The future of farming is robotic.
That was one take-away from the annual Chilliwack Economic Partners Corp. farm tour on September 9, which resumed its in-person event for the first time in three years.
The day-long event treated more than 50 participants to tours of Dutch Heritage Greenhouse, which specializes in producing cut chrysanthemums; Booknook Farms, a robotic dairy operation; the new MolsonCoors brewery, which uses local water and hops in its beers, and Canadian Organic Feeds.
The four businesses each use technology in different ways, with two key aims: to make better use of human resources and to ensure a higher-quality product.
The three-year-old Dutch Heritage Greenhouses facility, for example, uses automation to create a controlled environment for its flowers, which creates healthier, more productive plants that can last up to three weeks post-harvest.
Brooknook Farms showcased its robotic dairy barn. Purchased in 2015, the premises has allowed the Ricka family to expand from its home farm that’s home to more than 200 cows milked an average of 3.5 times a day by DeLaval robots. Sophisticated cooling systems make efficient use of water and recover heat to reduce energy use.
The best illustration of automation was MolsonCoors, which employs approximately 100 people – but just six oversee the brewing of 100 million litres of beer each year from a control room off the main production floor. The majority are employed in the packaging and distribution operations.
But not to be outdone, Canadian Organic Feeds showed off its new mill built in a converted dairy on Yale Road. Overseen by a staff of five, the milling operation can be controlled from the owners’ phones, allowing grains to be ready for mixing each morning. This has made for an efficient operation that has become a supplier of freshly milled feed to farms as far east as the Kootenays as well as local businesses including Otter Co-op.
Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter, representing the provincial government, noted that technology was a common element helping each business adapt, and underscored the BC NDP’s support for agritech promoting as part of its economic strategy.
“Agritech is going to become an ever more important part of agriculture,” he said.