The Agri-tech Innovation Program encourages farmers to adopt technology that enhances safety and efficiency
By Jackie Clark
Yesterday Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, announced the Agri-tech Innovation Program, a cost sharing initiative to protect workers and improve efficiency through the adoption of innovative technology.
The $22 million program is part of the larger Agri-Food Prevention and Control Innovation Program, a three-year, $25.5 million initiative introduced in the fall provincial budget.
“Our government is investing in the adoption of technological innovations in the agri-food sector that will enhance and protect the workers’ health and wellness while also increasing the sector’s efficiency and productivity,” Hardeman said in the April 21 press conference.
“When we designed the program we made sure that the needs of both the large and small agri-food businesses will be taken into account,” he explained. The province collaborated with agricultural groups like the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association to map out an ideal future path for their sectors.
“We provided up to 1.4 million for this exercise which is wrapping up this month,” Hardeman said. “Now, we’re ready to launch the second stage of the Agri-Tech Innovation Program.”
The Agri-tech Innovation Program will help fund sector-specific, eligible advancements “that protect workers both in large and small businesses, where the risk of COVID-19 transmissions is the highest,” he explained. The program has two streams.
“The first stream will encourage businesses to implement advanced technologies that are not widely adopted within the sector,” Hardeman said. Examples include robotic or automated pruning or harvesting equipment.
“The next phase will support innovators or partnerships with innovators that want to be involved in piloting and assessing technological innovations such as robotics that will, in-turn, be usable by the sector,” he added. The initiative aims to “enhance worker protections, increase efficiencies and productivity, and help build the sector’s resilience.”
The intake for the first stream will open on May 17.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, proximity of workers has been a major challenge for worker health and safety, and necessary distancing protocol slows down productivity, Hardeman explained. Technology can improve both safety and productivity.
The program also has potential to address longer-term labour challenges in ag in Ontario.
The Agri-tech Innovation Program “is about both short-term and long-term goals, working through this pandemic and looking beyond it,” Peggy Brekveld, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, told Farms.com.
Where labour continues to be scarce, innovative technologies have the potential to fill the gap.
Hardeman encouraged all farm and agri-food business owners to think about how technology may improve their operation.
“I think every time there’s an opportunity to access funding farmers are quick to take a look and creatively think about how it might work in their business,” said Brekveld. “I think that every sector in agriculture has modernized and continues to be innovative as they move forward.”
In Ontario agriculrure “there is such a shortage of labour that every opportunity that we can use, technology and innovation, to help us better utilize the labour force that we have, is beneficial,” she explained.
Adopting innovative technology will continue to be “part of our solution on how to get the actual work done on the farm,” she added.
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