Plans announced for a SMARTFARM — a digital agriculture accelerator to grow cutting-edge farm technology


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A 5,500-acre farm just north of Winnipeg is going to be turned into a digital agricultural testing lab that will help Manitoba stay on the cutting edge of food productions technology for many years to come.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/10/2022 (219 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 5,500-acre farm just north of Winnipeg is going to be turned into a digital agricultural testing lab that will help Manitoba stay on the cutting edge of food productions technology for many years to come.

Funding of more than $8 million in capital – including $2.5 million from PrairiesCan — and in-kind support from private sectors operators was announced at the Agriculture Enlightened conference, organized by EMILI (Enterprise Machine Intelligence & Learning Initiative), a Manitoba artificial intelligence consortium that has been around for about five years.

EMILI has been working with Rick Rutherford, the owner of Rutherford Farms near Grosse Isle, Man. on projects for a few years already. He has enthusiastically embraced the technology project.


Rick Rutherford (left) owner of Rutherford Farms near Grosse Isle with Jacqueline Keena, EMILI’s managing director and Ray Bouchard, the chairman of EMILI and the CEO of Enns Brothers.

The important ag-tech implementation – called Innovation Farms Powered by Ag Expert – will turn Rutherford Farms into the largest commercial smart farm of its kind in the country.

Jacqueline Keena, EMILI’s managing director, said, “While farmers and ag production are incredibly technologically advanced, there is much more to do there. Full integration of all available technologies deep into farming production — and beyond farming, down the value chain… that is an area where lots more work needs to be done.”

Sensors have been in place for the crop year that was just completed to allow testing across over 5,500 acres making Rutherford Farms the largest farm of its type in Canada, and the first in Manitoba.

(There is now a network of “smart farms” in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, but this project, called Innovation Farms Powered by Ag Expert, will be the largest and the only one that is a commercial operation.)

In addition to the data collection on the 5,500 acres commercial operation, there will be 100-acres dedicated to third party testing and validating new hardware and software technologies.

Findings and data analysis at the the Innovation Farms Powered by Ag Expert will be shared freely with industry and academia and anyone who is interested.

Ray Bouchard, the chairman of EMILI and the CEO of Enns Brothers, the chain of dealerships that feature John Deere farm and other recreational equipment – which has provided support for the new smart farm – said there was a handful of projects that were piloted during the just completed crop year and a summary of those projects will be available in the next three-to-four months.

“We are very excited about this development,’ Bouchard said. “This is a good opportunity to make sure we are testing and bringing to market the most advanced technology we can to allow as to feed the world and to do it in a sustainable way, something that consumers are demanding.”

Rutherford Farms is a commercial seed operation, selling seeds for all the cereal grains as well as soybeans, canola and corn.

Rutherford said he has full data sets of every activity on his farm dating back to 2014 and earlier in some respects.

“We always strive to make the farm more economical and more feasible to run,” he said. “New ideas are what will make us better farmers or stewards of the land. We just see the value of what this could do to our farm to be innovators.”

EMILI has provided financial and other supports to agri-food entrepreneurs and envisions working with Manitoba companies on the project like Carbon Assets Solutions to measure and deliver high-quality soil-based carbon credits; TheoryMesh to create marketing tools to build awareness of its food data platform that creates a traceable supply chain from first inputs to consumer purchase; and Ukko Robotics which makes autonomous barns for pasture-based farming.

In addition to the R & D that will go on at Rutherford Farms, Bouchard said EMILI is also looking into the possibility of creating an Innovation Centre at the farm that would allow the public and students, for instance, to see firsthand some of the technology that is being applied.

Martin Scanlon, dean of the faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba, said, “You wouldn’t want 2013 technology to do your job. Agricultural commodity producers feel the same way. Deploying the best technology to get the outcomes you want – and that’s yield, quality and sustainability… that has to be built into using technology. And we as academic institutions better make sure we are aware of it because our students need to be aware of it.”

In addition to PrairiesCan and Enns Brothers, other supporters of the project include Farm Credit Canada, the family of Jake Enns Ag Innovation Legacy Fund, John Deere Canada, Rutherford Farms, and Access Credit Union.

Bouchard said there are other supporters of the project who are likely coming on board in the near future.

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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