Saskatchewan Fund Supports Ag Tech Innovation

Dr. Uladzimir Karniychuk from the Vaccine Infectious Disease Organization - International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac).

A Saskatchewan-based fund aids the booming agricultural technology sector, an area in which the province is known as a world leader.

The Saskatchewan Advantage Innovation Fund (SAIF) was introduced in 2012 to support the province’s main economic sectors: mining, agriculture and oil and gas. The fund favours emerging technology in the agriculture field. SAIF is managed by Innovation Saskatchewan (IS), which focuses on digital technology in the province’s core economic areas. SAIF has an $866,000 annual budget and will fund up to 30 per cent of a project’s total cost. The fund is open to all kinds of proposals, however those targeting technology are in a better position to be accepted.

Saskatchewan’s Minister of the Economy Steven Bonk says SAIF’s role in funding digital technology complements the province’s Agriculture Development Fund (ADF). The ADF has an annual budget of $14 million under the Ministry of Agriculture. “They have a much larger budget for the field (of) genomic work, plant breeding and value-added products. Our focus is mainly on digital and precision agriculture solutions,” says Bonk.

Autonomous farming is one of the biggest trends in agriculture.

“We’ve had some super exciting developments in Saskatchewan in that area,” he says. Developments in variable rate application, more precise GPS mapping, along with advances in the digital applications of storage solutions and monitoring are all happening in the province. Future projects in these areas would be aptly suited for a proposal with SAIF. On the livestock side, any type of proposal related to radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, tracking and traceability would qualify.

Bonk’s work has taken him all over the world, and to many agricultural communities. The feedback he’s received confirms Saskatchewan’s renown for advances in dry land farming and livestock genetics.

“Saskatchewan is known for innovation and cutting-edge technology. We’re a world leader in this area. (SAIF) is more than excited to be a part of it.”

Saskatoon is also becoming known as a technology innovation hotbed, particularly in the agriculture field. “(Saskatoon) has the second fastest growing technology sector in all of Canada, just behind Waterloo,” says Bonk. “We’re leading the world in ag tech.” A booming technology sector means a bright future for the provincial economy. Bonk says it has already created 5,000 jobs and added $1.4 billion annually to the GDP.

It’s not just the ag tech world where Saskatchewan excels. Together with Genome Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and VIDO-InterVac, IS contributed funding through SAIF on a Zika research project. The project is being conducted at VIDO-InterVac, located at the University of Saskatchewan. The virus was declared a public health emergency in 2016.[1] It can cause microcephaly, brain underdevelopment in babies born to infected mothers. The research project will be the first in the world to use a swine model to study Zika infection and test new therapies and vaccines for prevention.[2]

Since its inception, SAIF has provided funding for 21 projects. The popular program has been fully subscribed every year. SAIF has been able to leverage $21 million in industry and federal R&D money, which has a huge multiplier effect. The SAIF website outlines requirements for submitting a proposal.

Projects are assessed by a team of reviewers that use ProGrid™, a software program provided by the Saskatchewan Research Council, for clarity in the decision-making process. The software’s four-step methodology process evaluates and ranks both tangible, such as money or static resources, and intangible factors, like intellectual capital, codified knowledge and human resources. It’s particularly useful in evaluating R&D proposals and technology assessments. Shortlisted proposals are then sent to IS’s board of directors for final approval. Proposals that align with provincial economic priorities generally have an excellent chance at securing funds.