EMILI and MI-AP recently hosted a panel discussion to share a strategic roadmap developed by the Manitoba Digital Agriculture Table to anticipate and address challenges and opportunities in digital agriculture.
EMILI Managing Director Jacqueline Keena moderated the panel alongside MI-AP’s Myrna Grahn. The pair have led the Manitoba Digital Agriculture Table since it was established in 2020.
“When the Manitoba Digital Agriculture table launched two years ago, we had lots of great engagement from a wide range of individuals that shared our belief that digital agriculture provides an incredible opportunity for the agriculture industry and for the Province of Manitoba,” said Keena as she introduced panelists:
- Dr. Nazim Cicek, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, University of Manitoba;
- Chris Bunio, Co-founder & CEO, TheoryMesh;
- Liz Pham, Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, FarmLink; and,
- Tim Hore, Dean, Agriculture and Environment, Assiniboine Community College.
Panelists shared their perspectives on digital agriculture and the supporting ecosystem in Manitoba, the importance of fostering industry and academic alignment to support research and development partnerships; identifying and mitigating skills and talent gaps; and increasing education and training opportunities.
“Digital agriculture isn’t going to result in lower labour needs, it’s changing the skill set of the labour that will be needed in the future,” said one panelist.
The group talked about the need to use data to interpret value, the importance of working collaboratively to solve complex challenges, the need to increase participation rates in post-secondary, and the value of co-op and work integrated learning programs to introduce talented individuals to the career opportunities available in digital agriculture.
“Enabling a digital agriculture strategy across the sector while building machine learning and AI skills is critical,” said Bunio, who is also part of the group working on the development of a related AI strategy along with EMILI and MI-AP.
He pointed to his recent experience hiring a group of summer students.
“They walked away knowing more about the food industry than when they came in, and some of them finished their terms with a newfound passion for looking at the supply chain and digging into the science behind food and agriculture. One of our amazing students helped solve some really hard AI problems which will lead to new innovations for us. Working on the digital agriculture and AI strategies concurrently will bring more examples of skill development and innovation forward,” he said.
“This digital roadmap helps us improve collaboration and bring focus and awareness to what is needed to position Manitoba as a leader in this space,” agreed all panelists as they pointed to the importance of skills training, research initiatives, funding opportunities, and open dialogue to meet the benchmarks defined in the strategic roadmap.
“When you combine the brilliance of academics with the urgent needs that industry brings, that results in outcomes,” said one panelist when discussing the importance of fostering alignment.
“We are excited to release this strategic roadmap document,” said Keena. “It will bring clarity and direction to the activities that we undertake and keep us on the path to achieving what’s possible for digital agriculture here in Manitoba.”
Through the Manitoba Digital Agriculture Table, MI-AP and EMILI are committed to working collaboratively with industry and academic partners to achieve the goals outlined in the Digital Agriculture in Manitoba: Strategic Roadmap for 2022-2025.