Trio of groups proposes Alberta-based agrifood ‘supercluster’

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Agrium, Olds College and global satellite communications corporation MDA have submitted an application to the federal government to form an agrifood “supercluster.”

The Liberal government committed up to $950 million (over five years) in its March budget to create hubs that would focus on key economic sectors in an effort to kickstart investment, boost exports and create jobs.

The proposed Smart Agri-Food Super Cluster “is intended to create a pan-Canadian platform to help the sector’s diverse, and sometimes disparate, ‘silos’ align more coherently to identify and resolve challenges in the agrifood value chain,” its three proponents said in a news release.

“We felt it important to create something that constructively brings together all the players that comprise the ways we do farming and food,” said Bill Whitelaw, chair of the group’s steering committee. “Our approach is intended to resolve some of the fragmentation dynamics that often hinder innovation efforts.”

The group’s goals include promoting innovation in cropping, livestock, digital and agrifood processing technologies, the release stated.

If successful in obtaining federal seed money, the cluster would seek to involve businesses, not-for-profits, research organizations and post-secondary institutions in projects that create new jobs, export opportunities and safer and more sustainable food production.

“Ottawa would like to see innovation as the driving force that significantly improves Canada’s already strong ag and food leadership position globally,” said Whitelaw, a senior executive with Glacier Media Group (parent company of this website).

“Moving the country upward in global export rankings could create billions of new economic impact.”

If its proposal is funded, the Smart Agri-Food Super Cluster would be administered from Calgary but would seek out partners from across the country, he said.

The supercluster concept has been successfully applied in California’s Silicon Valley, Canada’s Kitchener-Waterloo region, and cities such as Berlin and Tel Aviv, the federal government said in announcing the program.

The creation of superclusters will depend on what proposals are submitted, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains told the Toronto Star earlier this year.

He identified agrifood — along with areas such as advanced manufacturing, digital technology, and health/biosciences — as sectors where Canada is well positioned to become a stronger global player.

Calgary-based Agrium is in the process of merging with PotashCorp to form a new company to be called Nutrien. MDA (formerly MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates) is based in Vancouver and has annual revenues of more than $2 billion. –– Network

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