Agricultural innovation celebrated at third Spark V3 symposium

ELORA – Agriculture is not just about farming, and if attendees of the Spark V3 Symposium walked away with anything, it’s the knowledge that there’s innovation and outside-the-box thinking in this sector.

The Grand River Agriculture Association hosted its third agriculture innovation symposium on April 4 at the GrandWay Events Centre, where entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas, and the audience voted on the most successful pitch.

The pitch winner walked away with $5,000, but the big benefit of the event was the exposure.

Even the ideas that weren’t picked at the event got their 15 minutes. And the room was filled with all sorts from the sector, including funders, representatives from the province, and university researchers.

Cattleytics was the winner.

Dr. Shari VandePol presented her company, that designs and maintains software and data systems helping dairy farmers enable proactive animal health management.

“The complexity of systems on dairy farms are like at a hospital,” she said. “There is dairy software, but it can be limited. With our system, we input categories that you want.”

Once enough data is collected on a specific dairy operation, the system can do some economic modelling and assist with herd management.

Van de Pol said the company received $1 million from the federal government and is raising another $1.2 million to scale up.

Three other start-ups also made pitches.

Healthy Hydroponics InnoTech helps growers detect diseases and microbiomes in crops and then offers remediation and prevention.

“The best way to control disease is with detection of pathogens,” said company CEO Dr. Tanya Irani. “We are able to detect 10 times the amount of pathogens of other companies.”

This is of interest to hydroponic and greenhouse growers, she said.

Nature Recombined – ApiSave is a product developed with combating antibiotic resistance in mind to save bees.

CEO Russ Crawford said bees are critical to growing operations and are under threat by mites, pesticides, loss of habitat and climate change.

ApiSave is derived from plants and can protect bees from mites – especially mites that have developed a tolerance for antibiotics.

Crawford said they have started the regulatory process that could take a year or more.

Other than that, “It’s not a complicated process” to make the product he said.

“It should be easy to get to market.”

Proteins Easy Corporation made the final pitch.

The company does protein farming and can manufacture proteins for the biodomain, biomaterials, plant-based meats, and biocatalyst market applications.

It also has applications in the textile world and CEO Illimar Altosaar said it could replace nylon and polyester, which often winds up in landfills.

“We know how to make proteins and we can produce any industrial protein,” he said.

John Wilkinson was the keynote speaker.

Wilkinson was the Liberal MPP for Perth-Middlesex, then Perth-Wellington, from 2003-2011. He was also the first full-time Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Revenue, and Minister of the Environment over that time.

He’s since returned to private business and is CEO of Wilkinson Insight.

He noted how humanity came together in 1987 with the Montreal Protocol, which banned the chemicals that were causing the depletion of the ozone layer.

“We defeated a global threat because we embraced innovation,” he said.

That spirit of innovation is still needed, he said, especially in agriculture, as it is agriculture that will feed the hungry world.

“We need to be humble; we need humility; and to meet the daunting challenges, we need more innovation in agriculture and technology,” he said.