When people are asked to name the most innovative industries in North America, Canada’s beef and dairy sectors probably aren’t the first ones to come to mind. But it turns out the agrifood business in our country has been undergoing a rapid and dramatic evolution for a number of years now—and it’s going to need to keep on innovating if it’s going to meet one of the most pressing challenges of our time; climate change. Because while the beef and dairy industries contribute more than $40 billion to the economy, they’re also a key source of one of the most potent greenhouse gases; methane. So which new technologies, data systems, and processes will be critical if Canada is going to meet the needs of a growing population while simultaneously reducing emissions?
That’s the central question at the heart of this second episode in a special, three-part series, “The Growing Challenge”, this fall on Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Join co-hosts John Stackhouse and Trinh Theresa Do as they share first-hand insights from their own experiences, and speak with guests working up and down the beef and dairy supply chain, like Dr. Calvin Booker, a veterinarian and General Manager for Services and Research at Telus Agriculture and Consumer Goods; Alison Sunstrum, the CEO of CNSRV-X Inc and General Partner of The51 Food and AgTech Fund; and John van Logtenstein, the vice-president of Dairy Lane Systems and DLS Biogas, and Kristjan Hebert, managing partner of Hebert Grain Ventures.
Together, they discuss the skills, talent, technology, and innovation that are needed to maximize production while minimizing our environmental impact—and make Canada a world leader in sustainable agriculture without compromising on its Net Zero goals.
You can learn more about Telus Agriculture and Consumer Goods and its commitment to a sustainable value chain here. CNSRV-X is working on advanced technology solutions for agriculture and carbon markets—read all about it on their website. Follow this link to explore the work of The51 Food and Agtech fund, and these two to read up on the people and processes at Dairy Lane Systems and DLS Biogas. And Kristjan Hebert has his own website, as does his company, Hebert Grain Ventures.
Speaker 1 [00:00:00] Hi. It’s John here.
Speaker 2 [00:00:02] And it’s Theresa.
Speaker 1 [00:00:03] Theresa, I wonder if you could close your eyes for a moment and picture a farm. For a lot of people listening, the scene probably hasn’t changed too much over the years or decades. There’s a red barn, black and white cow, a tractor, even wheat waving in the wind.
Speaker 2 [00:00:22] It’s an iconic Canadian image, but when you zoom in on that image these days, it’s changing fast.
Speaker 1 [00:00:28] I know you spent a lot of time over the last number of months visiting farms and ag facilities as part of our research into emerging Agtech. So take us there.
Speaker 2 [00:00:39] I visited a dairy farm outside of London, Ontario, where milk production has gone fully digital, with an automated system controlling flows from one step to the next. It was really high tech, and this place was also installing an anaerobic digester, which is this massive facility that turns manure. And there’s a lot of manure into biogas. Another place I visited was a vertical farm in Guangzhou, where I saw stacks on stacks and stacks of imagined seedlings that are tagged with radio frequency, ideas that are growing under LED lights and controlled air flows. There was automated robotic machinery everywhere I looked, and the farmers, they weren’t wearing overalls, but lab coats. It was all super eye opening. John And I’m sure you felt the same way when you had a chance to tour some facilities in B.C. and Alberta earlier this year.
Speaker 1 [00:01:28] Yeah, some of the best high tech operations in the country are in agriculture. In fact, the best blockchain conversations I get exposed to tend to be with farmers and ag producers. They are racing ahead in the data economy. I was reminded of this on a visit earlier this year to Lethbridge in southern Alberta, where there are massive feedlots largely serving the US market and big operations like McDonald’s. And the farm operators there explained to me how data and blockchain is helping them better market their beef in the US and elsewhere. And in many ways that’s the future of agriculture.
Speaker 2 [00:02:07] As we mentioned on the last episode, meat and dairy production between both burps and manure account for a large part of Canada’s agriculture emissions. So this is a big area of focus.
Speaker 1 [00:02:17] There’s also huge financial stakes. Dairy production alone contributes almost $20 billion to Canada’s GDP, and beef production accounts for nearly $22 billion. These are really important strategic industries, especially at a time when countries around the world are knocking on Canada’s door, looking to us to help feed their growing populations.
Speaker 2 [00:02:39] And so if we’re going to tackle this challenge in a serious way, both in Canada and around the world, a critical puzzle that we need to solve is how to maximize agriculture’s potential as a climate solution, and specifically how to make the meat and dairy sectors climate friendlier, as we’ve both seen firsthand on innovation is going to be a huge driver of that.
Speaker 1 [00:02:59] Absolutely. We’ve heard this from farmers and techies around the country. Agtech is already playing a huge role in boosting productivity while reducing emissions from the meat and dairy industry. There are a number of fascinating tech revolutions underway, which is exactly where we’re going to go today. This is Disruptors an RBC podcast. I’m John Stackhouse.
Speaker 2 [00:03:29] And I’m Theresa Do. This is the second in a special three part series on Disrupters that we’re calling The Growing Challenge. We’re exploring how Canada, using cutting edge technology, data, systems and smart thinking, can help feed a growing world and how we can do it sustainably. Last week we talked about what will it take for Canada to assume that leadership role? And we heard from some of the farmers who are already using technology to produce more food, more sustainably. Green farmer Kristjan Heibert told us how technology used on his farm supports both his production goals and Canada’s climate targets.
Speaker 3 [00:04:13] I got weather stations with four foot soil probes that are reporting to my phone every 15 minutes now of how the water is moving through the soil. All the roots are moving through the soil. Kind of what? The yield algorithm is off of that and then correlating all the stations together, just the speed of which we can collect data and use AI to start to learn more and more than we currently know. I think the changes you’re going to see in the next decade will make what happened in the last decade small.
Speaker 1 [00:04:37] So there’s clearly innovation in grain farming, and the changes on Canada’s dairy and beef farms are no less dramatic. Productivity is up, way up. If you look at a typical dairy farm, each cow produces more than two and a half times as much milk as it did in the 1960s.
Speaker 2 [00:04:53] And a lot of that is thanks to the work of animal health experts who have mined the data to help transform how we raise and feed livestock. To get into this, I first want to introduce Calvin Booker, who’s witnessed Canada’s barnyard evolution firsthand.
Speaker 3 [00:05:10] I’m Calvin Booker. I’m a veterinarian and work at Tulsa Agriculture and Consumer Goods, where I’m the general manager on the Animal Health Team in charge of services and research. I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. Our farm was located about 35 miles southeast of Saskatoon, and we had both purebred simmental cattle and a thousand or 1500 acres of grain land.
Speaker 1 [00:05:33] Calvin was in the Forage Club for 11 years. He knew early on that he wanted to work with animals, but in a more scientific way, which is what drove him to attend veterinary school and then grad school. And he took a particular interest in how technology and data systems can be used to improve animal health and boost sustainability.
Speaker 3 [00:05:52] When I was going to vet school, it was lots of talk about herd health programs and how veterinarians could work very closely with producers and provide consultative information and data insights and analysis that would help them make better decisions. But there weren’t that many people doing it in practice in any of the animal production species. There were some innovators in each of the species in the feedlot industry. Dr. Keith Jim was one of those innovators.
Speaker 2 [00:06:18] So, John, as you know, a key Jim is the founder of Feedlot Health, the company Calvin joined in 1982, which was bought by Tell US Agriculture in 2020. Tell us realized the potential of this data driven approach, which helps calf grower and feedlot clients across North America to collect animal data. Because ultimately access to data has the potential to do three main things in Canada’s meat and dairy industry boost overall animal health, drive product efficiencies, and promote sustainable outcomes like emissions reduction and monitoring.
Speaker 1 [00:06:50] Right. And for anyone who might be wondering what’s so important about feedlots, why not just keep the cows in fields? Calvin has an answer.
Speaker 3 [00:06:58] In Canada, because we’re in a very temperate climate where we have winter. The majority of the beef cows calve in the first five or six months of the year and in the fall of the year we’ve got winter coming again. And so most of those calves get weaned because they’re no longer be out grazing on grasslands and need to be fed, stored feeds. So we’ve got a whole bunch of our production system that’s stacked up at once, but yet we want to have beef coming through the production system and available to go into stores for consumers 365 days a year. So we spend the rest of the time spreading that production cycle out so that we’ve got animals that are ready to come to slaughter throughout the year. I think the emphasis on the feedlot side comes because as we put animals together in bigger groups of animals and put them into these fattening operations, it gives us more opportunities to use technology. It gives us greater control over what happens.
Speaker 2 [00:07:52] By the way, John, we should note that there has been a lot of discussion about whether field raised cows are better for the planet.
Speaker 1 [00:07:58] Not such a straightforward question. As it turns out, it’s complicated.
Speaker 2 [00:08:02] Several past studies have actually found lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with the feedlot system. And one reason is that grass fed cows gain weight more slowly so they produce more methane, mostly in the form of burps over their longer lifespans. But then again, there are other dimensions to consider soil health, carbon and landscape health, for instance. Pro pastoralists argue that grazing cattle can help restore grasslands and soil sequestering massive amounts of CO2 in the process. But how well this works really depends on the number of cows, the size of the fields and the conditions. For instance, if it’s too wet, carbon uptake is impeded.
Speaker 1 [00:08:40] One thing’s for sure the reality on the ground, and we learned this from Kalvin, is that Canada has a startling geographic concentration of feedlots. Over 70% of all feedlot production takes place in Alberta, most of it in southern Alberta.
Speaker 2 [00:08:54] And these are big operations. Calvin says, Telus the smallest customers in Canada hold about 500 animals at a time, while the largest can hold about 70,000 animals at once. A lot of cows in one place means a lot of methane, which makes the role of data and tech all the more important. Farmers and veterinarians need tools to get a lens onto what’s really going on with animal health and emissions.
Speaker 1 [00:09:18] Today, digital tools allow Telus Agriculture to connect with feedlots across Canada, the US and Mexico. This helps their team of vets and scientists understand what’s really happening inside those operations to make them more efficient and more sustainable. But as Calvin tells it, if you go back 30 years, it was a very different story.
Speaker 3 [00:09:38] I remember the first computers that we put should side in feedlots in western Canada in 1985 because $13,000 per machine and they had 64 kilobytes of RAM. So if you had a big feedlot that had more than one handling facility, animals were in one computer or the other, but you certainly couldn’t get them to talk to one another. Any information or reports that we were going to generate at that time, we had to run it off that computer where the animals records were located. So it’s come a long way today. All the systems that we work with overnight sync with our office and update all the newest data to our servers in the cloud in our office. And as veterinarians or the animal scientists, nutritionists, we can access that data anywhere in the world to help producers, anywhere in the world make decisions and understand what’s happening in their operations.
Speaker 1 [00:10:27] It sounds a bit like telehealth for cows. It’s kind of similar to the growing online health care options for humans.
Speaker 2 [00:10:34] And you might be wondering what cow health has to do with emissions reduction. Well, for starters, more access to remote care means less jetting around and fewer greenhouse gases. It’s a better use of the time and precious resources needed to feed these cattle and operate these farms so it becomes a more sustainable operation all around.
Speaker 1 [00:10:52] But, you know, where is this all going? What’s the end goal for the meat and dairy industries? Here’s Calvin again.
Speaker 3 [00:10:59] As I look to the future, I think there’s all sorts of possibilities. Technology gives us a whole bunch of different options that we didn’t have before. The ability to have technical experts, whether those are veterinarians or nutritionists, and the animal scientists connected with producers of all sizes, not just large producers, but small producers, kind of on demand on a daily basis. That excites me because that allows the expertize to connect with the farmers and ranchers that are on the ground doing things and helping them make better decisions on a daily basis. That’s got to be more efficient and more sustainable in the long run than meeting with someone once or twice a year and set them up for the best of things, and then pat them on the back and saying, Well, good luck. We’ll talk to you in six months and see how it went. Going forward, I think we have a bright new future to be able to have better outcomes.
Speaker 1 [00:11:49] You know, Theresa, the sort of tech optimism that Calvin Booker has is something you hear again and again the more you talk to people in Canadian agriculture. Sure, there are a lot of farmers toiling away in their fields, but more and more of them recognize that technology can make their jobs easier, more efficient and more sustainable, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and even opening up exciting new revenue streams in some of the least glamorous aspects of their operations.
Speaker 2 [00:12:14] I assume you’re talking about biogas, and we do need to talk about it because methane capture is so critical to greenhouse gas reduction. There are some cool new technologies harnessing the power of anaerobic bacteria. These little digesters that are helping us solve the big climate issues in agriculture and their Canadian businesses are at the forefront of doing this.
Speaker 3 [00:12:36] So I’m Jamil Lichtenstein from Dallas. Biogas. We’ve been involved in the biogas industry since 2010. I own the company with my brother and sister, and that’s been an exciting time in the industry.
Speaker 1 [00:12:47] So while Calvin Booker and tell us are very much focused on the inputs for. Wired to feed cattle and keep them healthy. John van Liechtenstein has his eyes firmly focused on, well, the outputs. Manure, to be precise. He’s literally turning it into fuel. John’s parents bought what was originally a dairy milking equipment business back in 1990. But John and his two siblings transformed it with the creation of DHL’s Biogas.
Speaker 3 [00:13:13] So we are doing manure management equipment. We’re actually starting to do a scraper. As I collected the manure, brought it to the back of the barn. Then we started to get involved, the pumps, to kind of move that manure around. We were already dealing with all the pumps and the material and everything, so we started doing biogas, which was kind of like a natural fit there.
Speaker 2 [00:13:31] It’s really remarkable to see how some of these agricultural operations are reinventing themselves, John. So much innovation. And it’s worth noting the farms that Dairy Lane Systems works with are not the only ones investigating the whole biogas thing. According to RBC Economics, Canada currently has 279 biogas projects capturing methane from agricultural and community waste, and they now generate enough energy to replace nine large hydro dams.
Speaker 1 [00:14:00] On the other hand, I read that only 13% of available biogas energy production is actually being tapped in Canada, at least so far. So there is definitely room to grow and that growth is starting to happen.
Speaker 3 [00:14:12] I would say in the last two years there has been such an uptake in discussions around putting biogas plants on farms. We are constantly getting calls, probably one per week of somebody that’s asking us to at least help them explore the feasibility of putting a biogas plant on their facility.
Speaker 1 [00:14:34] It’s exciting, and for some farms it’s a clear opportunity to develop an income stream that otherwise wouldn’t exist, especially in the supply managed world of Canadian dairy.
Speaker 3 [00:14:44] We talk about that next generation coming on and some of these farms are not big enough to have two kids or three kids join the family farm and split that income three ways. Biogas represents another opportunity for them to grow and keep expanding their operations so they can bring and keep another family member on the operation. So I think there’s several factors, but I do think that part of it is definitely seeing if they can help with that GHG reduction target.
Speaker 1 [00:15:10] I find this so interesting, his idea of essentially running a biogas power plant on farms, which is an entirely different line of business from traditional farming. And it brings up other questions like what’s the return on investment for something like this? And how long would it take for farms to realize benefits from adding this kind of tech to their operations?
Speaker 2 [00:15:29] Right. Well, I know it takes a few years for a digester to be installed. They’re huge. And then for profitability to be realized. I’ve actually visited a farm that’s installing this, and the profitability equation is critical. If the economics don’t work or if, say, government subsidies disappear, farmers will not be incentivized to undertake this.
Speaker 1 [00:15:49] It really speaks to the need to invest in Canadian farms and farming communities as they grapple with these kinds of changes. It’s to everyone’s benefit and the planets. If we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process.
Speaker 2 [00:16:01] Something to keep talking about and keep an eye on for sure. I also think our listeners would appreciate some clarification on the actual mechanics of this technology.
Speaker 1 [00:16:11] Yeah, me as well. So I asked John about that. Here’s how he explained it.
Speaker 3 [00:16:15] The way I describe it is it’s basically acting like a stomach. You have a concrete tank, or it could be a steel tank that’s inserted, let’s say, between the farm and their long term storage for their manure. And that manure ends up funneling in from the barn into that digester. In that concrete tank, it’s heated up to 38 degrees, which is roughly body temperature. It’s agitated to keep it homogenized and keep stuff from settling out while you’re heating it up. You have a dome over top of this concrete tank that collects the gas that’s generated and you extract that gas, you clean it, and you can either run it through an engine. And if you run through an engine, you’re running it straight, biogas, which is about 60% methane. Or you can clean it up with biogas, upgrader to around 98% methane, which scrubs some of the impurities and then brings it up to a natural gas quality. And then you inject it into the natural gas pipeline. Simple.
Speaker 1 [00:17:16] Clear as something, right? I actually learned a lot about this from John. Once the gas is extracted. They take the leftover liquid, what he calls digestate. And that either goes into storage or gets applied to the land on your farm, or in some instances, remaining fibers from the liquid are separated out and turned into bedding for the farm’s animals.
Speaker 2 [00:17:36] That is very cool. But the thing I still wonder about this is the cost of the digester technology. Based on my research, it makes enough sense for operations with 500 plus milking cows, but it’s pretty hard to stomach. So to speak, for those with less than 100 animals.
Speaker 1 [00:17:54] That’s true. But John thinks there is a solution, a kind of co-op model for smaller dairy farmers who want to use the digester technology, which in Canada, where the average dairy farm has only about 85 milking cows. That means most farmers.
Speaker 3 [00:18:08] Yes, it’s 100% a function of scale. There’s those fixed costs that don’t change enough with volume reductions or gas volume reductions that kind of make it more difficult to help the needs of the smaller or the average sized Canadian farm. I really think it comes down to community based digesters. So having six local farms bringing their manure in. But there’s economic challenges to that as well because trucking manure is not super appealing from an economic standpoint.
Speaker 1 [00:18:40] Once again, it comes down to data management, transportation and funding infrastructure. John told us a lot of the technologies in the sector right now are focused on efficiency rather than reducing emissions per se. But he thinks there is an opportunity to shift the needle with the right incentives.
Speaker 3 [00:18:57] I think for any of these things to really take off, there is a certain sector of the population that will always just do it because that’s what they believe in and they think that’s the right thing to do. But I think there has to be a financial penalty or a benefit to implementing that technology. In our sector, some milk pricing based on the technology that you have on your farm or like some variable different pricing, if you did something like that, you would not see how fast people would run to implement it. Right. And same with there was like a premium product and you could opt into producing that premium product. And there is an incentive to doing that. I think you’d see a lot of uptake.
Speaker 1 [00:19:38] Again, you can hear John’s ingenuity and his optimism.
Speaker 2 [00:19:42] One of the most fascinating things John told us was his family’s story. His parents emigrated from the Netherlands.
Speaker 3 [00:19:48] My parents, they came over from Holland in the early eighties. They kind of originally were from farming backgrounds in Holland. Not that they were necessarily farmers, but they were always involved in the industry. They came over, got some jobs. My dad started working for a dairy equipment company in 1987. The guy was kind of ready to retire, so he kind of facilitated the transition of the business to my parents.
Speaker 1 [00:20:14] The Dutch are famous for doing more with less. They’re perhaps some of the most productive and hardest working farmers in the Western world.
Speaker 3 [00:20:21] A lot of it’s like that immigrant mentality. A lot of them don’t have established connections here, so they really put their efforts and their life into their work when they’re first establishing themselves. So you can definitely see the really hard work ethic when these immigrant families come over to Canada. They really have something to prove to establish themselves.
Speaker 1 [00:20:41] We are, after all, a nation of immigrants which has made us stronger and more innovative over the years. Coming up, we’ll speak with an Alberta based tech innovator, someone passionate about the future of Canadian livestock who also takes inspiration from the old country. So stay right there.
Speaker 2 [00:21:02] You’re listening to Disruptors an RBC podcast. I’m Theresa Do. I’d like to share with you our latest second share report from RBC Economics and thought leadership called “the next Green Revolution: How Canada can produce more food and fewer emissions.” Global food demand is set to soar as the population rises to 9.7 billion people in 2050. Meanwhile, climate change is slowing the agricultural productivity of many major producers. And geopolitical upheaval from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has destabilized the world’s food systems. Rarely has speed in the world presented such a daunting challenge. So how can Canada lead the worldwide effort to confront it? To find out, visit RBC dot com Slash Next Green Revolution.
Welcome back to part two of our special series on the future of Canadian Agriculture. The Growing Challenge We’re Taking into how Canada’s beef and dairy industries can help feed a growing world and do it more sustainably. A minute ago, we heard from John Van Logtenstein, the co-owner of Dairy Lane Systems, and DLS Biogas, who is helping dairy farmers turn manure into biogas. This keeps harmful emissions out of the atmosphere and creates a whole new revenue stream in the process. John also shared the story of his parents who started drilling. They were immigrants from the Netherlands. And according to our next guest, Canada has a lot to learn from the Dutch as we look to boost our agricultural productivity.
Speaker 4 [00:22:35] Hi, I’m Alison Sunstrum, general partner of The 51 Food and AgTech Fund. I grew up in Saskatchewan, so everyone is connected to agriculture in Saskatchewan. But I started life as an accountant and very quickly found computers, technology, and was really fascinated by what they could do for agriculture.
Speaker 2 [00:22:57] Alison thinks that Canada has the potential to be a world leader in agricultural production and produce more valuable agribusiness products. If it invests in cutting edge technologies.
Speaker 4 [00:23:08] It should be easier to grow in Agtech Company in Canada because we definitely have access to primary production here. If we take a look at the number two exporter of agri business goods in the world is Holland. And Holland has a landmass the size of Bass National Park. So if we look at ourselves as the number five producer of agricultural products and goods, why can’t we convert those products into more valuable agribusiness products? Holland can do it. What are the limiting factors here? And I would say we have to just really addressing the fact that we are an agricultural nation, that we have much to learn from the Dutch experience, and we also have the potential to be a more sustainable producer of goods and agribusiness value goods in the world.
Speaker 1 [00:24:01] Canadian Agtech companies have a lot to learn from Alison, too. She’s lent her expertise to many startups, serving as both a venture partner and investment adviser. She’s also founder and CEO of Conserve-X, a Canadian company researching and applying emerging technology in agriculture. And just over two decades ago, she invested in a Calgary based startup called Grow, Save and turn it into a global leader in the Agtech space.
Speaker 4 [00:24:26] In 1999, I met an amazing engineer who was reimagining how you could monitor and work with animals. And I invested and joined the company. And in 1999, we were the first people who had used RFID to tag production livestock.
Speaker 1 [00:24:47] Just to interject, for those who don’t know, RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, which allows digital data to be transmitted wirelessly, say, between an animal’s tag and a nearby reader.
Speaker 4 [00:25:00] And over the next 20 years, we built our company measuring animals, monitoring animals and really looking at three characteristics How could we use technology to improve profitability on farm, to improve animal welfare? And we were already looking at how we could reduce the environmental impact of livestock production. And basically what we built is a high speed or high volume data acquisition and analytics platform that measured the R side, which identified animals and also measured multiple biometric and environmental sensors. And with that data we developed, along with researchers using our technology, we developed a way to determine through a genetic selection method how efficient animals and livestock were. And the end result, after 20 years of research, really was, we determined which animals were more efficient in their gain and conversion at sea. And that resulted in a couple of things that improved the cost of feed for livestock producers, but it also reduced manure and methane.
Speaker 2 [00:26:15] This is so, so key. What Gro Save has done with data is essentially optimize animal welfare, including diet and digestion, and that’s optimized farm costs and beautifully reduced emissions from livestock. This is the kind of technology we need to scale to meet our net zero challenge, those that improve food production and minimize their impact on the environment.
Speaker 1 [00:26:37] If every dairy or cattle operation ran with this kind of connected technology to reduce methane, we could go a long way to addressing our net zero goals.
Speaker 2 [00:26:47] The real time monitoring and analysis is something that Alison, in presentations she’s given over the years, calls. The Internet of livestock things. But while this kind of connectivity sounds simple enough, the reality is that many parts of this country, especially rural Canada, don’t have access to the kind of high speed Internet that city folk take for granted.
Speaker 4 [00:27:07] I think the Internet has shifted, and our ability to connect to technology has shifted. Our availability, number one, education on far from, but also number two, that we can really exploit and explode our opportunities on farm with every device and every sensor and everything we can connect to the Internet can reasonably occur. It seems odd in this day and age that so many parts of rural Canada are still not connected. And I think that’s where we’re going to explode. If we can get full connectivity across the country and we think about not just connecting people to the Internet, but also connecting sensors and things that really can measure where we can make management change. So from my perspective, the smart phone and the ability to connect sensors and then therefore through automation is what will really drive our productivity change and our sustainability change in Canada.
Speaker 1 [00:28:10] Alison is also looking beyond sensors and automation and is enthusiastic about the potential of a slew of cutting edge technologies, including blockchain and artificial intelligence. That’s a lot of what she focuses on in her daily work with Conserve. Still, I was curious about the limits to all this tech innovation and wondering, Alison, how much gain is still out there to be had given all the progress that we’ve seen over the last couple of decades?
Speaker 4 [00:28:39] I think that’s a great question, John, because if you look at how we’ve improved our productivity from the sixties until now, we’ve actually doubled food production. And with the increasing number of population, by 2060, we’re going to have at least another 2 billion more people on the planet. I think we have to double food production again. So if we look at the amazing strides that we made from the sixties to now, and if we look at where we have to go to earn the future, we have to really take a look at how we impacted the planet and how we’re going to have to do things a little bit differently. So I think we can do two times as much or we will have to, but we need to do so sustainably.
Speaker 1 [00:29:26] What are the one or two things that you think are essential for Canada to get done in the next few years if we’re going to achieve net zero agriculture?
Speaker 4 [00:29:36] I think that we have to start investing in net zero. And by that I mean that if our products reach net zero, we as consumers must buy them, we must demand them. And we also must ensure that farmers are not where we place the burden of our emission reduction. So as consumers, we have a responsibility, but as a government and as policymakers, I think that we have a responsibility to really backstop our farmers in a way that they can become net zero producers.
Speaker 2 [00:30:13] So, John, I feel like through these conversations, I’ve learned a lot about the technologies that could improve production and transform farming operations across Canada. We just heard from Alison Sunstrum, who obviously sees the potential for Agtech. She’s investing in a big way in a variety of technologies, from blockchain to A.I. that she thinks will revolutionize the sector and make us a world leader in sustainable agriculture. And she talks about how we need to support the farmers who are working towards net zero with our buying power, our wallets.
Speaker 1 [00:30:44] We also heard from Calvin Booker about how tell us agriculture is using technology to monitor feedlots and provide virtual health care that reduces the amount of physical travel for vets and helps us gather more data to study the connection between animal health, productivity and sustainability.
Speaker 2 [00:31:01] John Van Logtenstein explained how his new biogas business is helping to reduce emissions on dairy farms while creating a new revenue stream for farmers.
Speaker 1 [00:31:09] And Theresa, I’m trying back to something that grain farmer Christian Heber told us in our last episode about where he sees technology going in his operation.
Speaker 3 [00:31:18] I always joke that within a decade or two, I think I could run my farm from three or four computer screens anywhere in the world because we’ll literally have a technology dashboard that’s pulling in all the data. I need to make a decision. And I mean, lots of our equipment now can adjust itself on the fly. And operators are still really important. But at the same time, we can just do such a better job than we used to.
Speaker 2 [00:31:36] Well, that’s automation taken to its natural conclusion in agriculture, I guess.
Speaker 1 [00:31:41] The remote control farm. I love it.
Speaker 2 But don’t forget about the low tech practices like cover cropping or other regenerative farming techniques that have stood the test of time or in the case of livestock, simply changing up their diet. There’s research out there, John, that suggests adding seaweed, of all things, to the diet of dairy cows to reduce emissions by up to 82%.
Speaker 1 [00:33:23] And maybe we should lean into things like cellular agriculture, which Evan Fraser from the University of Guelph mentioned in the last episode that involves producing agricultural products from cell cultures, including meat and dairy products, basically lab grown food. The sci-fi possibilities are endless.
Speaker 2 [00:33:44] Sadly, we are out of time for today. Big thanks to our guests and thanks to you for listening. Please join us next time for the third and final episode of The Growing Challenge. We’re going to look at the important role that consumers, producers, grocers and restaurants play in reducing waste in the food system. A big source of emissions across Canada. Until then, I’m Theresa Do.
Speaker 1 [00:34:07] And I’m John Stackhouse. This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Talk to you soon.
Speaker 4 [00:34:16] Disruptors, an RBC Podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service. It’s produced and recorded by JAR Audio. For more disruptors content, like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit RBC dot com, slash disruptors.
Jennifer Marron produces "Disruptors, an RBC podcast". Prior to joining RBC, Jennifer spent five years as Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and cultivated a large network of industry leaders, entrepreneurs and partners to support the Canadian startup ecosystem. Her writing has appeared in The National Post, Financial Post, Techvibes, IT Business, CWTA Magazine and Procter & Gamble’s magazine, Rouge. Follow her on Twitter @J_Marron.
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