Survey takes aim at ag technology

A national survey hopes to put numbers behind technology and tech-driven labour trends and demands in the shifting agri-food landscape

A new survey seeks to better understand how technology is hitting the farm, and how that’s altering the sector’s labour needs.

The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) wants to know how you use tech on your farm or agribusiness.

The non-profit has launched a nationwide survey in the hopes of filling in data on technology use and the labour trends related to new technology in agri-food.

Why it matters: The survey hopes to get a handle on what kind of technology is permeating through agriculture and agri-food, and how that’s changing the labour landscape.

The ICTC has reached out to various farm groups across Canada to administer the brief survey that it says should take 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

“The survey goals are understanding the labour market in the ag-tech industry, in particular in relation to technology, so looking at in-demand roles and skills, access to skilled labour, hiring channels and validating labour market information that we’ve also gained from key informant interviews,” Maya Watson, research and policy analyst with the ICTC, said.

The survey will also gather information on adoption and barriers to adoption (such as broadband internet).

The audience, Watson said, is broad. The ICTC hopes to hear from ag equipment manufacturers, agri-food processors, food-tech companies, any other kind of ag retailer and primary producers.

“This can be anything from beekeepers to dairy to pulses,” Watson said.

The council has partnered with industry associations “across each of the provinces and territories where available,” ICTC manager of research and stakeholder engagement Nathan Snider said.

The survey hopes to return sector-specific and region-specific data to the associations agreeing to put out the study, he added.

Local co-operation

In Manitoba, only the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA) has agreed to push the survey.

The survey’s topic is outside of the forage association’s normal purview, MFGA executive director Duncan Morrison acknowledged, but added that the association hopes to leverage its network of producers.

“We are collaborative by nature; we have to be,” Morrison said. “And we look for things that producers might be interested in. Absolutely, without a doubt, the Information and Communications Technology (Council) is not where MFGA does our business, but we do, do our business with producers, so we thought there was enough connection there.”

The real value for the MFGA, according to Morrison, lies in two questions the association was able to add to the survey relating to groundwater and ecological goods and services. The association hopes to gauge respondent priorities in both of those areas.

The MFGA has limited budget to pursue its own polling, Morrison also noted.

Morrison pointed to the association’s previous work on the Aquanty Project. The multi-year project, completed in 2018, creates a hydrological model to predict outcomes on flood events, different effects on groundwater and the potential impact of different water management strategies in the Assiniboine River Basin.

Further data on groundwater, and attitudes around it, directly feeds into that work, he noted.

“On the ecological goods and services, there’s a lot of talk, but there’s certain ecological goods and services that are taking priority,” he said, pointing to things like carbon sequestration, water quantity and quality or species at risk.

“We just want to kind of get a snapshot, if we can, about what some of the ecological goods and services are that producers are finding very important,” he said.

Timeline

Organizers initially planned to offer the survey until the end of July, although Snider says they now expect data to be submitted by late August, in order to better align with farmers’ seasonal workflow.

Reports from the survey are now expected in late 2021 or into the first quarter of 2022.

“We’re trying to be as malleable as possible based on industry partner needs,” Snider said.

Interested farmers, ag workers and agri-food workers may access the survey through the MFGA website. Farm and industry groups interested in getting involved in the survey can contact [email protected] or [email protected].

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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