Techopia Live: New generation of entrepreneurs using tech to overhaul agriculture

Agritech talk was on tap this week as Techopia Live went on tour for a special networking event at TD Place. Joining FarmLead CEO Brennan Turner was Startup Canada’s new chief executive director Anastasia Valentine, who shared her perspective on agritech from the top of the national entrepreneurship organization.

“We’re seeing, more and more, people are trying to solve problems in the agricultural industry through technology,” Valentine told a crowd of Ottawa tech execs gathered in Otto’s Club overlooking the field at TD Place.

Turner, with his own family roots deep in the agriculture industry, is a prime example of an agritech entrepreneur. The Ottawa exec comes from a Saskatchewan farm that stretches nearly four times the size of Manhattan, N.Y., where his extended family still works the land. After coming to the nation’s capital as a pro hockey player and transitioning to a career in tech, it was his experience back in Saskatchewan – seeing longtime farmers selling their crop in-person or over the phone – that led him and co-founder Alain Goubau to come up with a better way.

The result was FarmLead, which develops a centralized marketplace for buyers and sellers to meet and facilitate large-scale grain transactions. The Ottawa firm has since taken its solution across North America and was previously named to Forbes’ list of agritech innovators.

While Turner conceded there are still a few “stubborn people” who stick to a more traditional take on the grain trade, he said the younger generation of farmers are expecting to use tech in every facet of their lives, from phone apps to autonomous tractors.

“It’s provided a forcing mechanism for that older generation to adopt (technology),” Turner said.

He noted the rise of the Internet of Things has allowed for precision agriculture techniques that optimize yields based on soil conditions, and even technologies such as GPS that are commonplace today have meant major improvements for career farmers accustomed to an old-fashioned approach.

“The efficiency gains ultimately result in productivity gains; you’re able to grow a better crop, a bigger crop. And ultimately that adds to the bottom line,” Turner said.

“It doesn’t matter if you run a large operation, like my family does, or … just a couple acres, the technology application is very significant.”

Valentine and Turner both went on to share their tips for taking an agritech startup – or any company, for that matter – across the border into the United States and beyond. While Valentine noted that the administrative burdens that come with going global might be daunting, the challenges that come with scaling internationally tend to get easier over time.

To hear more tips on what to focus on before taking your business across the border, watch the video above.