By Kris Huynh, International Research Officer Intern, Market Development Unit
Agriculture in Saskatchewan is constantly evolving, and farmers are adopting modern practices and technology to improve farm efficiency and ensure food sustainability. Innovation has always been essential to the success of the industry. In the later part of the 20th century, Canadian scientists and farmers made countless technological advances, including the following:
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientists developed and introduced a new crop known as canola. Canola was bred from rapeseed and has a unique nutritional profile.
- Saskatchewan perfected air seeding systems.
- Farming practices shifted to direct seeding and minimum or zero tillage.
- Saskatchewan has applied global positioning system technology to assist farmers with planting and harvesting.
These innovations significantly increased production and efficiency while reducing the environmental footprint per tonne of production.
The tradition of innovation and advancement in the agriculture industry has continued into the new millennium. In the 21st century, Canada emerged as one of the world’s largest agricultural producers. Saskatchewan has been a critical part of Canada achieving this status. In 2019, the province was the second-largest Canadian agri-food exporter, with canola seed ($2.4 billion), non-durum wheat ($2.4 billion) and canola oil ($1.7 billion) being its top exports. However, the agriculture industry requires a lot of energy to grow food, and these emissions can be mitigated through the use of best practices and modern technology.
Saskatchewan-funded research has made significant strides in maximizing energy efficiency and developing new production methods. It is also currently exploring topics such as the following:
- Genetic and genomics, such as:
- Breeding crops and livestock;
- Biotechnologies such as marker-assisted selection (MAS), which are enhancing breeding programs;
- Mitigation techniques for herbicide-resistant crops; and
- New methods for detecting and controlling diseases and pests;
- Use of digital technology to enhance decision making, reduce labour costs and improve the effectiveness of crop inspections.
- Use of artificial intelligence and robotics, leading to:
- A reduction in the use of chemicals through drones and autonomous machinery; and
- DOT Technology, which produced one of the world’s first commercially available autonomous farming platforms;
- Technology investments in the value-added sector, which:
- Separated starch proteins from different types of flour; and
- Developed fermented food products using wheat and pulses.
With ongoing collaboration, Saskatchewan can produce more quality food, while consuming fewer resources. Saskatchewan has reduced emissions, crop residue burning, soil erosion and nutrient runoff through minimum tillage, a reduction in summerfallow, conversion of marginal land from crop land to permanent cover, increased acreage of pulse crops, precision farming and crop genetics.
If producers are looking for ways to improve their efficiency, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) Farm Stewardship Program provides funding for two Beneficial Management Practices (precision agriculture and seeding marginal land to grass) that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
There are also opportunities for further emission reductions, especially in the improved application of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, a significant source of agricultural emissions in Saskatchewan. The Ministry of Agriculture is currently working with Fertilizer Canada to encourage increased producer uptake of 4R nutrient stewardship practices (right source, right rate, right time and right place). Variable rate fertilizer technology is an important component of 4R.
Saskatchewan is also taking steps to maximize efficiency by harmonizing inspections and regulations with other provinces to ensure crops are able to reach market in a timely manner. The province is also supporting research into the development of future crops that require fewer inputs (pest control products and moisture), which will improve production per acre.
Agriculture technology improves production efficiencies, decreases input costs and improves overall operational efficiency for producers.
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