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Say bonjour to the Bas-St-Laurent: Let’s grow together

Who would ever have thought that agriculture would become one of the areas where buzzwords like ‘disruptor’ are now part of the vocabulary. Disruptors?

After all, for those of us who don’t know much about it, farming is a world most of us think of as predictable. Farmers have boots on the ground. They plant seed in soil owned by families for generations. When we drive by canola, soybean, and cereals farms, beautiful in their simplicity, there is a lovely organizational pattern that emerges. Hard work, well tended livestock, the largest pea protein plant in the world.

No changes we often say to ourselves. Nice in a world of turbulence and risk.

Predictable? Think again.
In fact, agtech is the fastest growing industry in Manitoba which produced revenues of $5.36 billion in 2021 and is projected to produce over 700 jobs over the next three years—currently employing 8,500 people, researchers and scientists at the core.

The around-the-clock pressures of international competition with value-added chains moving at unprecedented speed, the need to feed a ever-growing world and the great desire for sustainable agricultural development are only some of the reasons for the emergence of disruptors in digital agriculture, plant genomics and genetic applications of livestock technologies.

Sure, radical change is their common denominator. But they are very close to home. Outliers, idealists and entrepreneurs revolutionizing traditional industries with hard work, perseverance, and yes, the pure genius of their commitment.

Passionate believers in change. And in the value of partnership. Manitoba is home to 24 world class agrifood research and development centres. They help materialize the great ideas of innovators by developing the consumer ready products in food and health that can make a huge difference in the incomes of primary producers.

It’s all about collaboration. The KGS Group worked with the University of Manitoba to bring bioinoculants to the market that improve soil health and the increased yields that stem from them in environmentally friendly ways.

When Farmers Edge was founded here in Manitoba in 2005 there was no digital agronomy.

No big data platforms that gave the farmer the big picture about their crops. Farmers Edge, along with their teams of researchers brought digital agriculture to the family farm and immense swaths of data were analyzed through the power of AI and big data analytics.

Now digital platforms learn about your plants and the variations in climate and environment so you can take those 100 acres or so out of production, at least temporarily. When you are working with razor thin margins, every acre must pay off. No guesswork.

One of Manitoba’s award-winning companies is Prairie Fava, built on a tiny powerhouse that is
changing the world of food.

The fava bean is ancient, and well, not particularly pretty at that. But as Hailey and Cale Jeffries did their homework over the years, this poor relative in the pulse family is now a star in the global marketplace.

With more protein than other varieties, the fava bean not only helps farmers with nitrogen-fixing in their soil, but, presto, can be transformed into meat substitutes and baked goods and yes, even ice cream!

Like many Manitoban thought leaders, the Jeffries worked with research teams such as those at the renowned Food Development Centre which excels in food research, offering, among others, laboratory trials to ensure the commercial readiness of food products and food ingredients for domestic and global markets. Yes, a star is born.

Did you know that the humble potato has become part of the world’s dietary supplements business? Manitoba-born MSP Starch Products Inc saw where the puck was heading during the recent pandemic. The word immunity is the key.

And it’s in vogue. The largest potato starch producer in Canada came out with Solnul to respond to the huge demand for prebiotic formulations in the dietary supplements business.

Will this recent fame detract from the natural humility of our homegrown Manitoba potatoes. Only time will tell.

Here at Manitoba Inc., we are proud to promote just a few of the thought leaders and innovators that are part of a galaxy flourishing in our communities, fine universities, and cutting-edge businesses.

But as someone once said, knowledge shared is power multiplied. Across this great country, innovative hubs in research and science are producing extraordinary products and services. We want our readers to consider the possibilities of sharing. But we have to get to know them first.

Manitoba, meet the Bas-St-Laurent—a place where innovation is part of its DNA.
Salut, comment ça va?

Inclusive work environments and strong relationships built on communities with shared values of collaboration and teamwork characterize this lovely place nestled alongside the magnificent St. Lawrence estuary where whales and marine creatures create a paradise for tourists—and, oh yes, did we mention the sunsets are only second to those of Hawaii, according to National Geographic?

But factor this is as you walk the historic towns of the region or savour the magnificent cuisine. Comprised of more than 456 companies, Quebec’s life sciences industry employs 56,000 workers and contributes $5.8 billion to Quebec’s GDP.

In fact, some of the best scientists make their homes in the Bas-St-Laurent.

In a recent issue of Business Worldwide Magazine, we find the winners of their 20 most Innovative companies award. Probiosphere is one of these and a leading light in the world of white biotechnology. Pierre Naider Fanfan, the visionary biotechnology scientist who created the company turned his focus to the impact of wastewater treatment on the environment which led to his commitment to protect life in any form.

Nestled in the lovely little town of La Pocatière, in the beautiful Kamouraska region, the innovation hub at Biopterre exudes great science with a mission is to contribute to regional development by increasing the competitiveness of companies in the bioresource sector.

The centre was instrumental to the launch of Inno-3B, a highly scalable new generation vertical farming technology using automation and digitalization in a closed-loop environment.

Biopterre partnered with LiveRoof® a Quebec company which manufactures a patented modular green roof system. The growth substrate plays a crucial role in this technology. Its components provide vital nutrients and retain the water necessary for plants. There’s Adsol Advanced Solutions which produces efficient and sustainable LED lights to protect greenhouse plants from common diseases and insects without pesticides. Biopterre dug in to support the impressive entrepreneurs at Blanc de gris, who have been using brewery spent grains as a cultivation medium of oyster mushrooms.

Quebec accounts for about 25 per cent of the production of peat moss in Canada, and some of the biggest restored sites in the
world are in the Bas-St-Laurent, not to speak of the oldest.

A natural boon to horticulturalists across the board, the remarkable ability of peat moss to efficiently manage water and hold on to nutrients is what makes it a vital resource for quality consistency for growers across the board. In fact, during the pandemic, it was clear that peat moss was seen as an essential food service particularly in the USA, a major importer of the product.

Premier Tech, the peat moss giant conglomerate with headquarters in Rivière-du-Loup, is active in 28 countries and, with over 225 scientists and researchers employed on site, the company has become the most important center for private innovation and R&D in eastern Canada.

The expertise developed by Premier Tech and its business groups and thought leaders over the years, particularly in biotechnology, has led to the production of mycotechnology and a wealth of agricultural and horticultural applications.

In plain language, the humble mushroom, which has a fascinating underground association with plants, is used to create value-added products for the agri-food industry, and in solutions for the bio-energy industry. This is critical to the struggle to de-pollute contaminated soils and toxic wastes, as well as in the global, sustained efforts to curb drought. And it all stems from the symbiotic relationship between fungi and the trees and plant life they live with. Yes, an underground ecosystem developed over 500 million years.

Lessons for the human species that is not nearly as old? You betcha!

Much of the early research in mycotechnology—as well as new breakthroughs in the field—has developed in in the innovative hub we know as the Bas-St-Laurent. Passionate commitment to change in research and science. In the big ideas we need to build a better future.

Now let’s look closer to home. To the simplicity of the once forgotten fava bean now transformed into ice cream and baking
products, or our peas feeding a global demand for protein—or just think of it—our humble Manitoba potato trying to stay modestly obscure despite its stardom in a billion-dollar probiotics supplements business.

We are all on this journey together, Canada.
Yes, disruptors in science and technology are transforming industries and building new business models that are changing the world we live in.

They are close to home. They are thought leaders in agricultural technology. They are gifted entrepreneurs. Disruptors all.

Canadians. Making their country stronger every day with their vision and commitment.

Manitoba, meet the Bas-St-Laurent. The possibilities are infinite. Let’s get to know one another.

À bientôt!


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