Growing Agri-Innovation: Investigating the barriers and drivers to the adoption of automation and robotics in Ontario’s agriculture sector
This policy brief illuminates the opportunities and challenges associated with building competitive production systems in Ontario’s agri-food sector, focusing on the issues farmers face in their adoption of automation and robotics technology. The brief is part of a more extensive study to investigate the barriers to, and drivers of, innovation in pursuing globally competitive production systems in Ontario’s agriculture sector.
The research team conducted a survey in the early part of 2021, canvassing farms across Ontario on their adoption of innovative robotics and automation technology. Based on 171 responses, the findings were reported in our June 2021 Working Paper (Lemay, Boggs, & Conteh, 2021) and raised several questions in our efforts to better understand the underpinnings of technology adoption in the sector. In this policy brief, we endeavour to answer some of those questions through a deeper dive into the survey and an analysis of 36 semi-structured interviews with agri-food stakeholders within the context of an agriculture innovation system.
The combined analyses of the survey and interviews challenge prevalent conceptions about the role of technology in building globally competitive production systems in Ontario’s agriculture sector. The undercurrent of this argument is that technology adoption is highly contextual. Not only are there substantial differences in technology adoption between other industrial sectors (e.g., manufacturing) and agriculture, but there are also differences within the agriculture sector, itself. Adoption varies by kind of agricultural commodity, even within the distinctions of crops and livestock.
The analysis also pushes the envelope on conventional wisdom about the propensity of farmers to adopt automation and robotics technologies. Importantly, our findings challenge broad stereotypes about farmers being “slow adopters.” The analysis unearths a far more complex and nuanced set of underlying strategic calculations that inform farmers’ choices about the value of adopting automation and robotics technology. Our analysis suggests that competitiveness of a farm is not wholly dependent on the adoption of a specific innovation such as automation and robotics. In fact, there are instances where such adoption could reduce the competitiveness of a farm, if the decision is driven by external pressures that assume the benefits apply to all farms.