If there is one constant in agriculture, it is change. Shifting consumer values and preferences, global population growth, access to limited natural resources, climate change and ever evolving global markets all impact the environment in which agricultural producers and food processors are doing business today.

In a constantly shifting landscape, BC’s agriculture sector needs to be able to respond creatively in order to stay competitive – it needs to be able to innovate, and the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program (CBCAIP) is helping make that happen.

In 2014, the Investment Agriculture Foundation (IAF) approved 53 projects, representing an investment of over $4.7 million under CBCAIP.

“The Agri-Innovation program funds projects that are looking for operable solutions to the issues facing agriculture,” says Ken Bates, chair of the IAF board. “This is a program focused on creating better opportunities for BC’s farmers and food processors and increasing our ability to compete as we look to the future.”

For Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt on Vancouver Island, receiving Agri-Innovation funding was a turning point in their effort to develop the equipment and process to produce Greek-style yogurt for smaller-scale yogurt plants like theirs.

“We developed the system and production methodology from scratch,” explains Scott DiGuistini, Tree Island’s co-founder and head yogurt maker. “It took all of our energy and effort this year, but the whole thing would have been impossible for us without this support.”

The new process and modular design will allow Tree Island to expand their Greek yogurt production to meet growing demand across BC and into Alberta. Since January 2014, they have expanded their distribution from five to 120 retailers, including a partnership with Whole Foods and Thrifty Foods.

IAF was also proud to be an early supporter of the BC Food Processors Association’s Path to Commercialization (PTC) program through Agri-Innovation. The PTC program targets BC-based small processors and manufacturers to build the business skills, networks and knowledge required to accelerate the commercialization of innovative BC products.

“A survey of recent PTC participants found that the ten companies that completed the program plan on hiring 65 new employees within two years, and collectively expect sales to increase by $340,000 in the next year,” says Debra Hellbach, program coordinator for the BCFPA. “One of our participants, Andrew Tait of Tait Labs, went on to win the Rising Star Award at FoodPro West.”

Managing resource use and production waste is another priority for the agriculture sector – a challenge that Quadrogen Power Systems is tackling head on in partnership with Delta-based greenhouse growers, Village Farms.

The company is developing a system to use Vancouver’s landfill gas to create energy for electricity, heating, and a clean, renewable source of carbon dioxide (CO2) as fertilizer for greenhouse vegetables.

“We are using renewable resources to do CO2 fertilization,” says Nelson Chan, director of business development for Quadrogen Power Systems. “This is a totally new process that redirects greenhouse gas from a landfill and uses our technology to clean the CO2 so it can be used in a greenhouse.”

The process not only addresses an important environmental challenge, but will also reduce the cost of electricity, heating and reduce the need to buy CO2 for Village Farms.

The Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program is in its second year under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. A total of $13.4 million in federal and provincial funding is available between 2013 and 2018.