The province is investing $343 million in the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance over the next five years.
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The Alliance is a collaboration between Ontario, the University of Guelph and the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario that supports and drives agri-food research and innovation.
Why it matters: Ontario’s continued financial support of agri-food research, technology and innovation should increase food production and competitiveness.
“Using our expertise, the university leverages this government investment to protect plant and animal health, guard against new disease and environmental challenges, safeguard Ontario’s food supply and support leading agri-food innovation,” said University of Guelph president Charlotte Yates.
Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said most consumers don’t consider the research, innovation and commercialization process that goes into making new products market available, like Ontario-grown strawberries in November.
“The research conducted here at the University of Guelph and across the province is truly leading edge innovative, and most importantly, attracting attention from around the world,” she said.
Funding for the Alliance supports programming to help farmers and the broader agri-food sector advance the science, research, innovation and commercialization of new products. It also helps in building a skilled workforce, maintaining a network of research centres and managing threats to food production and food security.
Yates said the labour shortage is driving automation innovation in cases where tech substitution is possible.
“Substituting technology is also a sign of the success of our agri-food sector, because unless we had a very sophisticated agri-food sector with a good business model, they could not possibly adopt those technologies.”
Yates added that new and ongoing collaboration between agriculture and other academic streams, such as engineering for artificial intelligence and robotic development or mathematics for data dissemination and analysis, helps attract and retain entrepreneurs in Ontario.
Thompson said there were 100 business meetings during a recent trade mission at which farmers, processors and commodity representatives promoted Ontario products.
“That opportunity to position ourselves around the world is based on research and innovation,” she said.
“We essentially are facilitating more economic growth opportunities, not only for the province but, more importantly, for the agri-food sector.”
Thompson said she is confident Ontario can grow its production by 30 per cent over the next decade with an eight per cent increase in exports year over year.
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Malcolm Campbell, vice-president of research at the University of Guelph, said on a year-to-year basis, the Alliance addresses industry priorities such as avian influenza, African swine fever and emerging pathogens.
The funding renewal allows the Alliance to build on five years of work since the government’s previous agreement launched in 2018.
Thompson said earlier investment of $335 million resulted in a $1.4 billion increase in the province’s GDP and supported 1,300 jobs.
In addition, it led to creation of new Ontario businesses, including Clēan Works, a $7 million agri-food innovator of a waterless process for decontaminating fresh and frozen produce, proteins, dried goods and shipping containers.
It helped spawn Escarpment Labs, which provides yeast cultures for local and global beer production, and Psigryph Inc., named one of Canada’s most investable clean tech companies by Foresight Canada for its naturally derived nano-delivery technology designed to improve human, animal and environmental health.
“By continuing our long-standing partnership with the University of Guelph, our government is demonstrating its commitment to Ontario’s agri-food research infrastructure, providing knowledge transfer and research-driven results to farmers to boost their competitiveness now and into the future,” said Thompson.