CORE Cleantech Cluster and Foresight recently released a roadmap landscape report focused on the agrifood industry in BC. It is clear that agriculture should have a pivotal role to play in meeting Canada’s climate goals, not just in cutting emissions and moving to renewable energy, but also in reducing atmospheric CO2 through the CO2 sequestration capacity of soil.
A growing body of research is showing that regenerative agriculture, supported by innovative technology, could be a major solution to climate change due to soil carbon sequestration.
Regenerative agriculture are practices that rebuild soil organic matter, such as cover cropping, crop rotation, reducing tillage and integrating livestock.
However, another critical principle of regenerative agriculture is minimizing use of pesticides, which can disrupt soil biotic communities — the very life that drives the process of soil carbon sequestration which is at the heart of regenerative agriculture.
For Dr. Saber Miresmailli, the founder and CEO of Ecoation, an agtech company headquartered in North Vancouver, BC (and a graduate Foresight company), the answer to reducing pesticides is to focus on the plants and assist growers with actionable timely intelligence.
The Data Driven Grower Assist OKO Cart
Ecoation team built and commercially deployed a platforms for greenhouses that provide real time projection of pests and diseases, spatial monitoring of climate and environmental conditions, and yield management/health data (such as number/size of plants, colour of the plants, waste on the ground, etc) as well as assessment of the quality of the crop work and integrity of the greenhouse.
The Human-AI Sandwich – Combining Human Knowledge with Machine Precision
In Dr. Miresmailli’s recent Ted talk, he poses a simple question: “In what capacity should we allow machines to run our farms?”
It’s an excellent question that he then goes on to answer:
“the knowledge of food production is a human heritage that deserves protection. We must capture and digitize the knowledge of expert growers.”
While robotics can be deployed for repetitive tasks such as picking or transportation, the intelligence, the AI systems, should operate in the service of human knowledge. They should take the knowledge of master growers and crop specialists beyond the boundaries of time and geography.
In other words – the Human-AI Sandwich. Humans tell the AI systems what to observe, what’s important, what the signals from the plants mean, the AI and sensing systems get to work ‘walking’ the greenhouse, observing, reporting, analysing, and then the humans step back in to understand, make recommendations and apply the knowledge from the AI system.
Ecoation technology empowers people by generating actionable intelligence and valuable insights beyond what they are currently able to do. The AI and the robotic systems take on the repetitive tasks so growers can focus on high cognitive activities and growing their plants.
The Two Era’s of Plant Intelligence Systems
Dr. Miresmailli sees a clear divide in what’s happening in the field of agtech and ‘smart growing’ such as the use of AI, robotics and sensors in greenhouses: a pre-covid era and a post-covid era.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, companies such as Ecoation were thought of as ‘emerging’, promising technologies that would be important over the long term.
Post-covid, everything is different. Their expertise is now an immediate need, and they are busy with selling their systems and integrating their technology into greenhouse operations all over the world.
With public health measures in place, workers and growers can’t simply go in and out of facilities anymore. Having AI-based robotic systems to monitor and connect to your crop remotely is increasingly important.
Also, as Dr. Miresmailli writes on the Ecoation blog, researchers and practitioners of integrated pest management have been flattening the curve for over 50 years. “COVID-19 got people thinking about flattening the curve” says Miresmailli, “One of the core principles of integrated pest management, besides identification and monitoring of pests and disease species, is establishing an action threshold for each pest. The goal is to flatten the pest and disease population curve below the economic injury level at all times.”
Regenerative agriculture and the significant promise of CO2 sequestration it can offer relies on healthy soils, healthy plants, and reducing the use of pesticides. Ecoation’s innovative technology offers a promising solution. They are building a global ‘centre for disease control’ for plant health and addressing some of today’s most significant and pressing problems in agriculture/food – food security, food safety, and pesticide use.
And they are listening to the plants.
About the Roadmap Landscape Series
CORE Cleantech Cluster and Foresight are producing a series of roadmap landscapes in the six sectors of CORE’s focus. The intent is to provide a snapshot of the roadmaps that exist in each, and how they are being used.
Download the Roadmap Landscape Report for the Agrifood sector to see the identified gaps in the required elements, as well as places where roadmaps either don’t exist or are insufficient to achieve the government’s targets for the Agriculture and Food sector in British Columbia.
About the Author
Diane Currie Sam
Content & Research Manager
Foresight Cleantech Accelerator
Diane is an award-winning writer, a corporate educator, and master storyteller with hands on expertise guiding the business communications of multi-million dollar companies. Diane is a strategic communicator with a broad base of experience in technology and entrepreneurship.
Her ability to combine solid research with good storytelling has helped bring in millions of dollars in investment, tax credits and business opportunities for entrepreneurial and high tech companies across Canada and the US. She has a Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of BC and a Masters of Arts in Psychology from Trinity Western University.