Zone Agtech

This interview details Zone Agtech, an indoor farming technology company based in Canada. The interview is with Marilou Cyr, General Manager of Zone Agtech.

Source: Zone Agtech

What is the origin story of Zone Agtech?

Launched in February 2020 as part of the revitalization strategy of the MRC de L'Assomption, the Zone Agtech carries, deploys, and animates a regional innovation ecosystem dedicated to innovative companies in agricultural technologies and plant bioproducts.

Covering an area of 15 square kilometers, it ensures that businesses have easy access to all the necessary tools to accelerate their development and market entry: welcoming and experimentation spaces, workforce, highly skilled personnel, investors, business coaches, corporate and collaborative innovation consulting services, acceleration and financing programs, networking opportunities, and access to relevant international networks and corridors.

To fulfill its mission, it has established a five-year program in collaboration with major stakeholders actively involved, including the largest university faculty in agricultural and food sciences in Quebec - Université Laval, the main horticultural science research center recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture of Quebec - CIEL, the collegiate center for research in agro-environment and circular economy - Bio.Enviro.In, the collegiate center for technology transfer - Biopterre, the accelerator Cycle Momentum, the fourth-largest greenhouse manufacturer in the world - Industries Harnois, Canada's largest food banner: Sobeys, the territory development organization - CieNOV, and the cities of Repentigny and L'Assomption, encompassing over 126,000 citizens and providing 3 million square feet of industrial space for the project.

The Zone Agtech also leads a pan-Quebec network called the Agtech Community of Quebec, which brings together over 250 members and partners from the research, entrepreneurial, funding, and market access sectors, supporting it to increase its impact and promote better international positioning of Quebec's agtech initiatives.

In addition to targeting investments of over 400 million dollars and supporting the industrial conversion of the MRC de L'Assomption, the Agtech Zone's programming pursues three main objectives:

  1. Accelerate the development and market entry of innovative agricultural technologies and plant bioproducts capable of addressing challenges such as labor shortages, climate change, instability in global food chains, and environmental preservation in the agricultural and agri-food sector.
  2. Promote intersectoral mutualization and collaboration.
  3. Enhance the visibility and positioning of agtech innovations from Quebec, both domestically and internationally.

On a daily basis, it stimulates the development of research and innovation projects in the agtech sector, facilitates their transfer to the markets, co-manages acceleration and funding programs, attracts investors, encourages the deployment of mutualization and collaboration initiatives in the regional ecosystem, establishes technology transfer initiatives, and annually organizes more than 35 events, activities, and international missions. Its priority verticals are controlled environment agriculture, robotics and agriculture 4.0, plant bioproducts and agroecology, and high-nutrient-value and low-environmental-impact foods.

Its relevance in Quebec is well demonstrated as, in less than 3 years:

  • It has supported over 140 companies in their innovation projects.
  • Deployed 5 innovation and acceleration programs and pathways.
  • Co-founded 6 inter-order research chairs.
  • Confirmed 30 companies in direct investment in the MRC de L'Assomption.
  • Initiated Quebec's visibility and international collaboration in the agtech sphere with 7 countries.

Given the high demand for office, workshop, and laboratory spaces in the ecosystem, the Zone Agtech is also building an innovation and business acceleration space. This space will become the hub for agtech innovation projects in Quebec, where research organizations, technology developers, users, contractors, investors, and coaches will come together to accelerate the development of groundbreaking innovations for the future of Quebec.

Source: Zone Agtech

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Zone Agtech in the future? 

One of the biggest challenges currently facing the Controlled Environment Agriculture sector is profitability and access to manpower. We are working on both fronts, initiating and promoting research projects, innovation acceleration programs and training programs with the province's top universities. Here are just a few of the projects we are working on with our partners:

  • Research Chair in Greenhouse Crop Protection (Université Laval): With modern agriculture dependent on chemical products, science faces a major scientific challenge: finding ways to maintain the productivity and quality of agricultural resources while reducing the use and impact of chemicals on the environment.
  • Research project on the effects of far-red light on sweet bell pepper plant yield (Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières): We hypothesize that supplementing far-red light with LED lighting composed of blue, green and red light accelerates flowering and fruiting, and increases fruit shaft strength and sweet bell pepper productivity per unit area cultivated.
  • Leadership Chair in Greenhouse Energy and Climate Optimization and Management (Université Laval): to train a qualified workforce in the field of greenhouse energy and climate optimization and management, and to transfer new knowledge to industry players, in addition to carrying out research projects tailored to industry needs.
  • We are also in the process of setting up a training center and a major pan-Quebec strategy to accelerate the development of knowledge and the adoption of clean technologies applied to the sector, in collaboration with Université Laval and 6 of the province's horticultural associations, representing over 1,000 growers and farmers.

On an internal level, stimulating research and innovation in our field requires substantial funding, in particular for the creation of infrastructures tailored to needs. The mobilization and investment of influential groups and institutions wishing to make a significant impact for future generations (GHG reduction, adaptation to climate change, increased productivity to feed a rapidly growing population) are crucial.

Source: Zone Agtech

What is the current size of your indoor growing area(s)? 

Zone Agtech’s area is located 20 kilometers from the international metropolis of Montreal on the land of the Cities of Repentigny and L'Assomption, which have reserved 3 million square feet classified as industrial and 1.3 million square feet classified as agricultural for the construction of our innovation zone. To date, we are aiming to become the largest vertical farming hub in Canada. Currently, the companies on our territory are in the process of constructing buildings totaling 800,000 square feet, of which 400,000 will be dedicated to various vertical crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, etc.

We also welcome greenhouse producers who wish to be at the forefront of the development of future technologies in controlled environment agriculture, food processors, and, of course, technology and biotechnology developers to address the challenges of today's and tomorrow's agricultural production.

Do you use CO2 in your research today -- if so, how much and what do you pay for it? What are your thoughts in CO2 usage in indoor farms? 

We are currently working on the establishment of a greenhouse complex dedicated to demonstrating innovative agricultural technologies and bioenergies (with the aim of creating zero-light and zero-carbon greenhouses). One aspect involves utilizing the heat and combustion byproducts to convert them into energy and CO2 for the greenhouses.

Energy is a big topic in indoor farming right now. How much do you pay for electricity (kWh)? Is it mainly from the grid or renewables?

In Quebec, we are fortunate to have a pan-Quebec hydroelectric network that is zero-carbon and completely renewable. The vertical farming companies currently under construction draw their power from this hydroelectric network. We also benefit from one of the world's lowest electricity rates, at $0.057/kWh.

How can people connect with you or learn more about Zone Agtech?

They can call us at +1-450-397-5777 or www.zoneagtech.ca

They can also follow us on Linkedin and Facebook :

https://www.facebook.com/ZoneAgtech/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/zone-agtech

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