Contributing to Food Autonomy in Quebec through Artificial Intelligence

How INO and Univerco collaborated on the development of a vegetable harvesting solution.

The labour shortage is a reality that is severely impacting Quebec agriculture. It is leading producers to take double bites, rely on foreign labour, or unfortunately—reduce their production. Concerned with being at the heart of solutions, INO has been involved for several years in automated harvesting projects. And more than ever, the team was literally “in the field” during the summer of 2022.

INO began work in 2018 for crops as varied as mushrooms, cucumbers, and broccoli. Depending on the variety, the work took place both in the greenhouse and in the field. However, although the solutions differ, they consistently involve artificial intelligence. INO therefore captures images and “trains” an intelligent model to analyze them. Once the model is “experienced,” the system accurately recognizes vegetables, provides their position in three dimensions, and analyzes their ripeness level to give (or not) the instruction to an automated system to pick them.

In 2022, a manufacturer, Univerco, joined the adventure by providing its expertise in the design and manufacture of agricultural machinery, and with a view to marketing the new product once development was complete. In a sense, INO therefore provides the “eyes,” while Univerco provides the “brain” and “hands” to carry out the picking.

While the initial work was done on broccoli, the solution also has potential for several other crops, such as cauliflower, cabbage, and asparagus.

The follow-up in the summer of 2023

The breakthroughs in 2022 lived up to expectations, which is why, in 2023, the team will conduct tests with a major vegetable farmer located in Southern Québec to validate the reliability and strength of the system and to ensure that it meets industry harvesting standards. It will then be possible for Univerco to deliver copies… and possibly one in Tasmania for further testing in collaboration with a partner established in several countries.

Thanks to technology, it is now therefore possible to replace pickers, resources that are as rare these days as… Tasmanian devils! In this way, local producers will be able to maintain or even increase their production capacity, thereby contributing to Quebec’s shift toward food autonomy.

Democratization of automation in agriculture will contribute to the sustainability of local agricultural businesses.

- Alain Grégoire, Chief Executive Officer, Univerco