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Opinion: War and COVID-19 boost Canadian agricultural technology, but policies need to change

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The Reed family bales their harvest of hay, which is compressed and exported to Japan on July 29 near Cremona, Alta. Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

Sean O’Connor and Kyle Scott are directors of Connexus Venture Capital and Emmertech.

Despite a disappointing year in capital markets, Canada’s agricultural innovation sector, or “agtech,” is on track for a record year with $121 million in venture funding.

The biggest source of that recent momentum has come from macroeconomic trends: how our entire food supply chain was turned upside down during the pandemic and the uncertainty that world markets will gain access to Ukrainian grain amid war with Russia. reached or not.

As those challenges loom, Canada is seeking to expand its role as a global food supplier. And the innovation that this requires thrives in times of uncertainty.

Domestically, despite a lot of government support for agtech, Canada continues to face disruptions, particularly with regard to how government policies interfere with farmer autonomy. The recent announcement to limit nitrogen use has created a new source of disruption for agtech.

The Liberal government is looking at ways for farmers to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizers – which produce greenhouse gases – by up to 30 percent. The proposed nitrogen reduction policy shows how Canadian farmers have largely lost their say in how food reaches our tables. As Canada seeks to meet its carbon emissions targets, it is vital that our farmers are an important part of any conversation that affects their way of life.

Reducing fertilizer use without agtech innovation will only result in Canada growing less food, meaning (1) higher grocery prices for Canadians, and (2) more people in less developed countries suffering from food insecurity.

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A Canadian farmer doesn’t wake up to use as much fertilizer as possible; Nitrogen is one of their biggest input costs and using too much is just as damaging to the crop and soil as using too little. These farmers are often generational stewards of their land, many of whom have helped promote environmentally conscious practices such as tillage-less farming.

Fortunately, the head remains cool in recent discussions with policymakers. Regarding mandating nitrogen reduction in Canadian agriculture. The result avoided the catastrophe of ending our farmers’ freedom to run their farms, but found a middle ground that will struggle to have any meaningful impact: incentives will be given to farmers who reduce their fertilizer use. Possible, but not mandatory deduction.

That There remains a point of friction between our farmers and policy makers, and by resolving this we see the greatest opportunity to promote Canadian agtech.

The solution to reducing the environmental impact of agriculture in Canada will only come through working directly with farmers, with a strong focus on driving agtech adoption. The policy should be aimed at making it easier and cheaper for farmers to apply or invest in new cleantech technologies.

We need to reduce the risk a farmer runs when trying a new innovation that would reduce the amount of nitrogen, fuel, glyphosate or any other input that, when used efficiently, could cause unwanted environmental impacts. is not done. This will help support our most innovative farmers, as we have supported innovators in other cleantech industries for decades.

Until the recent boom, Canadian agtech investment lagged significantly behind other countries. Although the US has nearly nine times the population of Canada, US$6.59 billion was invested in US-based agtech companies in 2021, compared to only US$177 million in Canadian companies.

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As the economy continues to be impacted by increasing widespread uncertainty, Canadian agtech is gaining significant momentum and we will do well to capitalize on the advantage through systemic collaboration and thoughtful stimulus strategies developed with the federal government that promote further development in an important and important one. Zone winner.

Source: www.theglobeandmail.com

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