Q&A: Cross‑border partners in AgTech

CanadExport talked with Christina Connelly, a trade commissioner who covers agriculture, food and AgTech in Minneapolis, about the demand for AgTech in her region—and how Canadian innovators fit right in.

Christina Connelly
Christina Connelly, trade commissioner in Minneapolis

Why is Minneapolis a centre for agribusinesses?

This is an economy that’s been steeped in agriculture from its beginnings. Today 51 or so percent of our land is still farmland. Historically, many food processing companies were born in this region because of the agricultural land and the Mississippi River for shipping. We have Cargill, we have General Mills and many others.

How does that make it a good place for AgTech startups?

The tech industry and ecosystem has really started to explode as some of those large agribusinesses have invested heavily in startups. A lot of Fortune 500 agribusiness have a venture arm and do technology scouting.

How are AgTech companies finding niches in the market?

The way these companies succeed today is to tweak something that's already working, or to put one technology together with another. By now we've figured out that farms have big data, and they should be using systems to manage that data. But how one system talks to another system or how it is user-friendly to the farmer—the devil is in the details. Companies that succeed figure out something special that's not been done before.

Are there lots of opportunities there?

It's a young field and there's still a lot of a lot of things that can be improved upon in the farming system. I'm surprised sometimes by how many opportunities there still are to innovate within existing farm practices. Much is still done with pen and paper!

Where do AgTech innovations originate?

Many simple solutions are not born out of agriculture, they come from information technology, telecommunications or healthcare and they're applied to agriculture. What makes a company successful is it figures out how to appeal to a farmer in a way that takes into account all of the vast knowledge and expertise and history that farmer has.

Is Canada a centre of AgTech expertise for U.S. companies?

Canada has a lot of agricultural land and ag‑based economies, especially in the prairies, that are also built on agriculture. So the R&D institutions in Canada turn out fantastic innovations, and that is known at a global level. The systems in Canada and the U.S. are also not so far apart, which makes it easy for us to do business together. We are each other's trusted partners.

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