Simpson Centre at UCalgary launches program to increase adoption of digital technologies in Alberta agriculture

Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation announces $1.2M grant, leveraging tech advances in robotics, AI and smart devices

The Alberta Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, bestowed a grant of $1.2 million to the Simpson Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy at the School of Public Policy, University of Calgary , marking the genesis of the A lberta Digitalization Agriculture (ABDIAG) program.

With a duration spanning just under three years, the ABDIAG program officially commenced in October 2023, with the announcement today at the School of Public Policy from Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson. The journey concludes in June, 2026.

"This is an exciting program that will help producers and policy-makers develop ideas that will increase the adoption of agricultural digital technologies. This program will support the competitiveness and innovation of Alberta’s agriculture industry," said Sigurdson.

ABDIAG aspires to unravel the challenges and opportunities in the digitalization of agriculture with a clear goal --  to develop policy recommendations fostering data management and enhancing transparency in the agri-food space. In the era of technological revolution, the program focuses on leveraging advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, and smart devices to transform the agricultural landscape. The program also addresses five key challenges: awareness of available technologies, return on investment for tech adoption, data literacy for producers, structural capacities, and policy prioritization.

"Connecting UCalgary’s expertise in machine learning, robotics and smart devices to agricultural industries will be mutually beneficial to all stakeholders," says President Ed McCauley. "We are grateful that the province has acknowledged the potential of digitalization to help make agricultural production more efficient, cost effective and sustainable."

Research to impact

The program aims to achieve economic impacts by reducing uncertainty on the return on investment for digital farming operations, ensuring cost savings, and training producers. Societal impacts, such as reducing carbon and water footprint in agricultural production, are envisioned through key insights shaping effective policies and training initiatives aimed at producing highly qualified personnel for the future of digital agriculture.

The research outcomes focus on three key audiences --  producers, policymakers, and the entire value chain. Producers seek awareness and a clear return on investment, policymakers desire insights for effective policymaking, and the value chain aspires for a narrative on sustainability and job creation.

Over the grant period, the project will deliver academic publications, reports and policy briefs. These will be accompanied by online communications, surveys, interviews, living labs, a policy database, a systems dynamic model, webinars, roundtables, and educational programs. Each element is designed to contribute to the digitalization narrative.

The outreach strategy includes an online survey in Q2 2024, living labs to test farming practices, and co-ordination of webinars and roundtables. In-person meetings at both provincial and federal levels are planned for broader impact. ABDIAG aims to engage the agricultural community directly, ensuring their voices are heard in the digital transformation.

As the ABDIAG program takes root, it carries with it the promise of a more digitally empowered and sustainable Alberta agriculture.

Guillaume Lhermie, director of the Simpson Centre, says, "Canadian agriculture has the double potential to reduce its environmental impact and increase its production. On this journey, it is clear that optimized use of technologies will be critical, with this program, we will encourage behavioural shifts, from the producers needing more information on ag tech, all the way to policymakers with the power to incentivize their adoption and build infrastructural capacities. 

"We are honoured to work hand in hand with the Government of Alberta, but also with other academic institutions in the province as the program unfolds."

About the Simpson Centre

At the core of this initiative is the Simpson Centre, a hub for mobilizing research to influence policymaking and decision-making for a sustainable agricultural industry. The goal is not only to increase food production but also to address social and health impacts while safeguarding the natural environment. By connecting researchers, industry stakeholders, and government actors, the Simpson Centre shapes the future of Canada’s agricultural and food system.

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