Agriculture has been hurtling towards an extremely tech-forward future – from AI, IoT, GIS, Robotics, to Biotech and Bioinformatics. With a projected global market revenue of US $41,172.5 million by 2027, it’s fascinating to watch this traditional industry turn modern in front of our eyes.

But you’re not here to just watch, you’re here to contribute to history in the making. Well in that case, Ontario, Canada is where you need to be. Canada is BIG on agriculture. 1 in 9 jobs in Canada belong to the agriculture sector. Canada is one of the few countries in the world that is largely self-sufficient, especially when it comes to dairy, meat, and grain production. It’s food systems are resilient and innovative. 

Hence it is no surprise that agritech has had a ripe awakening in Canada. Canada already has an extensive agritech sector rooted in a very strong R&D ecosystem. There are massive projects underway in robotics, sensor and agriculture data, and AI deep learning, many backed by the government. And to top it off, Canada boasts the 2nd largest agri-tech investor base in the world.

Agri-tech Trends in Ontario

Ontario stands out among Canada’s provinces with the highest concentration of farms, accounting for more than 25.5% of the country’s total farms and 7.7% of the total farm area. Predominant farm types in Ontario include poultry and egg production (38.9%), sheep and goat farming (36.6%), other animal production (28.7%), vegetable and melon cultivation (30.8%), and greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture (31.8%).

Moreover, over 54% of farms in Ontario utilize technology to enhance their operational efficiency, establishing it as a fertile ground for agritech innovation and development.

According to a 2021 study, Ontario boasts the largest agritech ecosystem in Canada, with 33% of the country’s agritech companies headquartered in the province. Out of the 261 agritech companies in the dataset, 79 call Ontario home, solidifying its position as a leading hub for agritech innovation and commercialization.

Graph showing agritech investments by province

Source: ICTC

While there is a very impressive list of really amazing innovations happening in the agri-tech sector in Canada, here are the ones you need to keep your eye on if you want to make the most of agri-tech advancements in Ontario:

  1. Precision Farming: This farm management strategy makes farming data-driven, using technologies like GPS, sensors, and AI to gather and share information about soil, climate, plants, and livestock. Imagine a farmer who wants to optimize the irrigation of their crops. With precision farming, they can use soil moisture sensors in the field to send real-time data to the farmer’s smartphone, indicating when and where the soil needs irrigation. This data can transform the way farmers make decisions, greatly increasing productivity while cutting costs.

In Canada, farmers have been quick to adopt cutting-edge technology to help better manage operations. As of 2021, 78% of Ontario field-crop farms have adopted GPS. The most common use for GPS on these farms is for tracking and guidance, which involves auto-steering tractors to maintain precise straight-line operations and prevent overlap in fertilizer, pesticide, or seeding applications. 

The government is also proactively promoting precision agriculture, for example- right now, when farmers apply things like fertilizer, some parts of their fields get too much, and others don’t get enough. This wastes resources, money, and harms the environment. To solve this, The Grain Farmers of Ontario, with help from OMAFRA, Niagara College and other partners have been working on creating simple systems for developing management zones within fields. These zones help farmers use resources more efficiently.

Startups addressing precision farming are also very well supported in their mission. For example, Toronto based Ag-tech company Ukko Agro Inc secured $875,000 from the government to develop an analytics platform to aid in better controlling diseases and insects in various crops. 

2. Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) – Another increasingly prominent agri-tech trend in Canada is CEA. Controlled Environment Agriculture, is any form of indoor technology-based production system where crops are grown under a modified and highly conditioned environment. Most common forms of CEA are greenhouses, vertical farming, and hydroculture. 

These systems are important for two key reasons, CEA enables farmers to grow fruits and vegetables in ideal settings at maximum efficiency and productivity. And more recently, it has made it possible for communities to grow specific types of food in locations where it was previously challenging, like cities, urban areas, colder regions, and places with unsuitable soil.

In Canada, vertical farming in particular is on the rise, due to shifting consumer preferences, a growing emphasis on sustainability, and advancements in technology. Canadian consumers are increasingly seeking fresh, locally grown produce throughout the year, both in grocery stores and restaurants. Additionally, the evolving global climate poses challenges to the dependability and sustainability of certain food supply chains.

GoodLeaf Farms, a pioneering vertical farming company based in Ontario, offers a glimpse into the future of CEA. Housed in an unassuming industrial complex in Guelph, their 4,000-square-meter vertical farm uses advanced technology to cultivate pea shoots, mustard medley, arugula microgreens, baby kale, and baby arugula.  They have eliminated the use of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides from their operations. Instead, they rely on a combination of red and blue LED lighting.

Vertical farming complex

Source

The success of GoodLeaf Farms has attracted substantial investment, with McCain Foods, a major Canadian frozen food company, leading a recent funding round that secured $150 million for expansion of new farms in Calgary and Montreal.

3. Sustainable Food Trends: The global demand for sustainable food has led to the emergence of many types of eco-conscious diets. To name a few, we have the organic diet (focused on environmentally-friendly food production), the 100-mile diet (prioritizing locally sourced foods), and various plant-based diets like flexitarian, vegetarian, and vegan, which encourage reduced meat and dairy consumption. 

And the numbers back up these demands – a Deloitte survey revealed that 44% of Canadian consumers have made efforts to reduce their meat consumption in the past year. 79% of respondents increased their spending on plant-based milk and other non-dairy products in 2021, and 72% boosted their purchases of alternative meat products. All of these upticks combined have made sustainable food production a very lucrative place to be for businesses.

Canada, as a country, has always been looked up to for sustainability, as they lead by example. Initiatives like the Protein Industries Cluster, focus on enhancing the value of vital Canadian crops like canola, wheat, and pulses, catering to the growing demand for plant-based meat alternatives. Canada is positioning itself to access premium markets and contribute to global food security. This initiative is backed by funding of up to $323 million and centers on agri-food tech, including genomics, processing, and IT.

Additionally, in 2022, Canada joined the Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation coalition (SPG), led by the United States. This coalition, consisting of over 15 countries, academic organizations, foundations, and private sector associations, aims to accelerate the shift toward sustainable food systems by enhancing agricultural productivity. 

In November 2023, the government of Canada and Ontario announced that they are investing up to $25 million, through the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (Sustainable CAP), to expand production capacity and boost energy efficiency in the agriculture and food sector.

4. Agricultural biotechnology: Biotechnology is touted to play a very important role in agriculture. It can help develop new plant varieties with beneficial traits, such as crops that use less water, fertilizer, or land or are resistant to diseases or pests. In Canada, Biotalent Canada identifies agricultural biotechnology as a sub industry that includes animal nutrients and supplements, livestock vaccines, and plant and animal genetics.

This can further be divided into:

  • Green biotechnology: Biotechnology that applies to agricultural processes like plant selection and genetic modification for specific environmental conditions, potentially offering more environmentally friendly solutions than traditional agriculture. For example, engineers may modify plants to produce pesticides, reducing the need for external pesticide use.
  • Yellow biotechnology: Biotechnology involved in food production, like winemaking, cheesemaking, and fermentation. It also includes using biotech to control harmful insects, studying insect genes for agricultural and medical applications, and other related approaches.
  • Red biotechnology: This focuses on medical purposes and genetic engineering, such as creating antibiotics. In the agri-food sector, red biotechnology works on improving livestock health.

Ontario Genomics’ BioCreate program recently announced its first round of recipients of an $11.6-million initiative providing financial and business support to help relevant agri-biotech startups with their work. Startups across Kingston, Kitchener, Toronto, Hamilton received $150,000 in non-repayable funding, 18 months of business mentorship and access to critical infrastructure.

Government and Other Support for Agritech Businesses in Ontario

Ontario, with its evidently thriving agritech ecosystem, is a hotspot for innovation and support for startup ventures in the agricultural technology sector. Various government programs, initiatives, and collaborations are actively bolstering the growth of agritech businesses in the province. Let’s explore some of the key avenues of support available to agritech entrepreneurs and companies in Ontario.

  • Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a $3.5 billion, 5-year agreement (April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2028) between the federal, provincial and territorial governments. It replaces the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
  • Agri-Tech Innovation Cost-Share Program supports the modernization of workplaces by funding projects to implement advanced or innovative technology (such as automation and robotics).
  • AgriInnovate Program provides repayable contributions to targeted technologies and processes that increase agricultural and agri-food sector competitiveness and sustainability benefits.
  • Ontario Genomics Biocreate Program is a multiphase program that includes direct, non-repayable funding of $150,000 that will be matched by an additional $100,000 (minimum) from participating companies.
  • Industrial Innovation Venture Fund is a fund by BDC focussed on early-stage equity investment in legacy industries, one of which is agri-tech.
  • Ontario Agri-Tech Pitch Competition, hosted by the University of Guelph in collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs, creates a platform for agritech companies to pitch their ideas and earn funding.
  • Foresight Canada is a cleantech incubator aiming to accelerate the development and adoption of game-changing Canadian climate solutions to reach net zero.
  • SVG Ventures is the top global VC firm by AgTech portfolio count.
  • AGRI Tech Venture Forum is an annual event that brings together global ag tech leaders, industry giants, investors, accelerators, and innovators of ag-tech.

Want to Start an Agri-Tech  Business in Canada?

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