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January 30, 2021 Innovation & Technology

TELUS division connects the agriculture industry

Digitization of information and data management — that will be the focus of the Vancouver-based company best known nationally as a cellphone, TV and Internet provider. As its new agriculture division acquires and partners with nine companies (so far) TELUS Agriculture takes on a global reach.

TELUS Agriculture doesn’t plan to be part of the day-to-day chores of livestock feeding operations, for example, says Mike Dittrich, one of the directors of the new division, based in Vancouver.

But they will be working with all companies to digitize information — get all data into computer-readable formats — and then tear down those proverbial “corporate silos” that block the exchange of information between the various agriculture and agri-food sectors.

“Our role will be to work with the various sectors to digitize and collect data, introduce new and perhaps higher speed technology for processing and analyzing the data,” says Dittrich. “As we look at the various sectors from farmers and ranchers involved in primary production right through the whole value chain to agribusiness, agri-food, retail and consumers we can look at how to analyze the data to improve production and operational efficiencies.

“Across the whole value chain we can use advanced data systems and artificial intelligence to streamline production, processing and transportation operations, improve food traceability and provide consumers with fresher and healthier food.”

As part of the new TELUS Agriculture venture is a commitment to also improve rural connectivity — improved cellular and internet service in rural areas — so more producers can make use of and access information sources. Dittrich says because of Canada’s population distribution it will require a huge capital investment “but it is not an insurmountable challenge.”

TELUS is applying to agriculture a similar process it applied to the healthcare industry 10 years ago, as it built TELUS Health. There were “silos” of data and information across the healthcare industry. “Doctors had information, but it wasn’t connected to laboratories or to pharmacies or to insurance providers,” says Dittrich. So with improved data management and technology TELUS Health developed an information system that improved the efficiency and delivery of information and health care services.

“And we saw a connection between healthcare and agriculture,” says Dittrich. “First agriculture was a bit of laggard in the use of information and data management technology, but we also saw that improving the production efficiency and delivery of a safe and healthy food supply, would also benefit Canada’s healthcare system.”

Coming out of the gate with its November announcement about the new agricultural division, TELUS says its agriculture and agri-food company acquisitions in recent months already provide support to about 100 million acres of farmland involving a team of 1,200 experts in 50 countries including Canada, US, Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Armenia, Germany, China and Australia.

Of the eight companies it purchased as the foundation of TELUS Agriculture, the most familiar to Alberta crop and livestock producers include Decisive Agriculture, based in Bieseker, AB, a well established company providing precision agronomy and farm management services, and Feedlot Health Management Solutions, headquartered near Okotoks, AB — one of the leading companies in the world providing feedlot consulting services in management of some four million head of cattle annually.

“These companies for example are already using technology to develop a tremendous database,” says Dittrich. “So now as part of TELUS Agriculture how can we work with them, use our latest technology to better manage and analyze that data, perhaps do it faster, and then see how it can be used across other sectors right through to end users and consumers. How

can the information be used to improve the efficiency and performance across the whole value chain?”

Along with the Alberta companies, other acquisitions include Farm at Hand a British Columbia based simplified farm management software developer; AFS Technologies, Exceedra of Florida — a global leader in supply chain management sales and distribution and Muddy Boots, a UK company specializing in farm-to-food traceability and supply management.

More details on these companies and the TELUS Agriculture program can be found online at: telus.com/agriculture.

Dittrich says TELUS Agriculture will continue to expand as opportunities arise and as it fills gaps in the production and agri-food value chain that could include other sectors of animal agriculture such as dairy, hog and poultry production.

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About the Author

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is a long-time agricultural writer based in Calgary, who has been covering virtually all aspects of the Canadian agriculture industry for more than 35 years.

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