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AI-powered solution boosts Canada's lentil crop health

By Jean-Paul McDonald

Today marks a key advancement in Canadian agriculture with the announcement of a pioneering project aimed at enhancing lentil crop health. A consortium of leaders from Canada's agrifood sector has joined forces to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) technology tailored to address major challenges faced by the nation's lentil growers.  

The initiative, supported by Protein Industries Canada, unites Ukko Agro, Hawk's Agro, and Three Farmers in a collaborative effort. 

The project's primary goal is to create an in-field platform using AI to predict and control two major diseases affecting lentil crops: anthracnose and Ascochyta blight. By leveraging AI, the partners aim to empower farmers and agronomists with better crop management strategies.  

This innovative approach is anticipated to reduce input costs, enhance disease management, and preserve yield potential, ultimately strengthening Canada's supply chain for ingredient processors and food manufacturers. 

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, emphasized the project's significance in transforming crop cultivation and reinforcing Canada's global leadership in innovative, data-driven agriculture.  

He noted the vital role of innovation and AI in addressing cross-sectoral challenges while promoting economic strength, resilient supply chains, and sustainability. 

Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada, highlighted the importance of collaboration across the ecosystem to ensure consistent crop and ingredient quality. He pointed out that this project not only addresses major disease concerns but also has the potential to benefit other plant-protein crops in the future. 

“Consistency of crop and ingredient quality is a key element of strengthening Canada’s domestic food supply chain. Collaboration across the ecosystem is the best way to establish and maintain this consistency in a sustainable manner,” Greuel said. “Together, our project partners are meeting this need, while also addressing major disease concerns for some of Canada’s most widely grown high protein crops. And with the technology’s potential to be expanded to other plant-protein crops in the future, this is a clear demonstration of how one successful cluster project can benefit the full value chain and ecosystem.” 

The technology, building upon Ukko Agro’s ForeSite platform, aims to commercialize AI technology to improve the sustainability of the lentil sector, increase yields, and strengthen the ingredient supply chain.  

Ketan Kaushish, Founder of Ukko Agro, expressed excitement about combining data science with plant science to aid decision-making about crop inputs. Dallas Funke from Hawk's Agro and Natasha Vandenhurk of Three Farmers echoed the enthusiasm for this project and its potential to revolutionize agronomic decision-making and healthy snacking in Canada. 

A total of $2.6 million has been committed to this project, with Protein Industries Canada investing $1.2 million and the partners contributing the remainder.  

This project forms part of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, highlighting the Government of Canada's commitment to fostering AI adoption across the country's economy and society. 

Through its first tranche of funding, Protein Industries Canada has already invested over $460 million into 55 technology and capacity-building projects within Canada's plant-based food, feed, and ingredient sector.  

This new AI initiative is expected to further enhance these efforts, integrating AI and machine learning (ML) technology to optimize processes and make them more sustainable. The outcome is anticipated to improve the functionality, taste, and nutrition profiles of Canada's plant-based products, marking a leap forward in sustainable agriculture and technological innovation in the agrifood sector. 

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