Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) experts are lending their expertise to a new initiative focused on improving food security in B.C. and around the world.
The B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation will bring together academia, government, and industry partners to create more productive, diverse, and resilient food-supply chains. While the center will be located at Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus, it will use the skills of experts from several post-secondary institutions, including KPU.
The provincial government is committing $6.5 million over three years to the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation and the federal government is providing as much as $10 million over five years through Pacific Economic Development Canada. Although the center is scheduled to open in September, it has already begun taking applications from small and medium-sized agriculture technology businesses throughout the province. The center will focus on developing, testing, and piloting solutions in simulated and real-world environments to be farm-ready for commercialization.
Assisting and supporting
Deepak Gupta, associate vice president for research, innovation, and graduate studies at KPU, says KPU's contributions will come in the form of research expertise and leading-edge facilities. "Startups require plenty of initial resources. KPU and other universities will assist by providing that initial support, whether through research, technology, or business planning," says Gupta.
Key to the B.C. Centre for Agritech is creating economic opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and helping agriculture technology businesses scale up, increase profits and create jobs. "Agricultural technology in B.C. is a fast-growing field. There is huge potential for small and medium-sized businesses. KPU is proud to help those businesses realize that potential while fostering research and innovation opportunities for undergraduate students at KPU," says Gupta.
The right collaboration
Dr. Deborah Henderson, director of the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture at KPU, says a number of industry partners are keen to work with KPU. "We have the facilities and expertise, and we're already working in agritech," says Henderson.
Henderson says the cost and scarcity of labor in agriculture emphasize the importance of technology in the sector. "This is very important for food security. Climate change is shifting the conditions under which we grow food, and we have to adapt. Technologies from diverse fields are being applied now to agriculture, making it possible to adapt to climate change while efficiently completing tasks that people don't want to do."
One project KPU is moving forward through the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation is with Aeroroot Systems, a Surrey-based startup company that commercializes sustainable agriculture through growing systems and passive greenhouses. The KPU team will be optimizing the growing methods of basil through aeroponics – the process of growing plants in an air-based system – while developing solutions to combat potential pests and diseases.
"Starting this fall, KPU will be developing standard operating procedures for vertical aeroponic farming equipment developed by Aeroroot systems," says Aeroroot president Peter Atwal. "Aeroroot believes that food can be grown locally and sustainably while being price competitive with large-scale, low-wage imports."
Ag innovation first and foremost
Agricultural innovation is a key focus of the KPU Applied Genomics Centre, a lab based at the university's Surrey campus that creates research opportunities for students in health science, biology, and horticulture. "Our focus is using genomics – the infrastructure, the people, the expertise that we have – to support the agriculture industry," says Dr. Paul Adams, director of the KPU Applied Genomics Centre and a faculty member in the Biology Department at KPU.
"There are many farmers interested in adopting new technologies to make their work more efficient, to make their products better and more sustainable."
Adams says the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation will provide another source of funding to engage in applied research with industry partners. "It's also a networking opportunity," he adds. "They are building a network with various industries and academic partners and trying to connect those people."
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