Agriculture is rapidly changing, and the realities of climate change and a growing population mean the years to come will be a time of great challenge in the systems that feed us every day. As the recent COVID-19 global pandemic has highlighted even further, the need to ensure food security and for a reliable local supply chain and consumer base for the food and beverages in BC continues to grow. Amid the challenges of inconsistent access to global agriculture products and markets are also great opportunities, especially here in British Columbia. Innovation and technology are already transforming our agriculture industries to help us rise to the challenges with which we are faced.[1] With land reserved for agriculture, strong industrial sectors, access to ports and highways, and a growing tech sector, BC is uniquely positioned to become a leader in the agriculture technology (agri-tech) sector that will shape our global food systems in the coming decades.

By adopting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and working to implement them in future agricultural policies, BC can take the next steps to establish our province as a global agri-tech leader, which supports the innovation, development, demonstration, and deployment of novel technologies. As BC moves forward, creating an agriculture and agri-tech institute to drive excellence in priority areas and deepen the knowledge base and talent pool for the agriculture innovation agenda and with business, government and academia working together, we can ensure that there is a place to grow food and support emerging agri-tech industries by examining land use policies and other regulatory considerations to make the best decisions which help invest in BC’s growing agri-tech sector.

Background

Technology already plays a major role in the food system. From the adoption of mechanized farm equipment to the recent rise of cloud-based, online food ordering services, technology has shifted industrial methods and social practices around food production, distribution, and consumption. Today, agricultural technology is redefining what it means to be a farmer. A new generation of farmers is adapting traditional growing and harvesting practices to greenhouses, urban rooftops, shipping containers and other unconventional sites. These new farms often utilize innovative new technologies, such as robotics, drones, LED lighting, monitoring sensors and farm management software.

Agri-tech supports all stages of food production, processing, and distribution. Farmers are increasingly driving research into seed genomics, climate-controlled greenhouses, sensor-monitored growing technologies, advanced refrigeration and dehydration systems, and numerous other agri-tech solutions. They are often at the forefront of meeting shifting consumer demands such as plant-based alternatives, locally-grown or locally-made food, health food products and environmentally sustainable, traceable protein sources.

BC also has an opportunity to build on its position as a leader in protecting the environment and mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Our province is already home to more than 150 companies that are active in the agri-tech sector. We have an advantage of land reserved for agriculture that can help to support the development of new growing strategies and demonstrate the agricultural applications of emerging technologies. To share a future, where BC is a preferred jurisdiction for farmers, food manufacturers, agri-tech innovators and investment in agricultural businesses alike, decisive and coordinated action is needed by industry, academia and government. [2]

The BC Food Security Task Force was mandated to make recommendations that support food security and the economic growth of the agricultural sector in British Columbia, focusing on the following three areas:

  • Increasing the competitiveness, efficiency and profitability of the agricultural sector of British Columbia, through technology and innovation;
  • Growing the agri-tech industry as a standalone economic sector capable of developing technologies that will be applicable both locally and globally; and
  • Supporting the development and application of technologies that can protect the agricultural sector against the effects of climate change and support environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.[3]

The Food Security Task Force applied the principles of “People, Planet and Profit” to their work in developing their recommendations “to ensure it would benefit people (in BC and globally), protect the planet and help BC farmers and the provincial economy remain competitive.”[4] These principles resonate with the BC Chamber of Commerce’s policy theme in 2020 of 7 Priorities to a More Effective Economy.[5]

Across BC, innovative companies are using technology to maximize efficiency and profitability while developing environmentally sustainable practices. In the Fraser Valley, one company has developed software that turns unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) into berry and fruit guards, using light and noise to scare birds away.[6] In Salmon Arm, another business is developing a vision-guided robot capable of accurately picking, trimming and placing mushrooms in store-ready boxes; a project capable of getting BC mushrooms to market quicker and helping to address the labour shortages of not only the mushroom sector but others as well.[7]

In Delta, one organization has developed a rapid low-temperature drying method that maintains a product’s colour, flavor and nutrients; a technology used in developing popular and successful market products such as Moon Cheese, a dehydrated cheese sold as a non-perishable snack.[8] Academic research and learning facilities are a significant partner in this growing sector as well. At Simon Fraser University, researchers are exploring how a non-toxic chemical compound can target the varroa mite, a pest that can cause significant bee colony loss. Results from this study could lead to healthier hives in BC, an increased availability of local pollinators, improved honey production and a reduction in imported bee colonies.[9]

In order for innovators and entrepreneurs like these to succeed, investment is needed,[10] both privately and through the government in terms of education, funding, and strategic land use policies which facilitate their work. This includes investments into research & development of agri-tech incubators and accelerators[11] and the development of a new zoning type for up to 0.25% of Agricultural Land Reserve land (specifically land of low soil quality, ill-suited for farming but with good transportation connectivity)[12] specifically for agricultural-industrial activity to support the growing agri-tech sector.

The Chamber Recommends

That the Provincial Government:

  1. Invest in BC’s growing agri-tech sector by;
  2. Creating an Agri-tech Expert Advisory Council;
  3. Establishing BC as a global agri-tech leader by supporting the innovation pathway including the development, demonstration, and deployment of novel technologies;
  4. Creating an agriculture and agri-tech institute as a collaborative entity across post-secondary institutions to drive excellence in priority areas and deepen the knowledge base and talent pool for the agriculture innovation agenda;
  5. Ensuring that there is a place to grow food and support emerging agritech industries by examining land use policies and other regulatory considerations; and
    1. Establishing a Commissioner for Agri-Industrial Lands.

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[1] https://www.northdeltareporter.com/e-editions/?iid=i20200305040019839&&headline=Tm9ydGggRGVsdGEgUmVwb3J0ZXIsIE1hcmNoIDUsIDIwMjA=&&doc_id=200305122408-9a964cb2990f03038767d9279986b7ba (Page 8) Accessed: 5 March, 2020

[2] https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2020/01/FSTF-Report-2020-The-Future-of-Food.pdf (Page 6) Accessed: 2 March, 2020

[3] https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2020/01/FSTF-Report-2020-The-Future-of-Food.pdf (Page 9) Accessed: 5 March, 2020

[4] https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2020/01/FSTF-Report-2020-The-Future-of-Food.pdf (Page 14) Accessed: 5 March, 2020

[5] Email from Dan Baxter “FW: Reminder: BC Chamber 2020 Policy Development – Submission Deadline: March 6, 2020” Sent 3 March, 2020

[6] https://innovatebc.ca/news/agritech-innovation-challenge-winners-bring-local-tech-to-bc-farms/

Accessed: 6 March, 2020

[7] https://www.bctechnology.com/news/2019/8/9/Innovate-BC-and-Ministry-of-Agriculture-Announce-AgriTech-Innovation-Challenge-Winners.cfm

Accessed: March 4, 2020

[8] https://www.northdeltareporter.com/e-editions/?iid=i20200305040019839&&headline=Tm9ydGggRGVsdGEgUmVwb3J0ZXIsIE1hcmNoIDUsIDIwMjA=&&doc_id=200305122408-9a964cb2990f03038767d9279986b7ba (Page 8) Accessed: 5 March, 2020

[9] https://www.bctechnology.com/news/2019/8/9/Innovate-BC-and-Ministry-of-Agriculture-Announce-AgriTech-Innovation-Challenge-Winners.cfm Accessed: 4 March, 2020

[10] https://foresightcac.com/blog/view/strategic_connections_capital Accessed: 2 March, 2020

[11] https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2020/01/FSTF-Report-2020-The-Future-of-Food.pdf (Page 66) Accessed: 6 March, 2020

[12] https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2020/01/FSTF-Report-2020-The-Future-of-Food.pdf (Page 7) Accessed: 2 March, 2020