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Agri-tech conference in Abbotsford focuses on food security

More than two dozen speakers presented at event on Friday, Oct. 13
Agriculture Minister and Abbotsford-Mission MLA Pam Alexis was among the speakers at the Grounded Innovation conference Friday, Oct. 13 at the Abbotsford campus of University of the Fraser Valley. (Submitted photo)

A conference in Abbotsford on Friday (Oct. 13) brought together business, policy and academic leaders and others to talk about food security.

The Grounded Innovation: Agriculture and Food Summit was held at University of the Fraser Valley and hosted agri-tech leaders, educators, innovators and entrepreneurs.

The event featured more than two dozen speakers across four panels and one fireside chat.

One panel, Enabling Innovation, focused on discussing how tech, telecom and utility players are engaging with agriculture to support innovation, and featured speakers from Google, Microsoft, Telus and Dicklands Biogas (a partner of FortisBC).

Attendance was international, as several countries – including Switzerland, Mexico and India –were represented by their consul generals who attended the day.

Agriculture Minister Pam Alexis, the MLA for Abbotsford-Mission, said B.C. is already at the forefront when it comes to using and developing new technology to support sustainable farming practices.

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“By gathering, exchanging ideas, building relationships, and taking the next steps together, we will build on this momentum. When farmers and tech creators work together, there’s so much potential to increase food production and strengthen our food security, economy and environment,” she said.

Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens said that by bringing together “some of the brightest minds and leaders” for events such as Grounded Innovation “we are we are well on our way to enhancing agriculture innovation across our country and even better protecting our food security.”

“It is the blending of innovation and technology, when applied to the agriculture food-processing sectors, that brings endless possibilities for our community, our province and our country,” he said.

First Nations representatives also attended, stressing the importance of all sides working together.

“Fighting each other for our lands is quite difficult, and building relationships is part of healing – not only for us as human beings, but for Mother Earth. If we can’t come together as one and work together and build a relationship where we can move forward, I don’t think there’s a chance out there,” said Paula Olmstead of Semá:th First Nation.

Murray Ned, executive director of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, said western science has been the “driver for decision making and the development of policy.”

“Indigenous knowledge is yet to be incorporated into that kind of work. We’re hoping one day soon it will be, because we feel we have enough scientists within our own Nations, within our own Lower Fraser area, that would really help the western science,” he said.

Gavin Dew, chief strategy officer for the Abbotsford Tech District (the founding sponsor of the event), was critical of policy makers, saying they need to get past the “shop talk” and the reports.

”I think we do have a fundamental problem – it’s bigger than ag, it’s a problem that we have in Canada. We have become a, frankly, uninvestable jurisdiction in the eyes of some capital because it is so difficult to do things,” he said.

“We have so much incredible potential — and we’ve seen so much of it on display here (at the conference) – but as a region, as a province, as a country, we need to get into the business of doing things.”

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Other speakers discussed challenges such as water quality and availability, the lack of support for innovation, and the impact on small farms.

“B.C. is hemorrhaging small farms at an incredible rate — it’s accelerated rapidly, particularly since the floods and fires,” said Dr. Lenore Newman, director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at UFV.

“One of the key tricks is how to use ag-tech to stabilize those smaller operators rather than drive them further out. There is definitely policy and red-tape fatigue.”

Other speakers represented organizations such as the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, the Abbotsford Innovation Network, the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation, the B.C. Agriculture Council, Lucent BioSciences, Mitacs, Nutriva Group and Rainbow Greenhouses.

The Grounded Innovation: Agriculture and Food Summit on Friday, Oct. 13 featured several panels. The event was held at the Abbotsford campus of University of the Fraser Valley. (Submitted photo)

Abbotsford News Staff

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