WESTERN PRODUCER — Canada has an enriching opportunity to become one of the winners of the global race to develop sustainable agriculture, says The Next Green Revolution report.
But that opportunity is unlikely to be seized if Canada doesn’t invest a lot more money in agricultural sustainability research and development.
“Canada’s heft in global agricultural markets, its longstanding expertise in crop science and its newfound strength in artificial intelligence and data science, position us well to lead in some areas of this race,” says the report, authored by Royal Bank of Canada, the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute and Boston Consulting Group.
“Yet when it comes to drawing private investment to homegrown innovation, we’re falling behind. Of roughly US$36 billion in global venture capital and private equity investments in ag-tech since 2017, Canada received just three percent, or $1 billion. The U.S. captured $20 billion.”
The report, subtitled How Canada Can Produce More Food and Fewer Emissions, sees a future Canada that can be a global leader in meeting the twin challenges of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in total while simultaneously increasing agricultural production.
The biggest contributors to Canadian farming’s GHG emissions are fertilizers, cattle digestion and manure. If those sources can be made to emit less, then production should be able to increase while seeing emissions fall.
Technologies such as anerobic digesters for manure, carbon capture for operations like fertilizer manufacturing, and feed additives that reduce cattle burps and farts could slash emissions by enough to allow more beef, pork, wheat, canola and everything else in crops and livestock expand total production substantially while causing fewer GHGs reaching the atmosphere.
However, those technologies, while theoretically game-changing, are only beginning to be developed in a way that could work, or be afforded, in commercial agriculture.
More investment, much more, is required to develop these technologies for Canadian conditions and production systems.
There is also need for much research on the concept and implementation of regenerative agriculture, a production system the report authors believe offers a way of farming that is inherently sustainable.
However, Canadian agricultural research and development is being crippled by a lack of venture capital and private equity investment, the report says. Huge amounts of private money have flowed in U.S. agricultural sustainability research, but little in Canada.
“Of total global private equity and venture capital investment of roughly US$10 billion since 2017, our ventures in crop genetics have drawn only $82 million.”
Also, when investors put money into Canadian agricultural research, it’s mostly focused on productivity boosting, such as with digitization and automation, not sustainability improvements.
The report sees great potential for enclosed production systems such as greenhouses and vertical farms, as well as with lab-grown meat and dairy and precision fermentation. These technologies could substitute Canadian-grown vegetable, fruit and animal (cell) protein products for imported foods. These systems require much research and investment.
Canada is also falling short on producing the young science and technology developers that future innovations will be based upon.
Getting private investment into agricultural sustainability research is essential so that government funding doesn’t make up most of the funding.
“While Canadian researchers continue to rely on public investment, other countries including the U.S., are seeing most of their overall research dollars come from the private sector,” says the report.
“Competing in the next era of agriculture will depend on our ability to mobilize more of this capital.”