All together now on digital agriculture

FUNDING | Smart ag efforts get cash infusion for co-ordination

The province hopes a new shot of Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding will bring a more robust digital agriculture landscape, while also addressing skilled labour gaps.

On Nov. 4, the federal and provincial governments announced $630,000 in CAP funding for the Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI).

Funds will support efforts to connect the ag industry and academia and, “align education and training with industry-demanded skills including digital asset mapping, and creating work-integrated learning opportunities for students at all levels,” according to a release.

“Adopting new and innovative strategies is the key to ensuring industry meets growth targets,” Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen said. “Partnerships between government, industry and academia will ensure curriculums provide training relevant to future workforce needs to allow Manitoba’s agriculture industry to continue to thrive.”

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Why it matters: More digital agriculture means more people properly trained and able to leverage that technology.

Jacqueline Keena, director of policy and stakeholder engagement with EMILI, highlighted three main initiatives marked for funding.

Money will go to EMILI’s Manitoba Digital Ag Table multi-stakeholder working group.

“There are about 40 participants who are actually members of that table,” she said. “As well, we have other complementary activities that engage a larger group of industry/academia.”

The working group looks to harmonize education and training in the province with the future needs of the sector. A main outcome, according to EMILI’s website, will be a “talent pipeline to match the demands of the well-paying, disruption-proof jobs needed in the digital agriculture industry.”

The table held its first meeting virtually in June, Keena said, and has scheduled a second for December.

Ray Bouchard, EMILI chair and Enns Brothers CEO, said resources for the table are in place and the working group is, “well on our way.”

“I think we feel quite comfortable that we’ve got really good engagement,” he said. “Now it’s just going to mean continuing to work together collaboratively in terms of identifying the gaps, where the opportunities are, how we deal with curriculum.”

Money will also fund the creation of a “digital asset map seeking to identify subject matter experts, resources, intelligent technologies, data and work-integrated learning supports across the Prairies,” Keena said.

That asset map will allow, “easy access to be able to see who is working on what across the Prairies, whether that’s from an academic research perspective or an industry R&D innovation perspective,” and will increase collaboration and connectivity and avoid duplication, she said.

EMILI is in the final stages of developing a platform and hopes to launch by early December, Bouchard said.

Finally, Keena highlighted efforts to increase work-integration learning opportunities for students.

“It’s not going to be payments out to people to hire students, but it’s to support the activity of work-integrated learning,” she said. “So, fostering that collaboration, making connections between industry and academia, and also, through the asset map, identifying wage subsidy supports in the federal government and other programs that make hiring a student in a work-integrated learning opportunity more affordable for industry members.”

EMILI is, “still very much on the front end of that one,” Bouchard said.

He expects little news on that front until the new year.

About the author

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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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