In this policy brief, we present the results of interviews conducted with stakeholders and partners of Canada’s Global Innovation Clusters (GIC, formerly Innovation Superclusters) on the development and adoption of automation and robotics technology. The interviews with the GICs constitute the third phase of a more extensive four-pronged study to investigate opportunities and challenges associated with building competitive production systems in Ontario’s agri-food sector, focusing on the barriers and drivers associated particularly in the development and adoption of automation and robotics technology. We will provide a brief overview of the two earlier phases to put the present discussion in context.
In phase 1 of the project, the research team administered a province-wide survey of Ontario’s agricultural community. The survey was meant to identify several key issues, namely:
- the extent of adoption of automation and robotics technology by the Ontario agriculture sector;
- the barriers/drivers to adoption;
- where farmers have adopted innovative automation and robotics, were the original reasons for making the investments achieved, and were the outcomes positive, negative or neutral;
- how barriers to adoption were overcome;
- what steps could be taken to accelerate innovative automation and robotics technology transfer and adoption in the agriculture sector.
Additionally, the survey shed light on contextual factors shaping the adoption of new technologies, such as the farmers’ interactions with agri-food laboratories and research centres, their perception of changing trends in these new technologies and how these might affect their businesses, the internal and external factors that influence their decisions to adopt automation and robotics technology, and difficulties encountered in achieving their business goals. The survey thus provided a quantitative portrait of the current barriers, constraints, drivers and opportunities of automation and robotics technology adoption in Ontario’s agriculture sector.
The second phase of the project focused on Niagara’s agri-food sector as a case study with 38 interviews conducted with farmers, technology developers, researchers and other agriculture stakeholders (e.g., commodity organizations, extension specialists and agri-businesses). The interviews enabled the research team to explore the factors shaping automation and robotics technology adoption in ways that cannot be directly observed in numbers. Moreover, focusing the lens on Niagara shed light on the factors that account for technology adoption within the context of a regional agricultural innovation system. For analytical consistency and cumulative insight, the interviews followed the same themes as the survey questions but with the added advantage of a more open-ended conversational format that enabled the research team to explore underlying issues and factors shaping automation and robotics technology adoption.