British Columbia is renowned for its work in sustainability across sectors.
One of the most important areas to manage efficiency of resources is in food production and related industries. Everybody will always need to eat, after all, so this remains a critical area to find sustainable energy practices for.
Several BC startups are taking on a wide range of issues connected to this overall mission of innovating food systems for growth, resilience, and sustainability.
Let’s take a look at a few.
Founded in 2010, Vancouver-based Semios offers “Precision Agriculture as a Service“ that started with real-time crop data and pest management tools for growers of tree fruit, nuts and other permanent crops.
“Semios is on a mission to simplify the grower’s experience, leveraging big data analytics and machine learning to help them mitigate crop risk so they can focus on growing more food, more sustainably,” Dr. Michael Gilbert, CEO of Semios, stated last year.
The Canadian company has raised a lot of money.
With more than 120 million acres of row and permanent crops under management today, Semios serves growers, agronomists, and retailers across several countries including the US, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa with solutions as diverse as farm management planning, logistics and execution, record keeping, agronomy and automation.
Bioform Technologies turns kelp and wood fibre, both of which are plentiful in BC, into thin yet durable bioplastic films. The UBC startups says these films can then be used for applications like agricultural mulch film, to regulate soil moisture and protect crops, or rigid packaging products.
The maneuver performs double-duty: utilizing used and renewable resources to create a natural plastic-like material, thus reducing new plastic creation, which pollutes.
“Polyethylene can stay in the soil for decades and cause significant environmental contamination,” says cofounder Dr. Jordan MacKenzie, who holds a PhD in fluid mechanics. “As well, food packaging waste is a long-standing problem—tonnes of beverage lids end up in the landfill because they’re almost impossible to recycle.”
The Canadian Food Innovation Network recently invested in Bioform via The Food Innovation Challenge.
The province’s varied topography, soils and climatic conditions make it possible for farmers to produce over 250 commodities for domestic consumption and export. BC’s growth in agriculture has outpaced the national growth rate over ten years and in 2002 generated revenues of more than $2.2 billion.
However, less than 5% of total provincial land is arable and suitable for farming, according to the BC government. This means optimizing usable land is crucial.
The BC government funds and leverages technology to help local farmers maximize yield and minimize risk. Recently they implemented the Decision Aid System in key fruit-bearing regions of BC, utilizing tech called the Decision Aid System first developed by Washington State University’s Agricultural Research Center.
Tree-fruit growers and their orchards will benefit from time-sensitive advice about pest management, which will help stabilize the sector and strengthen the province’s food security, according to a statement from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
Langley-based CubicFarms has created its own vertical farming system. The company’s controlled environment agriculture technology grows commercial-scale amounts of fresh produce in modular, food-grade steel systems using the company’s proprietary Crop Motion Technology—moving plants throughout the system ultimately using less water, land, energy, and labour.
The company has s0ld dozens of its modules to multiple different buyers in BC.
“Building and operating vertical farms in Western Canada has a purpose of providing communities with better access to delicious fresh food year-round without importing,” said John Tang, CEO of NTE Discovery Park, a Cubic customer.
In 2020, the global vertical farming market was estimated at $3.2 billion and is expected to reach $24 billion by 2030.
Vancouver’s ThisFish is on a mission to improve the social, environmental, and financial sustainability of the seafood industry.
Their proprietary Tally software automates and digitizes the collection of production, quality control, and traceability data in seafood processing plants. Through the use of handheld tablets and IoT devices, Tally can provide real-time data while helping processing plants save valuable time, money, and resources.
Last year they won the virtual THRIVE Canada Challenge, taking home top billing in the agtech startup category.
In 2020 they placed in the Top 10 of the New Ventures BC Competition in 2020.