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Minogue: Silicon Valley, Saskatchewan style

Jordan Dutchak is bringing Silicon Valley’s working style to Saskatchewan agriculture.

This weekend software developers, engineers, students and entrepreneurs will team up with farmers and ag professionals in Saskatoon at Emerging Agriculture, the first Canadian agricultural hackathon, where they hope to develop cutting-edge solutions to agricultural problems.

The idea of a “hackathon” originated in the tech sector, where it’s common for teams of professionals to work together in marathon sessions to build creative solutions for tech problems. This weekend, teams of students and professionals are expected to build products for Prairie agriculture.

Farmers and ag professionals are already posting project ideas on Emerging Agriculture’s online “idea wall.” On Friday night, engineering students, computer programmers, designers and other professionals will listen to pitches of those ideas, decide which problems they’d like to tackle, then form teams.

“On Saturday, they start work,” Dutchak said.

During the weekend, professional mentors from the fields of law, accounting and business will be on hand to answer questions and help the teams develop their projects.

On Sunday, teams will finalize their work and present it to a panel of judges made up of sponsors and mentors. The team with the best idea will win 10 hours of consulting from KPMG to help them move their idea forward.

The second place prize is three hours of consulting from Square One. Norheim Ranch is sponsoring the Prize for Innovation: a business contract to allow one group to keep working on its solution.

Chelsea Norheim is with The Rack, an ag input company at Biggar, Sask. and one of the Emerging Agriculture sponsors. Norheim sees Emerging Agriculture as a way to bring farmers with ideas to the people who can bring those ideas to life.

New realities

“We have all kinds of crazy ideas all the time,” she said. “The biggest problem is we don’t have the time, but also the cash that would actually make this stuff happen.”

Norheim has posted a project suggestion on the idea wall: a real-time green seed monitor for canola harvesting.

Norheim is hoping one of the teams will choose The Rack’s idea and spend the weekend developing hardware and software to make it happen. Such a product, she said, could help farmers make better decisions about harvest timing, grain storage and grain marketing.

This idea, she said, came from a group of people talking informally at an earlier Emerging Agriculture event. “I think that’s an example of how this hackathon is supposed to work.”

As well as kickstarting new products, Norheim said she hopes this weekend’s hackathon will help raise awareness about the new realities of agriculture. “This isn’t a low-end, low-tech, farmer-and-his-pitchfork industry anymore,” she said.

For more information or to post a suggestion on the idea wall, visit the Emerging Agriculture website.

— Leeann Minogue is the editor of Grainews.

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