Smart farm proposal anchors Ottawa's bid for piece of $950M fund

A parcel of land the National Capital Commission administers is being proposed as a testbed for smart farming technology.

Ottawa participating in bid led by Alberta private sector for federal innovation funding

Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder said the Greenbelt Research Farm will provide a testbed connecting Ottawa-based tech companies with the agriculture sector. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The City of Ottawa is pitching the idea of turning a parcel of land the National Capital Commission administers into a testbed for smart farming technology in a bid for federal innovation funding.

The parcel of land is bounded by West Hunt Club Road in the north and Fallowfield Road in the south, Greenbank Road in the west and Woodroffe Avenue in the east. It's located across the road from a Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab.

Barrhaven Coun. Jan Harder presented the proposal to the business community at Ben Franklin Place on Friday.

"Between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency field and our farm field, we're talking close to 3,000 acres, north of suburbia, north of Barrhaven," she said. "It's amazing that we have that."

The federal innovation supercluster program is offering up to $950 million dollars from 2017-2022 for hubs that will generate the most economic growth.

The Ottawa proposal is part of larger pitch led by a group based in Alberta's private sector.

Getting data to and from the field

Winnipeg-based Farmers Edge is one of the key industry partners on the proposal. They have already set up weather stations and toured the Greenbelt Research Farm site.

Bruce Ringrose, head of sustainability and stakeholder relations for the company, said Ottawa companies can help figure out challenges with rural broadband and network connectivity.

"How do we move data from the farm to the cloud, allow our people to process that and send recommendations back in real time? We're not quite there in real time, but we think we can get there with the strength of Ottawa-based companies and expertise," Ringrose said.

Michèle Marcotte, a research director at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, said the Ottawa supercluster proposal is an opportunity to break down silos between the tech sector and agriculture industry. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Having the testbed close to government research facilities is also a competitive advantage, according to Michele Marcotte, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada director of research at the Central Experimental Farm.

Her department is working to digitize 130 years worth of data on pests, disease, insects and fungi that could be used in a platform. Marcotte hopes the data can be made available through the supercluster.

"This is really a good opportunity to mix to sectors together, to break silos," she said. 

Upgrading networks, autonomous vehicles

Ottawa's bid for another innovation supercluster, centred on digital technology, didn't make it to the shortlist of nine proposals.

However, Invest Ottawa President Michael Tremblay said companies working in Ottawa's traditional telecommunications and networking sectors will have a role in the agri-food proposal.

Michael Tremblay, president of Invest Ottawa, said the city's failed bid for a digital technology supercluster has led to discovering other opportunities. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"If you could imagine large combines that are basically being connected using next-generation network technology, for the efficiency of it, for the heavy data that comes out of the work that happens on those combines," he said.

"These are opportunities that currently the bandwidth of existing network technologies can't really handle."

Tremblay said autonomous vehicles software being developed in Kanata will also have applications in the field.

The proposed research farm is part of the supercluster application, but Harder and Tremblay both said it has generated enough interest that there may be a way to advance the idea even if the bid is unsuccessful.