From the Editor: Making automated agtech accessible
May 25, 2022 By Alex Barnard
I recently attended a webinar hosted by our sister publication, Greenhouse Canada, on automation in horticulture. With the continuing labour issues faced by the Canadian horticulture sector, automation is being considered as an option more frequently. However, that doesn’t change the steep investment of money and time to purchase, learn and maintain the equipment, especially for the more rural, remote growers.
So, what can be done to make automated agtech more accessible and cost-effective? Several useful suggestions that came out of the webinar’s discussion between Niki Bennett of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, Michael Curry of Mycionics, and Dave Smardo of Bioenterprise Canada.
All three commented on how making certain parts of agtech development open source – publicly accessible to use, modify and share – would speed up the development and commercialization phases in many cases, and would also likely lower costs. This would mean that each individual start-up or developer isn’t required to reinvent the wheel or tackle the same base issues before approaching the more niche or solution-oriented aspects.
There will always be elements of competition in agtech creation – that’s how capitalism works, after all – but there are major benefits to including some collaboration, too. There are enough issues in agriculture and horticulture – labour among them – that there’s plenty of room for more solutions if they address the root issue.
And who better to identify the root issues than the farmers who will be using the automated tech? Smardon noted the importance of farmer and producer organizations setting the standards for automated agtech standardization. This would work together with Bennett’s request for easy integration with existing tech or across platforms – not having a barn full of one-function tech is preferable.
Curry commented on how using robots or automated hardware as a service – renting rather than purchasing – is one way to make the tech more accessible to a wider range of growers. It would also allow growers to access more up-to-date innovations, which would be a major factor in a field where growth is erratic or exponential rather than linear.
Speaking of growth, we ran our second annual Top 4 Under 40 contest this past February and found four more of the Canadian fruit and vegetable industry’s best and brightest. Last year’s crop set a high bar, but I think you’ll agree that Alex Chesney, Jason Lanoue and Nick Vranckx are certainly outstanding in their field. Find out more about these up-and-comers on page 8 and be sure to tune in to listen to conversations with them as part of our Top 4 Under 40 podcast series.
New for this season: we’re running a cover photo contest from May 1 to Sept. 30, with the winning photo featured in our November issue. We’ll also be highlighting one photo each week in our eNewsletter, so be sure to subscribe for some inspiration. The full contest rules and regulations are available at fruitandveggie.com/photo-contest. Looking forward to getting a glimpse of your operations!
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