Global Institute for Food Security – Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL)


With global population expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, the Global Institute for Food Security at the University of Saskatchewan is focused on performing research that will help deliver transformative innovation to agriculture in both the developed and the developing world. One initiative being undertaken to support this research is the creation of Canada’s first Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL). OPAL will support state-of-the-art precision agriculture using high throughput digital phenotyping of crops integrated with genomics data and analysis expertise.

Precision agriculture is the management of crop inputs like water, fertilizer, and plant protection products at the correct time and place to increase productivity and maximize yields, in a sustainable manner. New digital technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), remote aerial imaging of plants using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and in-field environmental monitoring will be combined with genetic information (genomics) for those same plants. The combined data and analysis will be a powerful tool for plant breeders.

The Government of Canada, through Western Economic Diversification Canada, will provide $1,351,000 to OPAL, which will be applied to the purchase of phenomics equipment and computational hardware to support phenomics and informatics needs. This will include the purchase of advanced UAVs that have been customized for crop phenotyping, a mobile transportation unit to support the UAV equipment, and aerial on-board and in-field sensors.

Additional funding is provided by National Research Council Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Global Institute for Food Security, University of Saskatchewan.

Key Benefits

  • OPAL will provide clients with solutions tailored to their crop data and analysis needs, including: experiment design and workflow, genomic and/or phenomic technical support, and data acquisition and analysis. It will also provide consulting on technical details and costings for project planning.
  • OPAL will be staffed with experts who have significant scientific knowledge and experience in omics data, crop analysis, and data management and delivery. It will function as a centre of expertise for the crop genomics and phenomics community in Canada.
  • OPAL services will offer support to an existing portfolio of precision agriculture techniques, associated analysis in genomics (i.e., genome assembly, genotyping) and phenomics (aerial imaging) and will establish new techniques of long term strategic significance for precision agriculture applications in western Canada.
  • High throughput digital phenotyping of crops (phenomics) integrated with genomics data and analysis will make will precision agriculture faster and more cost-effective.
  • As a clean technology, the use of precision agriculture will increase production efficiencies, result in significant input cost efficiencies for individual producers, and reduce on-site degradation of soil resources and off-site environmental problems.
  • The application of the new precision agriculture tools will contribute to permanent savings in CO2 emissions through reduced use of fossil-based fuels, fertilizers and plant protection products.

About the Global Institute for Food Security

The Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) performs discovery research that aims to deliver transformative innovation in agriculture in both the developed and the developing world. To address these issues, GIFS research focuses on three areas: Seed and Developmental Biology, Root-Soil-Microbial Interactions, and Digital and Computational Agriculture. GIFS was founded as a public-private partnership among PotashCorp, the University of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Saskatchewan and is based at the University of Saskatchewan. It is the home of leading researchers and has attracted over $100M in funding to date.

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