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Evaluation of the Smart Agriculture and Food (SAF) Program


Alberta Innovates


Program Evaluation, Strategy, Technology

Background and Challenge

Alberta Innovates (AI) is a major crown corporation responsible for promoting innovation in the province. Over the past seven years, the investments made by AI related to agriculture and food funding focused primarily on accelerating innovation in the areas of new product and process development and agriculture biotechnology. The current objective of the SAF Program is to accelerate the transformation of Alberta's agri-food industry through the development, validation, and adoption of smart technologies.4 Specifically, the SAF Program works to advance the industry through:

  • The application of new DNA and molecular tools for accelerated improvement of crops and livestock (omics, gene editing, controlled mutation, bioinformatics).
  • Optimizing production systems and improving production and sustainability through the translation of "big data" (i.e., sensors, imaging, blockchain) into intelligence; and
  • Automation to improve efficiency and accuracy, and address labour challenges (productivity) in the agri-food value chain.

The evaluation focused on economic outcomes, the effectiveness of program design and delivery, the role of AI within the agriculture and food innovation ecosystem, and the development of potential strategic directions and priorities.

Approach and Methodology

Our methodology included a survey of 30 agriculture and food producers who participated in the program, 8 applicants to the programs that were not funded; interviews with 36 stakeholders familiar with the sector; focus groups with 21 stakeholders and experts to obtain further input on the effectiveness and impacts of the programming and the changes in the ecosystem. We conducted an extensive literature review on existing and emerging markets to detail key trends regionally, nationally, and internationally that are relevant to Alberta; mapping of the innovation ecosystem in Alberta and relevant entities and potential collaborators/partners in the global agri-food innovation ecosystem; determine the fit with evolving consumer trends and value chains; alignment with the existing and emerging strengths of the industry and ecosystem; and alignment with government priorities. As part of this evaluation, a Pathways to Impact Model (aka logic model) was developed for the SAF Program. The project involved extensive consultations with agrifood producers, a review of similar programs and initiatives in other jurisdictions including BC, an economic analysis of the sector and development of the recommendation to the government regarding potential strategic direction, and the future planning and management of government programs and supports.


The final report included a detailed review of the eco-system, the importance of smart agriculture, the economic and social return of government investments, and recommendations for design and government involvement in supporting the industry. Based on the evaluation results, including a review of similar programs implemented in other jurisdictions, the report then highlighted findings to be considered when developing future strategic plans for the SAF Program. The project was completed on time and within budget.

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