Saskatchewan has long been an agricultural powerhouse, growing food that finds its way to dinner tables around the world. The province is known as the “breadbasket of the world” for a reason.
Agriculture has always been an innovative industry with developments in agronomy, crop science, animal bioscience, horticulture, and crop production, with many getting their start in Saskatchewan. However, the technological age is shaking everything up and agriculture is no exception. Agtech is changing everything in agriculture and Saskatchewan, as a leading agricultural producer, is positioned to take advantage of the disruption.
The University of Regina, as a comprehensive research university, has joined the agtech revolution. In late 2021, the university announced it was joining the province’s new Agtech Accelerator led by Economic Development Regina and Conexus Credit Union. We caught up with Dr. Christopher Yost, Associate Vice-President (Research) at the University of Regina to talk about the U of R and the role it plays in the growing agtech sector.
“We joined the Agtech Accelerator so we can partner with companies as they develop,” says Yost. “Startups get dedicated access to our research infrastructure, researchers and students, and we can help them explore and refine their ideas and get them ready for the market.”
In the lab
The university’s expertise in machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensor technology is invaluable to the sector, offering expertise that can help many areas in agtech including precision agriculture and the Internet of Things (IoT).
“Machine learning is changing how agricultural producers manage their inputs and outputs,” says Yost. “Using machine learning in precision agriculture is helping perfect use of inputs such as water, herbicides and pesticides to maximize outputs such as crop yields. The potential is incredible not just for farmers but for the environment.”
Researchers can also provide help in data collection and analysis to make products work better. “Data collection is just the first step when you’re using sensor technology to check everything from moisture levels to heat. It’s the data analysis that provides the value to the user.”
Research for industry
Beyond its role in the Agtech Accelerator, the University of Regina’s Research Office can work with business and industry to test and explore concepts for commercialization. “We work with industry partners to advance their research,” says Yost. “We can connect companies with faculty and research experts that can help them assess and perfect ideas and source funding for research and development.”
Yost says that not only does industry research lead to new marketable ideas, but it also builds the province’s talent capacity. “When students get the chance to engage in research, it provides them with valuable training that can set them up as future entrepreneurial leaders. Research is the starting ramp to entrepreneurship. Taking an idea from discovery through to market is a powerful learning experience and we’re here to provide it.”