Ontario helps agricultural innovation grow with up to $22 million investment

The funding is going to university and startup AgTech projects.

A self-driving tractor that includes data collection, and an automated colour sorter machine for the grading and sorting of soybeans are among the more than 170 projects receiving funding from the Ontario government.

The province is investing up to $22 million through its Agri-Tech Innovation Program. The government said that the investment will help Ontario’s agri-food sector find new ways to create future growth for businesses, while strengthening the food supply chain.

The funding is in addition to a $2.4 million investment by the governments of Canada and Ontario through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) to support future innovations in more than 20 projects. It is expected Ontario Agri-Food Research Initiative recipients will use those funds to turn innovative ideas into marketable products and technologies.

The list of recipients includes the University of Waterloo and Toronto startup Vivid Machines, which is working with apple orchards to develop spectral sensor and computer vision tech to digitize specialty crop production.

“Adapting innovation and technology is key to the success of our agri-food sector,” said Lisa Thompson, Ontario’s minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. “This is why we’re investing in innovations that will build a stronger, more resilient sector for years to come.”

Another project being developed from the new funding under the Agri-Tech Innovation program is an automated turkey packaging processor, which is supposed to reduce employee risk of exposure to COVID-19, workplace-related injuries and address shortages in the meat processing sector.

An example of the projects in development under the CAP include developing technology for the creation of a non-plastic material for use in horticulture and food packaging and that would also help prevent soil erosion. The funds are also going toward investigating the feasibility of alternative energy sources for field crop and livestock producers in Ontario.

This latest funding announcement comes during a period of increased innovation coupled with financing in the AgTech sector. Rio Investment Partners announced the launch of a new VC fund in 2019 focused on agrifood, AgTech, and food-tech investing across North America.The Canadian Agri-Food Automation and Intelligence Network (CAAIN), a $108.5 million project aimed at developing exportable farming solutions, received an investment of up to $49.5 million from the federal government in 2019 as well.

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More recently, Emmertech, the AgTech fund Conexus Venture Capital launched last year, secured an additional $15 million CAD in its final closing, bringing its total fund size to $60 million. The final number surpassed Emmertech’s goal of $55 million, as the venture firm aims to fuel early-stage investment in the AgTech sector and make Canada a “dominant” player on the global stage.

Following a $100 million raise, Semios, a Vancouver-based AgTech company, secured $25 million in growth capital financing from CIBC Innovation Banking in 2020. Semios provides an IoT network of over one million sensors that monitor and predict insect, disease, water, and frost risk, in near real-time. The AgTech start-up then proceeded to raise another $100 million in 2021 to help build out its acquisition strategy.

And AgTech startup Precision AI, which aims to support sustainable farming practices with computer vision technology, closed $20 million in seed equity capital and grant funding in 2021 to advance its precision farming platform.

Back in Ontario, as part of the CAP, the Ontario Agri-food Research Initiative worked with the Bioenterprise Corporation OAFRI – Commercialization Stream. OAFRI is a national nonprofit business accelerator that offers funding for commercialization and innovation to help foster the economic development of the sector.

OAFRI was launched in 2019 and, to date, has invested $6.6 million into more than 50 projects that focus on food safety, trade, rural development, market and growth opportunities, increasing productivity through automation, and bio-based production systems.

The CAP is a five-year, $3 billion investment by federal, provincial, and territorial governments to strengthen the agriculture and agri-food sector, ensuring continued innovation, growth and prosperity. This commitment includes $2 billion for programs that are cost-shared by the federal, provincial and territorial governments and are designed and delivered by provinces and territories.

Since June 2018, both the federal and provincial governments have committed over $110 million in cost-shared support to more than 5,500 projects through the partnership to spur innovation and growth for eligible Ontario farmers, processors, businesses, and sector organizations.

Photo by Chris Ensminger on Unsplash

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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