Digital Features

Betting the farm: Agtech finds a home in Manitoba

Manitoba Farming. Andrew Draper, Unsplash.

Technology is shaking up pretty much everything these days, and agriculture is no exception. Agriculture has always been an industry driven by technology in one form or another, but today the changes to how ‘farmers farm’ is accelerating faster than ever. Agtech is disrupting everything from crop genetics to herbicide application, and everything in-between. Manitoba, as one of the country’s agricultural powerhouses, is uniquely positioned to become a hub of cutting-edge agtech exportable around the world.

A view from the top

Founded in 2005, Farmers Edge might well be the granddaddy of Manitoba’s growing agtech sector. The company collects real time field data for farmers to monitor crop progress, and then uses the data to make recommendations on how to improve yield, better use input and provide traceability for grain. On the flip side, Farmers Edge also helps farmers access data monetization opportunities through insurance, traceability and sustainability initiatives—with the data providing insights to mitigate risk, increase revenue and more. Farmers Edge now works with growers and firms throughout North America, Brazil and Australia and it all started here.

Kris Kinnaird, head of marketing and customer experience at Farmers Edge has had a front row seat to the development of Manitoba’s burgeoning agtech sector, and he’s seeing blue skies for the most part. “While buy-in for new technologies in agriculture can be slow, we’re literally watching the digitization of farming operations in real time,” he says. “When we help farmers collect appropriate datasets, you can show where and when fertilizer is needed and potentially reduce the amount required; that’s a win. Increased input use efficiency can prove the technology’s value right away.”

Kinnaird points to something as simple as using data analytics to better understand fertilizer usage. “When you can use a farmer’s data to show where and when fertilizer is needed, and reduce the amount needed, that’s a win. Input cost reduction can prove the technology value right away.”

New kid on the block, sort of

GrainFox is a new player on Manitoba’s agtech scene but the people behind the company have deep roots in agriculture. Mark Lepp is the founder and CEO and has worked with farmers and their grain marketing goals for 20 years. He saw the opportunity that data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence could play in farm wealth management. “Farmers have a lot of information available to them all the time, but it’s hard to separate what they need from all the ‘noise’ of the market. There are dozens of factors at play when it comes to selling their crops, and we found a way to quiet the noise so they can focus on what matters to them and drill down on what they need to know,” says Lepp.

Grain Fox Smart Advisor.

GrainFox combines both agtech and fintech into an app that uses both market and farm data to help farmers decide when to sell crops, how much, and to who. Lepp describes GrainFox as the “WealthSimple” for farmers. They also connect to other data providers, like implement manufacturers, to build robust data sets that can benefit both farmers and agricultural vendors.

What it all means

Beyond helping farmers make better decisions on the ground and at the bank, what does agtech offer Manitoba? Last year, the global agtech Market size was valued at USD $13.44 billion in 2022 and expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.3 per cent from 2022 to 2028, according to Research Informatic.

Considering Manitoba is a significant agricultural player, it only makes sense that agtech finds a home here—and for more than just selling tech to farmers. “This is a great place for agtech because we have access to the resources needed to succeed—the customers as a start,” says Lepp. “But it’s more than that. We’re also home to experts and advisors that can help build products that work here and for farmers all over.”

Agtech is also an economic driver in its own right—it is also attracting attention from people with money. “As agtech companies prove their value here, the money starts to flow. Investors can see the potential returns, and they can be impressive,” says Kinnaird. That capital then spurs on more ideas, more startups and more jobs.

The horizon

“We haven’t hit the ‘crawl’ stage of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Look at what’s happened with ChatGPT in just a handful of months,” says Lepp. “There is so much more to come.”

Kinnaird agrees. “As more large companies come to the table and bring investors along, the more growth is enabled. Data monetization and machine automation are spaces making leaps and bounds. The future looks incredible.”

Lepp also sees how Manitoba’s innovative, entrepreneurial spirit can drive the sector forward, faster. “While we could certainly use more funding to help ideas grow, we also have a community of people that have great ideas and want to work together. For those aspiring founders, the tech sector’s doors are open. Manitoba tech is a welcoming place that wants you to succeed. If you have an idea, let’s hear it.”


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