Revolutionizing agriculture: Tech, policy and the economy

Idea Exchange

Webinar | Feb. 24

As grocery stores strained to keep shelves stocked with essentials at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, society’s reliance on a strong supply chain and safe food production was brought to light. Many started thinking more about food — how it’s grown, transported and regulated, and what part it plays in our economy. 

The agriculture sector is fast evolving to protect global food security, ensure crop and animal health, and form a more sustainable relationship with the environment. We invite you to watch the recording of our Idea Exchange below to explore the ground-breaking technology, policy reform and research transforming the agri-food and agri-tech sector as we work to stimulate economic growth, strengthen food supply chain integrity, and put safe, healthy food on your table.

Watch the recording

Meet the Expert Panelists

Dr. Herman Barkema, DVM, PhD

Dr. Herman Barkema, DVM, PhD

Scientific director, One Health Consortium; professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine; NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle.

Dr. Herman Barkema completed his DVM degree at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, in 1988. He spent 2.5 years as manager of a large dairy and beef herd in Costa Rica, then taught bovine herd health at Utrecht University and worked as an epidemiologist for the Dutch Animal Health Service while completing his PhD. In 2001, Dr. Barkema moved to the University of Prince Edward Island. He subsequently moved to the University of Calgary, where he founded the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Production Animal Health. He is currently a professor in epidemiology of infectious diseases in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and NSERC Industrial Research Chair in infectious diseases of dairy cattle, with a joint appointment in the Department of Community Health Sciences in the Cumming School of Medicine. He is also a guest professor at Ghent University (Belgium) and foreign expert at the China Agricultural University in Beijing.  

The overall goal of Dr. Barkema’s research program is to ensure a safe and economical food supply with reduced risks of transmission of zoonotic diseases to farm families and the general public. Dr. Barkema has two main research interests; the first is to prevent and control infectious diseases on dairy farms, primarily mastitis and Johne’s disease, including both animal and public health perspectives. New prevention and control programs in Canada, The Netherlands, and other countries have been introduced or changed based on results of his research. His second main research interest involves interactions among hosts, microbes and the environment in antimicrobial resistance. Dr. Barkema has published more than 350 scientific manuscripts and has lectured all over the world. He leads One Health at UCalgary, the Antimicrobial Resistance – One Health Consortium, the UCalgary Biostatistics Centre, the Environment research theme in the Canadian Bovine Mastitis Research Network, and the Alberta Johne’s Disease Initiative. 

Dr. Alex Ramirez-Serrano, PhD

Dr. Alex Ramirez-Serrano, PhD

Professor, Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering; founder and director, Unmanned Vehicle System Robotarium Research Lab; founder and CEO, 4Front Robotics  

Dr. Alex Ramirez-Serrano is a full professor at the University of Calgary, where he has served in diverse roles including director of the Manufacturing program and director of the graduate program within the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. He is the founder and director of the Robotarium research laboratory, where he performs research and development activities in aerial and multi-legged robotic systems. Dr. Ramirez-Serrano is also the founder and CEO of 4Front Robotics, a Calgary-based robotic company that develops highly maneuverable drones and custom field unmanned vehicles for deployment in highly confined spaces such as collapsed buildings. 

Dr. Ramirez-Serrano has a BSc degree in Mechanical Engineering (Mexico), a MSc degree in Mechanical and Aerospace engineering (USA), a MSc degree in Computer Science/Artificial Intelligence (Mexico), and a PhD degree in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (Canada). 

His industrial experience includes mechatronic engineer at ABB Corporate Research (Sweden), and research engineer at Argonne National Laboratory (USA). His areas of expertise are in the design, control, navigation, and modeling of robotic systems with applications to urban search and rescue, agriculture, and humanitarian aid. 

In 2012 his work on highly maneuverable drone technology was selected from across Canada to be part of a six-month exhibit at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa. In 2014, his work developing artificial intelligence humanoid control tools led to top awards at the Price of Excellence World Innovation Competition: Innovation for Health. He is also the recipient of the 2014 ASTech award (Alberta's highest Science and Technology honour) in the category of Applied Technology: Outstanding Achievement in Applied Technology and Innovation, for work in game-changing robot technology. 

His work has also led to other prestigious awards including the 2015 Indra's International Community Award: From Idea to Reality, the 2016 and 2017 UAE Drones for Good award competition, and nomination for the 2020 Falling Walls breakthrough of the year in engineering and technology.  

Dr. Guillaume Lhermie, DVM, MSc, PhD

Dr. Guillaume Lhermie, DVM, MSc, PhD

Director, Simpson Centre; Associate Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Guillaume Lhermie is the recently appointed director of the Simpson Centre for agricultural and food innovation and public education, located at the University of Calgary, School of Public Policy. 

Dr. Lhermie came to Calgary from the University of Toulouse, where he was associate professor in animal health and veterinary public health economics. He also held an adjunct assistant professor position at Cornell University for the last two years. 

Dr. Lhermie is a veterinarian by training; he also has an MSc in Economics and a PhD in pharmaco-epidemiology and innovation.  

Before working in academia, Dr. Lhermie worked in mixed veterinary private practice for few years, as well as in veterinary pharmaceutical industry as research and development project manager and medical director for more than eight years.  

Dr. Lhermie’ s research interests are in planetary health and infectious diseases challenges, specifically the interface between animal agriculture and human health. His research focuses on the economics of antimicrobial use and resistance at the farm, supply chains, and global levels. Most recently, his research has been concentrating on sustainability challenges, developing qualitative and quantitative models aiming to analyze the impact of antimicrobial use on social-ecological systems, and evaluating the impact of policies. Dr. Lhermie also serves as expert in animal health economics for international organizations, national agencies and NGOs. Overall, Dr. Lhermie’s activities intend to inform policymakers, helping them to design sound and acceptable policies. 

Alison Sunstrum

Alison Sunstrum

Founder and CEO, CNSRVX-Inc.; founding partner, CDL-Rockies 

Formerly as CEO and Co-Founder of GrowSafe Systems Ltd., Alison Sunstrum led the team that developed an advanced data acquisition and analytics platform improving animal agriculture’s profitability and reducing livestock’s carbon footprint. Previously, Sunstrum led the development of one of Canada’s first electronic data interchange projects with a Canadian railroad. Alison holds patents for innovative technology and has presented widely on Big Data, the Internet of Livestock Things, and commercializing early-stage technology ventures. 

Sunstrum is a founding partner and fellow in the Ag Stream of the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL); CDL delivers an objectives-based mentorship program for massively scalable, seed-stage, science and technology-based companies. She is a venture partner at Builders VC, a San Francisco/Calgary-based venture capital fund, and an investment committee member of The51 investing in women-led companies.