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Automation, robotics help farmers strengthen food security

June 13, 2024 at 10:49 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

B.C. farmers are accessing new technology through federal and provincial government funding to grow their businesses and increase production to help strengthen food security in the province.

“Our farmers work hard every day to grow top-quality products,” said Lawrence MacAulay, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “With investments through the B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program, more of British Columbia’s farmers have been able to make improvements on their farms that will allow them to become more efficient and keep feeding their communities.”

The B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program is helping farmers adopt new technology, such as automation, robotics and innovative growing, packing and storage solutions. These advances are increasing food production and helping combat  labour challenges. The program is delivered by Innovate BC, a Crown agency of the Province.

“Integrating new agritech on farms means farmers can improve how they plant, grow, harvest, pack and store the food they produce, which allows them to grow their businesses and provide for the communities they live in,” said Pam Alexis, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture and Food. “By helping farmers purchase and install equipment that boosts their efficiency and bottom line, we are strengthening food security and production in B.C.”

In the Fraser Valley, Van Eekelen Enterprises Ltd. bought a robotic weeder for its field vegetables. The “Robot One” is a machine learning platform that can be taught to differentiate between weeds and crops. The teaching is done by the operator’s input and the machine remembers these inputs. After identifying weeds, the machine can selectively kill the weeds with a variety of tools on the machine. This robotic weeder is helping the Van Eekelens improve profitability, while reducing labour costs and herbicide use.

“The program allowed us to purchase leading-edge technology that has the potential to vastly reduce our labour costs related to weeding,” said Marinus Van Eekelen, operations manager, Van Eekelen Enterprises Ltd. “By being early adopters of technology, we can continue to provide the high-quality produce to consumers in B.C. and elsewhere.”

Sandhar Farms in Kelowna bought a fruit-picking platform for its orchard. This technology, rarely seen in British Columbia’s agricultural sector, is setting a new standard for efficiency and safety. By lifting workers to the height of the fruit, it eliminates the need for ladders, significantly enhancing safety and working conditions. Additionally, it reduces damage to the fruit as apples are placed gently in the bin. Beyond the harvest, it becomes an invaluable year-round asset.

Camirlaney Farms in Delta received funding to upgrade its potato storage with computer panels and digital sensors to control the storage temperature, which will decrease crop damage and loss from moisture and decay.

The B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program is funded through the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, $3.5-billion investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments to strengthen the competitiveness, innovation and resilience of Canada’s agriculture, agrifood and agriculture‐based products sector. This includes $1 billion in federal programs and activities, and a $2.5-billion commitment, which is cost-shared 60% federally and 40% provincially/territorially, for programs designed and delivered by provinces and territories.

Quotes:

Brenda Bailey, B.C.’s Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation –

“Developing a strong agritech industry is critical to building a sustainable, local food supply, as well as contributing to new jobs and economic growth for communities in B.C. The On-Farm Technology Adoption program is helping farmers add technology, like robotic weeders and robotic pickers, to their operations so farmers can continue to farm and provide good food and good jobs for people in B.C.”  

Peter Cowan, president and CEO, Innovate BC –

“We are proud to deliver the B.C. Technology Adoption Program on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food to support farmers in accessing new agritech to enhance their operations. Agriculture and other provincial industries continue to face a changing landscape with factors like rising costs and labour shortages. By reducing risk and creating new avenues to acquire innovative technologies, we can help B.C. businesses like farms be more efficient and remain competitive in response.”

Davinder Sandhar, owner, Sandhar Farms –

“Our participation in the B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program has been instrumental in propelling Sandhar Farms to leading the way into a new era of agricultural innovation. By embracing cutting-edge technologies through this program, such as the picking platform, we’ve experienced the profound benefits it brings, revolutionizing our operation. By enhancing efficiency and safety during use, the program has not only transformed our practices, but also positioned us for sustained success in British Columbia’s agriculture sector.”

Shelly Harris, manager, Camirlaney Farms –

“We really appreciate the support of the B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program. We upgraded our potato storage with a new computer panel and sensors so we can control the environment in the storages remotely and more efficiently. This will maintain potato quality longer, which allows us to extend our season.”

Quick Facts:

  • The B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program provides funding of as much as $150,000 for farmers to purchase technology to enhance profitability, productivity and efficiency.
  • The first intake of the program funded 54 projects throughout the province to purchase and install equipment, such as a soil-moisture and leaf-wetness sensor in a vineyard, automated composter for field crops and an automated water pump for a berry farm.
  • The next intake for the program will be this summer and will support farmers to purchase labour-saving technologies that target some of the most repetitive on-farm tasks.
  • The governments of Canada and British Columbia fund other programs through the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership that include technology adoption on farms, such as traceability programs that support adoption of new traceability technologies and the Beneficial Management Practices Program, which supports adoption of technologies that reduce environmental impact.
  • The B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program is part of a suite of programs offered by Innovate BC through the Integrated Marketplace initiative, which was developed by the Province of British Columbia as part of the StrongerBC Economic Plan and supported by PacifiCan.

Learn More:

To see the full list of the B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program funding recipients, visit: 
https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/Backgrounder_BC_On-Farm_Tech_Adopt_Program.pdf

B.C. On-Farm Technology Adoption Program:
https://www.innovatebc.ca/programs/bc-on-farm

Sustainable Canadian Agriculture Partnership Program:
https://agriculture.canada.ca/en/department/initiatives/sustainable-canadian-agricultural-partnership

For more about Innovate BC: https://www.innovatebc.ca/

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