Tech conference brings together bright minds to ‘hack’ ag industry issues

The Emerging Agriculture conference Jan. 9-11 aims to foster ag industry innovations

Move over, Silicon Valley — hackers will soon be setting their sights on Saskatoon to solve the industry’s biggest problems.

The agriculture industry, that is.

Rory Nussbaumer

Rory Nussbaumer
photo: Supplied

“Emerging Agriculture is a weekend hackathon where we get students and non-students interested in agriculture together to collaborate on agriculture-based technology and ideas, and hopefully make some startup companies out of them,” said Rory Nussbaumer, committee chair for the Jan. 9-11 event at the University of Saskatchewan.

Now in its second year, Emerging Agriculture draws university students and industry experts from across the country to ‘hack’ — or solve — technology problems in the agriculture industry.

The premise of a ‘hackathon’ is simple: On the first day, people pitch their innovative ideas and then gather up to six people who think they can help make the idea a reality. Over the course of the weekend, the group explores solutions to the problem, then presents its ideas to a group of judges for evaluation.

“Say you’re an engineer and you have a really cool accessory for a drill that you think is going to save farmers a crazy amount of money. But you need someone from a software background to help you out,” said Nussbaumer.

“You can come pitch your idea on the first day and say you’re looking for computer science individuals. If someone from computer sciences is interested in your idea, you guys can collaborate on the idea together.”

The three-day event helps students make “connections that they might not have made.”

“The main problem we’re solving with this hackathon is getting that connection between computer science, engineers, agriculture, and commerce; and bringing them all together to create those networking opportunities,” he said.

“There’s not much opportunity to actually collaborate with other colleges, so this connects the computer science, commerce, marketing, and agriculture people together to work on these ideas.”

Ag industry technology innovations are the focus of Emerging Agriculture, but groups can also ‘hack’ finance, marketing, or engineering ideas.  

Ag industry technology innovations are the focus of Emerging Agriculture, but groups can also ‘hack’ finance, marketing, or engineering ideas.
photo: Supplied

But Emerging Agriculture doesn’t just involve students. The event organizers are also working with big names in agriculture — like Seed Hawk — and technology — like IBM — to bring outside expertise to the table.

“One thing we’re going to be focusing on this year is creating more in-depth and value-added ideas,” said Nussbaumer. “In order to do this, we partnered with a bunch of local companies and out-of-province companies to offer summer internship opportunities.”

Emerging Agriculture also has an online idea wall where people can post their innovations and hopefully have them brought forward at the event itself.

“Anyone — from a consumer all the way up to the industry — can post on our idea wall,” said Nussbaumer. “Basically, you just go to our website and post a summary of your idea. It can be anything from technology to something related to finance.”

So far, the idea wall has generated over 15 innovations, including real-time green seed monitoring technology for canola and a variety selection app. And while most of the ideas so far have been submitted by students, farmers are “definitely encouraged” to participate.

“Any farmers who have an idea can participate or just come watch if they want to see what all the ideas are,” said Nussbaumer.

“They’re the ones who are getting impacted in the long run.”

The hope is that the groups will go on to create a startup company and commercialize their ideas, said Nussbaumer.

“There’s a lot of groupthink that happens in college, so I think when you’re getting some outside perspectives, you can create some solid companies in the long run.”

For more information or to submit an idea, visit emergingagriculture.com.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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