Telus Corp. has bought seven companies in the past year and is putting them together to ramp up its internet service to the global agriculture and food industry.
Telus Agriculture business unit will provide supply chain management and data analytics services to businesses at each level of the food chain.
Executive vice-president Francois Gratton said Telus was drawn to the agriculture sector, in part, because its different players — seed growers, farmers, food manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurants — aren’t sharing information between themselves as efficiently as they could.
“Today, they’re completely isolated,” he said. “We saw a huge opportunity to increase yield, reduce waste and, importantly, be able to trace the quality and safety of your food from its origin.”
Telus said its seven acquisitions in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom put it in a position to provide real-time data for 170 million acres of farmland that will help build “AI and machine learning-based insights” for farmers.
By connecting data across each level of the food chain, Telus said it could help trace the origin of foods to the field level, helping retailers deal with foodborne illness outbreaks without having to indiscriminately throw out tonnes of product.
It could also increase risks and liabilities for farmers if the source of food-poisoning outbreaks can be traced to a particular farm.
“Our solution is going to be able to identify, eventually down at the plant level, the origin of the food and the safety of the food,” Gratton said. “If there’s an issue that arises in one supermarket, we can clearly identify where it came from and reduce enormous tons of waste.”
Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, said agriculture has lagged behind other sectors, including health care, when it comes adopting to big data analytic tools.
“The agricultural revolution is coming. It’s happening,” he said. “Canada could play a massive leadership role in shaping it.”