International Conference on Digital Innovation in Agri-Food

Posted on Monday, July 10th, 2023

Written by Elizabeth Thomson

Vidya ShankarNarayan, CIO AAFC, presents at the conference
Vidya ShankarNarayan, CIO AAFC

The University of Guelph co-hosted the first International Conference on Digital Innovation in Agri-Food with Wageningen University & Research (WUR, the Netherlands). The event attracted 130 attendees to campus from diverse backgrounds and sectors including technology, government, agriculture and food, NGOs, and researchers.

With the U of G leading Canada in agriculture and WUR ranked in the QS World University Rankings 2023 as the best university for agriculture and forestry, it’s no wonder such influential leaders* attended. The objectives of the conference were fivefold.

  1. To connect people across Digital Agriculture and Food from all sectors.
  2. To hear and understand each other’s role in the food system.
  3. To exchange ideas on how to address various issues imposed by digital technologies.
  4. To explore how digital advancements can move the industry forward.
  5. To promote digital innovation to improve sustainability and efficiency in agriculture and food.

Conference organizer, Dr. Rozita Dara, associate professor and Data Strategy Director of the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance shared, “the dialogue has started, and partnerships were forged. We hoped we could encourage inter and trans-disciplinary ideas for pilot projects, collaborations and publications and that’s exactly what happened.” An invite only two-day workshop was also part of the conference. Here a diverse group of stakeholders from academia, government and business worked together to identify gaps, opportunities, and future directions in the digital innovation ecosystem in agri-food to reduce fragmentation and enhance adoption. “The workshop was very productive, and we will be sharing a report by the end of the summer with policy and technology recommendations,” explained Dr. Dara.

Tony Gaffney, CEO, Vector Institute, speaks to the conference

Tony Gaffney, CEO, Vector Institute

In 2024, WUR will be hosting the conference in the Netherlands where the international collaboration will continue to breakdown current fragmentations in the field. While adoption today of data and digital technologies in the agri-food sector is still relatively low, ongoing research efforts and partnerships like that of U of G and WUR’s, will foster increased uptake and help improve food production around the world.

*Organizations such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Ontario Ministry Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Maple Leaf Foods, Walmart Canada, National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, Environment (INRAe, France), Food Agriculture Organization (FAO, United Nations) European Commission, Vector Institute, Manitoba and BC government, start-ups, major Ag-Tech companies, CGIAR, (and many other organizations) participated in this event. There were representatives from 10 different international institutions including AgResearch (New Zealand), Desira (Italy), INRAe (France), Cornell U (USA), and a few from the UK and other parts of USA/EU. There were 26 senior leadership representatives (CIOs, CDOs, VPs, and CEOs) from private and government organizations.

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