News

20 Aug, 2020

NewsUSask Global Institute for Food Security partners on supercluster project to help lower crop pesticide use

Stavness in plant greenhouse with computer (Credit: Dave Stobbe)

University of Saskatchewan (USask) digital agriculture researchers are part of a new Protein Industries Canada (PIC) consortium that will develop technology to help lower pesticide use across Canada, making crop protection more efficient and providing economic benefits for farmers.

PIC is one of Canada’s five innovation superclusters. The $26.2-million PIC project into using artificial intelligence to target weeds and other pest crops is led by Precision.ai Inc., Sure Growth Technologies, Exceed Grain Marketing, and the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at USask. PIC is investing $12.8 million in the project, with the partners investing the remaining $13.4 million.

“Collaboration between industry, government and universities is critical to accelerate agtech research and advance Canada as a global leader in plant protein innovation to help feed a hungry world,” said USask Vice-President Research Karen Chad.

“We are pleased to be the first university to participate as a full partner in a project with this important supercluster, and we look forward to contributing our expertise in digital agriculture to help make crop production more efficient in Canada and around the world.”

USask participation in the project will be led through the university’s Plant Phenotyping and Imaging Research Centre, managed by GIFS.  Lead researcher is USask computer scientist Ian Stavness, an expert in artificial intelligence and machine learning applied to agriculture.

“The aim is to develop new ways to spray weeds or other pests in a targeted way,” he said.  “The university’s role is to develop a way to find out precisely where the weeds are so that they can be sprayed more efficiently to reduce pesticide use and help protect the environment. We will develop software to automatically sort through drone images of fields to identify weeds.”

Estimates are that the new technology could reduce pesticide use by up to 95 per cent while maintaining crop yield, saving farmers about $52 per acre per growing season. The technology can be retrofitted to existing pesticide sprayers, as well as to new sprayers, creating a product suitable for producers across Canada.

PIC CEO Bill Gruel said the new technology will have a tremendous effect on Canada’s plant-protein sector. 

“Consumers want plant-protein products that were grown sustainably, without sacrificing quality or economic value. This is particularly true in international trade where, despite Canada’s reputation as a supplier of high-quality agrifoods, our products are facing increasing testing,” he said. “Thanks to the work being done by Precision.ai, Sure Growth Solutions, Exceed Grain Marketing and GIFS, Canada’s plant proteins are one step closer to being the highlight on the plates for consumers around the world.”

To strengthen market opportunities, commodities grown using the technology will be tested for international pesticide tolerance, protein content and flavour quality.

“At GIFS, we recognize the value of collaboration, so we work with partners to discover, develop and deliver innovative solutions for the production of globally sustainable food,” GIFS CEO Steve Webb said.

“We also serve as a catalyst for innovation within the USask community and industry partners. By joining forces with PIC, Precision.AI and other partners on this exciting project, we are developing innovative technologies to precisely target crop inputs only when and where needed, making production agriculture more efficient and more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.”

Read the multi-partner news release.