Innovation Saskatchewan is responsible for implementing the province’s innovation priorities and helping grow Saskatchewan’s tech sector. Effective April 2022, this includes operation of the Innovation Place technology parks in Saskatoon and Regina.

VeriGrain: Closing the Gap in Ag Tech

There’s a real problem in the Ag Tech sector flying under the radar: inaccurate grain sampling. It leads to imprecise grain analyses resulting in loss of revenue. Luckily, VeriGrain has the solution.

Accurate grain sampling is important because it identifies key characteristics that are used to determine the value of grain by establishing optimal uses, prices and storage. The major problem comes from the reliability of gathering methods, which can be considered...a bit dated.

“The state of the art for sample gathering is a person with a scoop on a stick and data management done with a notebook and pencil,” says Ken Jackson, CEO of VeriGrain Sampling Inc. VeriGrain, a tenant at Innovation Place in Saskatoon, is an automated grain sampling and data management system that is designed to give growers a representative and accurate grain sample using a combination of two hardware modules and an app.

It works like this: the Sample Extractor Module easily mounts to the discharge end of grain equipment, like an auger or conveyor. It then acquires samples at a computer-controlled interval, which are transferred pneumatically to the Sample Management Module. The app bookends the process determining the sampling interval at the beginning and creating a traceable record from barcoded sample containers at the end.

The result of the fully automated system is grain sample information that is transparent, traceable and trusted, which helps increase grower revenue and reduce grain losses.

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In addition to streamlining grain sampling methods, VeriGrain’s accurate data analysis addresses the issue of poor storage. Grain rots because of heat and mainly moisture, an issue that can be exacerbated or alleviated by accurate grain information. Accurate testing for moisture and temperature can help growers appropriately store grain and therefore more effectively push it out to consumers, reducing both crop and revenue losses.

These data also help more precisely differentiate specific grain characteristics, a process previously done by visual analysis, resulting in better revenue evaluation and optimal utilization. “Take barley for example,” says Jackson. “The variation in moisture and the variation in protein can make the difference between a high-grade feed and international malting grade and the difference in prices is huge.”

Recently, there has been more spotlight on Canada’s food systems and farmers due to the pandemic as grocery shelves went bare early on in 2020 and consumer habits shifted to buy more local options. This exposure of inefficient pathways created an appetite for new innovative technologies in Ag Tech — something VeriGrain is poised to be a leader in.

These incremental technological changes can have an exponential impact on grower revenue, land utilization and food chain efficiency and even shift agricultural mindsets. “Our little piece of all this is putting the attention on ‘How do we utilize what we have?’ [instead of] 'How can we grow more?',” says Jackson.

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With that, VeriGrain is now working to get even more information in the hands of its users, splitting samples into further sub samples, and creating an even more efficient pathway between the app and the two modules. To keep the innovation and momentum going, VeriGrain and other Ag Tech companies will need the continued support of Saskatchewan to invest in the sector and showcase its achievements on the global stage.

“Leading technologies for agriculture have come out of Saskatchewan, but very few people know that,” says Jackson. “I think we need to blow our horn louder and think bigger and move faster.” VeriGrain was recently selected for two prestigious programs that promote agricultural innovations in the U.S.: The Thrive Challenge and the Canadian Technology Accelerator program. “We are here to stay [in Saskatchewan] and hope to create many jobs and work and invest in this sector and are [ready to] embrace that we’re in a global business.”

— February 11, 2021