GLOBE Capital Q&A: Bryan Gilvesy, Chief Executive Officer, ALUS


The Canadian countryside conjures up images of both vast wilderness and plaid-clan farmers in bright red tractors. The first is a symbol of conservation and nature; the second a symbol of economy and production. ALUS is blurring those lines to bring us an innovative approach to nature-based solutions. Its New Acre Project helps corporations exceed sustainability objectives by supporting farmers and ranchers to build nature on their land one acre at a time. Bryan Gilvesy, Chief Executive Officer, ALUS, joined Not Your Grandpa’s Farm: Welcome to the NEW Bioeconomy at GLOBE Capital to discuss the financial, environmental, and social opportunities of a bioeconomy. We caught up with Mr. Gilvesy to learn about the great potential for ecosystem services through agriculture.


Was there a Eureka moment for you in terms of understanding the role for agriculture in fighting climate change?

Yes, there was. I was the third participant farmer to enroll in the ALUS program in 2006. The project that intrigued me at the time was the restoration of the native tall grass prairie here on my ranch in Norfolk County, Ontario. As I learned more about the grass, I realized it had extraordinarily long roots—12-16 feet—with a root ball that replenished itself every two years making it highly effective at sequestering carbon into the soil.

And then, because of the technical support offered by ALUS, my learning only grew. I realized that the grass prairie supports a whole suite of grassland birds like the meadow lark, and it was an important habitat for endangered species, like the American badger. My land became home to a whole suite of native pollinators that I didn’t even know existed. On top of that, those deep roots meant these grasses were extremely drought tolerant and could form part of my drought season feed for my cattle.

This was an ‘aha’ moment for me. I realized how effective native ecotypes can be at sequestering carbon and supporting biodiversity.


What makes an ALUS farmer different from the farmer down the road?

ALUS farmers come to view their farm as multifunctional. They don’t just see it as a means of producing food and fibre, but they also see that they can build natural capital, sequester carbon, increase biodiversity, foster climate resilience, and support wetlands and water. We’re all beginning to recognize that these things have value in the marketplace. ALUS farmers have come to the realization that their farm can be productive beyond the one thing they’ve typically been paid to produce.


What are some common misconceptions about farmers and ranchers and climate change?

Traditionally, we haven’t seen farmers as solution providers for climate change, but I think that notion is disappearing.

One misconception that’s still common is: we often interpret climate action as only the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s so much more than that. When farmers take climate action through nature, it creates a tremendous amount of leverage. You get a whole suite of co-benefits for biodiversity, resilience, water filtration, and more. Further, sequestering carbon effectively means improving soil, which makes our food stores more resilient as well.

ALUS’ New Acre Project captures the full suite of benefits that come from climate action on a farm and makes those benefits available through a marketplace.


Nature-based solutions have exploded in popularity in recent years. For professionals who are new to this space, where do you recommend they start?

I think they should start at the beginning by understanding how native plants function. Plants are part of the carbon cycle. They are energized by the sun and by breathing in carbon dioxide, which they then deposit into the soil through their roots. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need more of this carbon cycle in the world. Native plants established in the correct locations using the correct ecotypes provide the ideal solution. These native plants don’t just absorb carbon, but they also serve as habitat for pollinators, water filtration devices, and habitat for endangered species. With all of this in mind, the advantages of nature-based solutions over mechanical solutions for carbon capture become more obvious.


Could you tell me more about your recent announcement with A&W Canada and Cargill and how it will help us achieve a net-zero future?

Sure. We’re really pleased that A&W Canada and Cargill have collaborated with us to create the Grazing Forward program, which is an extension of the New Acre Project at ALUS. This program will accelerate and enhance rancher-led grazing projects that mitigate climate change. A&W Canada and Cargill have generously committed $1.8 million over three years to support ranchers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba as they continue to scale regenerative agriculture practices. The program is expected to sequester up to 12,578 MT greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to more than 50 million kilometres driven by the average passenger vehicle.  ALUS will take a hands-on, local approach, working with interested Canadian beef ranchers to plan and implement practices that contribute to environmental outcomes. This effort will impact more than 6,000 acres and engage ranchers in 20 communities, extending the New Acre Project’s current reach by 233%. Needless to say, we’re very excited about it!


What was your biggest takeaway from GLOBE Capital?

Well, it was a pleasant experience for us, because our session included a poll asking attendees for their opinion on the greatest opportunity in the bioeconomy. Obviously, we thought emission reductions would be number one, but biodiversity rose to the top as a very important issue for the attendees, which is mostly a business audience. I would not have that expected that. It’s a pleasant surprise for us, because we believe biodiversity is the apex indicator of environmental health, and economic prosperity. If biodiversity shows up, we’ve put the right plants in the right places and managed them correctly. Biodiversity is a sign of a more resilient climate.

Tractors in field

Agtech: A Billion-Dollar Opportunity?

by Bruce Dudley, Senior Vice President at GLOBE Series and The Delphi Group

Agtech, also known as agritech, is any technology or application that ensures agricultural practices are more efficient, productive and/or safe. Think the production of higher yields using fewer resources, reducing waste or pesticide use, or improving food safety and animal health and welfare.

Agriculture is ripe for the picking when it comes to disruptive technology. Other large industries, such as mining, forestry and transportation are already well down the path of transformation. The need for innovation in the ag sector is only going to increase, and here’s why:

  1. Food demand is growing. The population is projected to grow to 9.7 billion people by 2050, up from 7.6 billion today. According to the FAO, global agricultural demand is expected to rise by 70 percent by 2050 as a result.
  2. Available land is shrinking. Arable land is decreasing by 100,000 hectares per year. Climate change and mass urbanization will shrink the availability of arable land even further, according to the World Economic Forum.
  3. GHG emissions are on the rise. Agriculture, forestry and changes in land use together produce 21 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, making them the second largest emitter after the energy sector, according to the FAO. Emissions could increase an additional 30 percent by 2050.
  4. Canada has a lot to gain. Canada is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and exporters. According to the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, Canadian agricultural exports total $56 billion a year and the sector employs one in eight Canadians. As a trusted producer of sustainable produce, Canada’s brand will be in high demand.


The Trend to Watch

The future of agtech is precision agriculture. This includes using remote sensors and real-time data so that farmers only deploy water, nutrients and fertilizer where they’re needed, when they’re needed. It means using drones, satellites and in-field sensors to monitor soil conditions and indicate optimum planting times. And it means using smart machinery and transportation networks to make and distribute food products.

A recent McKinsey & Company report on big data applications for agriculture stated that, according to 2014 estimates, the global market for agricultural robotics is expected to grow from its current $1 billion to $14–18 billion by 2020.

Not only will agtech reduce costs for farmers (many of whom run small to medium businesses) and result in fewer resources being used, but it will reduce the risk of over-fertilizing and the related costs to our environmental health. You only have to look at the recent romaine lettuce scare to realize the potential impact.

Automation is also positioned to transform the sector. For example, wasted food is a huge issue in Canada and the U.S. because we don’t have sufficient labour and resources to get produce to market – the UN conservatively estimates that about 17% of food grown in North America is lost or wasted on the farm. This represents tremendous stranded value for the producer.

Robots, autonomous vehicles and equipment that can be deployed in the fields 24/7 will not only increase productivity, they will reduce food waste and improve safety. This is extremely important when you consider that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries and farmers are at very high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries. Technology has real value to add.

Supporting domestic production is important, but it is even more important to develop safe processes and secure food quantities in developing countries. Precision ag for countries like Mexico as well as regions in Asia and Africa is going to be very important given limited access to resources like water, fertilizers and energy for processing and safe storage.


The Opportunity

Globally, the case for agtech is pretty clear. Here in Canada, the government has set an ambitious target to grow its agri-food exports to at least $75 billion annually by 2025. According to Innovation Science and Economic Development Canada, bolstering technology adoption and advancing digitization in the sector is key to achieving this goal.

Agtech is attracting a diverse range of investors who recognize that the sector needs to innovate to meet the challenges of the 21st century. According to Finistere Ventures, a venture capital firm dedicated to the agtech market, the interest in precision and digital agriculture has grown tremendously in the last few years. Most investors are still seeing agtech opportunities at the early stage, and valuations seem to be trending upward. While there were 76 investments totaling $309 million in 2013, in 2014 this grew to 153 investments and $666 million, and $1.4 billion in 2015. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

Agtech is at the leading edge of disruption that will transform the way we produce food and move it to market. Canada is on the front edge of that transformation and, with our existing reputation as a global leader, there are incredible opportunities for clean growth and value creation.


Bruce Dudley is a Senior Vice President with The Delphi Group and GLOBE Series. Join Bruce and hundreds of investors, innovators and business leaders at GLOBE Capital (February 27-28 in Toronto) to learn more about digital agriculture and other opportunities in the clean economy.


GLOBE Capital returns to Toronto on February 27-28, 2019.

Join us at GLOBE Capital 2019 (February 27-28, Toronto) where we will be discussing the potential for innovation to enhance productivity, improve efficiency, and reduce waste in the agriculture sector, and the impact this has on the investment community, in our session Opportunity Spotlight: Digital Agriculture.