Bennett Jones LLP

Growing investment in technology (AgTech) and innovation, Environment, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) and Export and Trade are three of the big trends coming out of Canada's Agriculture Summit held in Calgary recently. 

Over 500 people including growers, producers, suppliers and students from Colleges and Universities across Alberta, were present at the summit. Amongst others, attendees included Bayer, Richardson International, Sunterra, Nutrien, BASF Canada Agricultural Solutions, Calgary Coop and United Farmers of Alberta. The consensus, supported by keynote speeches and panel discussion, was that like many other industries, technology and innovation are shaking up Canada’s agriculture industry but little is known about this outside of the agribusiness world and better communication with the consumer is needed. Members of the Bennett Jones Agribusiness, Food and Beverage industry group attended this summit with a view to learn more and inform clients about the latest things happening in the agribusiness and agri-food industry. 

AgTech and innovation has meant a fundamental shift in the way we farm. This includes smart farming and data analytics, indoor growing technologies and hydroponics, and better product tracking and labelling. What this means is we now have a better understanding of the health of the products, when to water, when to fertilize, when to pick. Additionally, we can optimize resources from the amount of energy we need to use, to the labour we require and we can track and trace where a product originated, across the entire supply chain.

Environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) is the latest industry hot topic. Companies need to have a set of operational standards that shows awareness of and adherence to environmental issues and sustainable practices. These companies must also be governed in a way that regular audits take place and shareholder rights are considered. Sustainable agriculture practices have received an increased focus in recent years driven by the needs for transparency and accountability. Consumers want to know how the product is farmed and where it originated, demanding the freshest and healthiest products possible. Consumer-facing companies, also need to demonstrate their commitment to an ESG approach to stay competitive and meet consumer expectations. 

Trade and export plays a major role in Canada's economy. Canada is the fifth largest exporter of agricultural goods such as wheat, beef and canola with over 90 percent of Canada's farmers dependent on exports. Canada differentiates itself on the safety of its products and their high quality. But this alone is not enough. Changes to trade and policy need to happen in conjunction with fact-based advocacy in order for us to better compete globally. One solution is to gain industry, government and academic investment, collaboration and support, producing a team Canada approach so that we become the supplier of choice to the world, known for our quality products.

These three trends are not the only things happening in the agribusiness space but ones people should be aware of. As stated by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, agriculture and agri-foods is a large economic driver for Canada and contributes over $100 billion to our economy every year. Therefore it is critical that all levels of government support, advocate and promote Canada's agriculture and agri-food industry not just across Canada but on the world's stage. 

With all that said, changes to trade agreements, regulations about investment in agribusiness from countries outside of Canada, as well as water and labour shortages, still mean that getting products from farm to table have many challenges to overcome.