportunities across this country, and it is heartening to see investment that will affect rural areas in particular – something that is too often overlooked around the world.

Recently, our prime minister issued a challenge to Canadian agriculture to grow our annual exports to $75 billion by 2025. This will only come through innovation and new technology. The goal is to move Canada to second place in global agricultural exports and fifth in agri-food exports. Specifically, we want to further promote a new range of plant-derived foods, ingredients and feedstuffs of great quality, thereby commanding market premiums.

Innovation in agriculture is the reason why I devote time to being on the boards of Bioenterprise and Protein Industries Canada. They are organisations fostering change and working collaboratively throughout the value chain.

If you want to learn about all the SuperClusters, start here.

And here if you want to learn more about the Protein Supercluster specifically, read this.

I’ve never been so excited to see a cluster!

Follow me for more reflections on agriculture, in Canada and across the world, on Twitter at @Robynne_A

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