In the Beginning…

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By Chris Bush

In early July of this year I was fortunate to meet Kanwaljeet Singh (Lucky) at a Surrey Board of Trade Event. When we did, I was disappointed it took so long, but pleased because of the power of the timing.

More than 9 years ago a vision came to life. To create an applied sciences centre where we can identify, develop and deliver solutions for sustainable agriculture. For a very long time, “sustainability” has meant added economic burden on businesses of all kinds, because it was led from the environmental side only. To me, this is an approach that is destined to stumble as the economy has in recent years. March of this year, Canada joined a program called “Industrial Symbiosis”(NISP Canada) that works with businesses to identify waste and wastefulness, to drive economic advantage through collaboration. Here we all win! They have proven to create very strong economic advantage for industry, which naturally has strong environmental gains.

Living and working in the Fraser Valley, I am fortunate to be surrounded by many from the South Asian community. Some I have had the opportunity to work with already, and many more I look forward to. For years I have been carrying details of a world leader in integrated solutions in the bioeconomy. This example is delivered by PRAJ, located near Pune India, and called “Matrix the Innovation Centre”. Here, 9 centres of excellence are co-located with 4 core areas of focus. This is how real, honest solutions will be found.

The life sciences revolution is arriving in agriculture right now, and the Fraser Valley is ripe to harvest the benefits. Between the International Science and Technology Partnerships (ISTP) Canada-India program, the just launched Genome Canada “Feeding our Future” program, the Agricultural Centre of Excellence at the University of the Fraser Valley, and the about to start Agricultural Venture Accelerator Program (AVAP, delivered by SRCTec) we have a lot to be excited about. These are just a few of the “greatest hits” available today, and I am so pleased to be asked by SW Media Group to contribute to their great work. John F. Kennedy said, “The rising tide lifts all boats”, but for the potentials to be fully realized, we must organize into an armada. I hope this column will begin a conversation for the benefit of us all.

Where are we now?

Catalyst Agri-Innovations Society was established “to deliver research resources, bringing industry, agriculture and academia together”. More plainly, I would say it is a “dating service”… We work with the agricultural community to identify challenges and opportunities. Then we go to industry and academia to create a solution team, which we then take to the funding agencies.

The largest opportunity/threat in the Fraser Valley today is nutrient loading as we see it. The number of animal units has steadily increased, while the land available to spread the residuals (manures) is shrinking for a number of reasons. With the cost of land in BC, most of the feed feed is imported from outside the Valley, which means that we are out of balance, and not just a little. At the same time, because of utility and functionality many are buying commercial fertilizers. Manure is simply not suited to crop optimization, and the most effective delivery options. As touched on in the last column, I pioneered anaerobic digestion in BC when we commissioned the first plant in 2010. In February of this year, Fortis BC issued a “Request for Expression of Interest”.  I was very pleased to learn that there were more than 20 respondents to the request, on top of the 4 farmers/developers already in discussions with the energy company.

As exciting as that is, digesters are only PART of the story. They “cook” the nutrients, reducing odors, destroying pathogens, and getting them plant consumption ready, but they do not take them all the way to a viable commercial fertilizer replacement. Effectively, the quantity of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (NPK), and micro nutrients are the same. There is a wide range of solutions for nutrient extraction in development, but still nothing mainstream. It is reported that we have hit peak phosphorus some time ago, and many factors are increasing the cost of nitrogen as well. This is fortunate, as it is shifting the economics where the manure conversion technologies are becoming economical.

In the next story, I will tell you more about some of the technologies in the works for nutrient extraction, including our “Biofuels 3.0” where we start with “waste”, make energy, and food is the by-product!

Chris Bush

Catalyst Agri-Innovation Society, Abbotsford