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USask Global Institute for Food Security partners on supercluster project


August 26, 2020
By Top Crop Manager

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University of Saskatchewan digital agriculture researchers are part of a new Protein Industries Canada (PIC) consortium that will develop technology to help lower pesticide use across Canada, making crop protection more efficient and providing economic benefits for farmers.

PIC is one of Canada’s five innovation superclusters. The $26.2-million PIC project on using artificial intelligence to target weeds and other pest crops is led by Precision.ai Inc., Sure Growth Technologies, Exceed Grain Marketing, and the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan. PIC is investing $12.8 million in the project, with the other partners investing the remaining $13.4 million.

“Collaboration between industry, government and universities is critical to accelerate ag tech research and advance Canada as a global leader in plant protein innovation to help feed a hungry world,” said Karen Chad, University of Saskatchewan vice-president, research.

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“We look forward to contributing our expertise in digital agriculture to help make crop production more efficient in Canada and around the world.”

University of Saskatchewan’s participation in the project will be led through the university’s Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre, managed by GIFS. The lead researcher is University of Saskatchewan computer scientist Ian Stavness, an expert in artificial intelligence and machine learning applied to agriculture.

“The aim is to develop new ways to spray weeds or other pests in a targeted way,” he said. “The university’s role is to develop a way to find out precisely where the weeds are so that they can be sprayed more efficiently to reduce pesticide use and help protect the environment. We will develop software to automatically sort through drone images of fields to identify weeds.”

Estimates show the new technology could reduce pesticide use by up to 95 per cent while maintaining crop yield, saving farmers about $52 per acre per growing season. The technology can be retrofitted to existing pesticide sprayers as well as to new sprayers, creating a product suitable for producers across Canada.

PIC CEO Bill Gruel said the new technology will have a tremendous effect on Canada’s plant-protein sector.

“Consumers want plant-protein products that were grown sustainably, without sacrificing quality or economic value. This is particularly true in international trade where, despite Canada’s reputation as a supplier of high-quality agri-foods, our products are facing increasing testing,” he said.

To strengthen market opportunities, commodities grown using the technology will be tested for international pesticide tolerance, protein content and flavour quality.