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New SFU-based centre to make B.C. a global ‘frontrunner’ in agritech

July 21, 2022
A new B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation will be housed at SFU's Surrey campus thanks to $6.5 million in funding over three years from the provincial government and $10 million over five years from the federal government.

A new B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation—to be housed at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus—will further position British Columbia as a world leader in agriculture technology (agritech) by improving food security—locally and globally—while creating hundreds of new jobs.

The province is investing $6.5 million in grant funding over three years for the centre, while the federal government is providing $10 million over the next five years through Pacific Economic Development Canada (PacifiCan). The latest provincial funding is expected to create nearly 200 jobs and help train more than 700 workers, while adding 30 new agritech projects throughout B.C. by 2025.

The centre is a key component of the provincial government’s StrongerBC Economic Plan, and will be led by SFU in collaboration with its academic partners, including the University of the Fraser Valley, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and others. It has already begun taking applications from small and medium-sized operations throughout the province.

“The B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation will directly improve the lives of people across the province by accelerating the research and development of new technologies in the agritech space—and ultimately creating stronger, more sustainable food systems in our region,” says SFU President Joy Johnson. “SFU is proud to lead the centre in collaboration with our partners in academia, industry and government, and I am thrilled to see the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation providing strong support for this important work.”

The centre will officially open in September and will bring together academic researchers, government and industry partners to create more productive, diverse and resilient food supply chains. It will focus on developing, testing and piloting solutions in simulated and real-world environments to be farm-ready for commercialization.

Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation, announced the provincial funding and acknowledged the challenges over the past few years as the pandemic, climate-change related emergencies and global conflicts have impacted supply changes and food costs. “As outlined in our StrongerBC Economic Plan, launching this B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation will improve productivity here in B.C., meaning more food will be grown closer to home, leading to lower costs associated with transporting food.”

Launching the B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation, SFU President Joy Johnson spoke at an event at Bakerview EcoDairy in Abbotsford, B.C.

Key components of the centre will include creating economic opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and helping small and medium-sized agritech businesses scale up, increase profits and create well-paying jobs. Support will include access to and use of labs and testing spaces, subject matter or technical expertise, staffing for projects, specific consultants and other materials and support.

“The B.C. Centre for Agritech Innovation focuses on implementing a new model of stakeholder involvement, Circle Innovation," explains SFU Professor Sylvain Moreno, special advisor to the vice-president research and international, and chief executive officer and scientific director of the centre. "This model brings together technology companies, agri-food producers, municipalities, Indigenous communities, not-for-profit organizations and post-secondary education institutions to support and grow this industry sector—driving economic growth and recovery in B.C., while addressing climate change and food security challenges in our province."

In January 2022, SFU student Lilian Yang decided to move from her home community in the Central Valley of California to B.C. to pursue her PhD in SFU’s renowned Department of Geography. Her PhD project focuses on advanced geospatial research for agriculture, a field of emerging potential. “As an SFU PhD student, and someone who believes that the challenges of agritech research rely on collaborative environments and fresh perspectives, I am confident that the centre will provide students with opportunities to gain real-world experience with professionals outside of the academic sphere—and produce new generations of capable and well-rounded scientists,” she says.

The centre’s criteria for projects to be considered in the application process must be related to agriculture, agri-technology and agri-foods and have the potential to be commercialized within 12-24 months. They must be B.C. based, privately run and in operation for a least two years with a clear plan for business scale-up.

The centre builds on provincial supports already in place for the emerging sector, including the B.C. Agricultural Concierge Program, the Agritech Grant Program and the Canada-B.C. Agri-Innovation Program.

See the official news release from the Government of British Columbia for more information.

From left, Bob D’Eith, MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission; Dan Coulter, MLA for Chilliwack; Andrew Mercier, MLA for Langley; Bill Vanderkooi, general manager and founder, Bakerview EcoDairy; Henry Braun, mayor of Abbotsford; Joy Johnson, president and vice-chancellor, Simon Fraser University; Pam Alexis, MLA for Abbotsford-Mission; Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.