Provincial fertilizer challenge yields successes

The Challenge included 32 participating businesses, yielding a range of highly competitive proposals, with a big focus on alternative fertilizer solutions…

Posted: Apr 8, 2024

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Fertilizer challenge EN

By Lilian Schaer for Bioenterprise Canada

In the last year, 15 new or emerging alternative fertilizer solutions have been brought to market in Ontario. That’s due in large part to the Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions & Technology Challenge launched by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in 2022. 

The ministry announced the $2 million program to help get homegrown solutions to market after the outbreak of war in the Ukraine sent fertilizer prices skyrocketing and Eastern Canadian farmers struggling to secure supply of a valuable input mostly sourced overseas.

“We heard from Ontario farmers about the need to increase our domestic supply of fertilizer options, and The Challenge delivered,” says Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Thanks to the support offered by this targeted program, businesses across Ontario have been able to get their innovative solutions to market. We will continue to grow Ontario through programs like this that reflect the priorities of Ontario farmers.”

Under the initiative, approved companies could receive up to $200,000 in grants to help them bring already developed alternative fertilizer solutions to market.

OMAFRA turned to Bioenterprise Canada for help in delivering the Challenge and the team sprang into action to quickly roll out the initiative, which was looking for entrepreneurs ready to go to market in less than a year. 

The Challenge included 32 participating businesses, yielding a range of highly competitive proposals, with a big focus on alternative fertilizer solutions, like biologicals, biofertilizers, composts, biostimulants and using different manure sources, followed by precision and digital agronomy tools. 

“We were looking for companies who had an innovation that could really make a difference for farmers, and we were surprised at the number of applications we received and the many entrepreneurs who were ready to meet the short timeline of the Challenge,” says Denise Dewar, Innovation Advisor at Bioenterprise. 

“Not only were we dealing with high inflation and the situation in Ukraine, but the federal government had also just announced new fertilizer emissions reductions targets,” she adds. “More effective and efficient use of fertilizer is a key part of the agriculture sector’s sustainability moving forward, but we can’t lose sight of the need for profitability as well.” 

Haggerty AgRobotics was one of the nine Ontario-based companies that received funding through the Challenge for its efforts to speed up soil sampling as well as improve the quality of its results. 

“Soil sampling is quite labour intensive, especially on larger acreages and the time it takes to get results is often several days or weeks in the busy season,” explains Jason Gharibo, Project Manager at Haggerty. “We integrated multiple technologies into a single system; the ultimate goal is to have all the systems integrated into a single, automated and autonomous platform.”

Thanks to the funding, Haggerty will be able to offer quicker turnaround on fertility results and higher resolution soil fertility maps so growers can more accurately address what their soils actually need. Automating much of the process reduces the amount of labour needed for manual soil sampling as well as employee hours spent driving across fields to gather data. 

“We were able to test several iterations of the system,” Gharibo says. “The funding really helped us accelerate our timelines in getting the needed testing completed.”

Another successful funding recipient is CanGrow Crop Solutions, a southwestern Ontario developer, adaptor and manufacturer of fluid fertilizer products that also works in biological products to boost crop production. 

Through the project, CanGrow brought four new fertilizer products to market that work to break down residue, release nutrients and support healthy plant growth. With the challenge funding, the company completed product trials with growers, hosted educational meetings and training sessions and built a website to support its marketing activities. 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency provided registrations in late summer 2023 and all products are now commercially available. 

“We did most of the commercial trial work in Ontario, but also some in the Prairies. We worked with potatoes, corn, soybeans, canola, edible beans, alfalfa, and wheat,” says CanGrow President and owner Ray McDonald. “This really helped jump start us into the marketplace; without the funding we would’ve been another two to three years to come to market. This allows for developing more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of cropping and farming.” 

The Fertilizer Accelerating Solutions & Technology Challenge was administered and delivered by Bioenterprise Canada, Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine. The Challenge, which wrapped up in 2023, provided support to Ontario-based organizations with commercialization-ready alternative fertilizer products and technologies. 


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