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Opinion

Long-time innovators, Canada’s farm equipment manufacturers poised to help meet challenges of the agri-food supercluster

By Leah Olson      

Leadership is vital at a time when digital technology is changing farming but also relative to the billions of dollars developing countries are spending to modernize their agriculture industry.

The unique needs of farmers and Canada’s export imperative, the makers of specialized farm machinery in this country have always managed to meet the challenge and excel in what Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains calls 'the global innovation race.' The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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Farming may not be the first thing that comes to mind when Canadians think about technology, but because of this country’s harsh climate, rugged and vast land, Canada has developed a reputation for producing high-quality, leading edge agricultural equipment that is second to none globally.

It’s a story of dedication, innovation and adaptability that has helped Canadian farmers excel, putting the agricultural sector in a position to significantly contribute to the federal government’s goals of driving 21st century economic growth through new technology and export.

The nearly 300 producers of specialized farm equipment and key suppliers represented by the Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada (AMC) welcome the federal government’s investment in the Protein Industries Canada (PIC) supercluster, part of Ottawa’s effort to help turbo-charge the economy by creating centres of innovation across the country.

The mandate of the pan-Prairie PIC, with its 60-plus partners, is summarized as “Unleashing the Potential of Canadian Crops” to capture the massive export-market opportunity for agricultural products.

Innovative farm equipment vital for growing food

Innovative long before the term was widely used, AMC member companies have a special interest in promoting productivity, competitive development and global sales opportunities.

These entrepreneurs have shaped agricultural practices and, in many respects, created the opportunity for rapid European settlement starting in the late 1800s. Central to this evolution was the need to come up with new agricultural machinery capable of meeting the challenges of the Canadian climate and specific regional growing conditions.

This drive for innovation propelled Canadian manufacturers of farm equipment to become global leaders in the development and production of high quality, durable and cutting-edge machinery.

A global success story

Today, Canadian-made farm equipment is among the highest quality and most sought-out in the world. In 2016, Canadian agricultural equipment manufacturers exported more than $1.8-billion in agricultural implements to 151 countries, including mainly the U.S. but also Australia, Russia, China, Chile, Germany, Brazil and New Zealand.

Given this record, it’s not surprising that our members see themselves as key contributors to the federal government’s campaign to maximize the country’s long-term economic potential by making innovation an over-arching goal of national policies and investment priorities and increasing Canada’s exports of agri-food and agricultural products to at least $75-billion from the current $56-billion by 2025.

The government’s effort to enlist entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, manufacturers and others in an unprecedented drive for transformative economic innovation could not come at a more important time.

As in other sectors, the digital revolution portends widespread change in farming techniques, agricultural science and machinery. The investments the federal government is making through the Supercluster program will help speed our member companies’ responses to these technological developments by enabling the research and development activity that is essential to taking advantage of today’s new opportunities in a shorter time frame. Investments like those in the PIC supercluster strengthens Canada’s comparative advantage to produce safe food in a sustainable manner. This leadership is vital at a time when digital technology is changing farming but also relative to the billions of dollars developing countries are spending to modernize their agriculture industry.

Yet having the right seed and inputs is not enough and this is where Canada is different from other countries. Farmers need to have the right equipment to be able to leverage the opportunities of better seeds, inputs and overall farm operations. With agriculture, there is no doubt that the ability to produce specially-adapted, top-of-the line equipment will continue to be a crucial determinant in the sector’s ability to fulfill the all-important objectives outlined by the federal government of sustainable development and heightened global competitiveness.

Meeting the challenges

Whether it’s technological advances, artificial intelligence or new data applications, AMC’s member companies possess the experience, forward-looking strategies and business acumen to produce the equipment that can make a difference as Canadians work together to develop new ways to deliver tomorrow’s food—at home and around the world.

After all, this mandate has been part of the daily outlook for AMC member companies going back many decades. Because of the harsh growing conditions in Canada, the unique needs of farmers and Canada’s export imperative, the makers of specialized farm machinery in this country have always managed to meet the challenge and excel in what Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains calls “the global innovation race.”

Leah Olson is president of the Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada.

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