PAMI Explores Past and Future AG Innovation
The past century has seen Saskatchewan evolve from open grasslands to a global agricultural powerhouse. At the heart of that change has been a number of key technologies that have driven the growth of agricultural production.
The number of key technologies is less than you might think. In fact, according to Humboldt-based Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI), in the farm machinery arena there have basically been a 'Big Four' of technology types propelling Saskatchewan agriculture.
The Big Four are air-drills, tractors, sprayers and combines. These are the critical pillars of grains and oilseed production in Saskatchewan. There are roughly 26 million tonnes of agricultural products harvested in this province every year, all of which can be traced to the success of these tools," said Dave Gullacher, President and CEO of PAMI. "Of course, there has been tremendous innovation in these technologies over the decades. We want to trace that and look ahead to where they will be headed in the next 35 years." To do that, PAMI hosted a focus group of roughly 50 agricultural leaders to brainstorm the future of farm technology. "The provincial government's Saskatchewan Plan for Growth talks about adding 10 million tonnes of crop production by 2020. To get there, we've got to develop bigger and more efficient machines although not fundamentally different ones. We are not looking to reinvent the wheel, just to improve it." Some of the key suggestions from the forum included
- Smarter Machines - increasing robotics in farm machinery so that 24/7 harvesting is possible with fewer workers. However, participants did not go so far as to endorse entirely driverless machinery.
- Smarter Crops - researching new and improved varieties of high-margin crops, and using genetic engineering to develop crops that provide for each other, such as one crop providing readily available nutrients or pesticides for another crop coming next in the rotation.
- Smarter First, Before Bigger - building farm equipment that is easier to operate and maintain while continuing to improve efficiency.
- Consumer is King - ensuring producers understand and respond nimbly to what consumers want.
- Filtering Information Overload - ensuring that farmers have access to training and unbiased advice to deal with the increasing complexity of the industry. This should include providing high-quality and standardized skills training for the emerging workforce of professional farm machinery operators.
- Sustainable Farming - lowering the environmental impact of farming and ensuring that crop varieties are viable in the long term, even under changing climatic conditions.
"This isn't just a wish-list for the agriculture industry. These research goals will define a major part of the future of Saskatchewan and the world. Premier Wall's goal of increasing Saskatchewan's agricultural production by 10 million tonnes by 2020 makes it all the more essential that we develop new and better ways to grow and harvest crops. On top of that, we live in an increasingly hungry world where Saskatchewan will bear an ever-larger responsibility as a food producer," said Gullacher.