Working together to increase digital skills to address labour shortages within the Canadian agriculture sector is central to a recent Memorandum of Understanding between The Enterprise Machine Intelligence Learning Initiative (EMILI) and Assiniboine Community College (ACC).

Over the next five years, EMILI and ACC will collaborate on projects that advance the adoption of intelligent technologies and provide Manitobans with in-demand digital agriculture skills. Examples include collaborating on the development of data literacy training programs, increasing work-integrated learning opportunities, testing new technologies to ensure they work on a full-scale farm, and sharing Innovation Farms data with students to inform the projects they are working on.

EMILI and ACC share a common vision of growing Manitoba’s digital agriculture sector through innovation and education and I’m excited to see the impact we will have by working toward solutions together,” said  EMILI Managing Director Jacqueline Keena. 

Aerial view of seed farm.
Innovation Farms Powered by AgExpert

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace and will require people with new and evolving skills and work experiences. At the same time, climate change is presenting new challenges and an aging workforce is putting pressure on one of the cornerstone industries of our economy. Canada’s agricultural sector could be facing a shortage of 123,000 workers by 2030 ― that’s one in three jobs that could go unfilled.

“It will take a big investment in innovation and a new generation of skills to meet the demands being placed on the sector,” said Keena. “The initiatives EMILI and ACC are undertaking will accelerate Manitoba’s growth as a leader in digital agriculture, with benefits that stretch Canada-wide.”

The Digital Agriculture Strategic Roadmap which EMILI co-released with MI-AP in Fall 2022, highlights that the future of digital agriculture requires increased education and experiential learning opportunities to develop vital competencies around technology application, employee readiness, and human skills.

In recent years, EMILI and ACC have been working hard to realize the potential of digital agriculture in the prairies. According to RBC’s 2019 report, with the right mix of skills, capital, and technology, agriculture could add $11 billion to Canada’s GDP by 2030.

In 2022, EMILI launched Innovation Farms Powered by AgExpert, providing industry and academics access to leading-edge equipment, technology, and production practices on a 5,500-acre full-scale commercial seed farm near Winnipeg. 

EMILI is also building the Canadian Agri-Food Data Initiative to drive collaboration and coordination on data governance across the whole of the Canadian agri-food sector. The ongoing work of the Data Initiative includes proof of concept technology demonstration, applied research, and knowledge translation through robust data literacy training programs.

Assiniboine Community College artist rendering of new prairie innovation centre.
ACC’s Prairie Innovation Centre

Meanwhile, ACC is in the process of building The Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Brandon, a collaborative learning space that promises to expand agriculture-related programming from 300 to more than 800 students annually, and further expanding the capacity for applied research, extension programs and industry engagement. This initiative was celebrated during Manitoba Ag Days when the provincial government announced a $10 million investment in the Centre.

“ACC is excited to collaborate with EMILI on vital applied research, education and training, and extension programs to advance agricultural technology. Data is key to the future of Canadian ag, and the RBC Farmer 4.0 Report has said that the advanced technologies emerging across agriculture and sub-sectors will change the skills needed over the next decade to be successful in the sector,” said Tim Hore, Dean of ACC’s Russ Edwards School of Agriculture and Environment.

“This partnership will help provide experiential learning opportunities for students using emerging technologies, and will help ensure that graduates obtain skills in areas like data analysis, robotics and automation. This partnership and the expanded programming proposed as part of our Prairie Innovation Centre will help fill this need.”

EMILI and ACC’s combined resources, most notably Innovation Farms Powered by AgExpert and ACC’s Prairie Innovation Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, will provide people with the skills and training required to succeed in a digital agriculture economy.