Natural resource innovation is N.B.’s past and future

Daily Gleaner Commentary, Meaghan Seagrave Jenny Keleher September 24, 2016

MEAGHAN SEAGRAVE COMMENTARY

Recently, the provincial government released the province’s growth plan.What struck me was the number of initiatives that focus on natural resource development.

This is no coincidence,as it’s becoming clear that our top-level decision makers are waking up to the idea of building our economy on a foundation of our traditional industries of forestry, agriculture and fisheries. 

The future of New Brunswick’s economy and the key to create jobs and grow GDP is to marry the old and the new – use 21st century technologies to create new products for global markets. 

Our growing IT competencies combined with traditional industries can create value-added products from our natural resources.

What does value-added mean? It means instead of clear cutting and selling logs to the highest bidder,we collect and mine data about our forests to uncover and extract the real value. 

Alec Ross, author and speaker at the upcoming Big Data Congress,said it best recently in an interview: “A lot of old-economy businesses and industries are being made new through the application of big-data analytics.” Big data is only one of the tools we can use to transform our resources into value-add.

“Blueberry development” is one of the selected opportunities outlined in the New Brunswick Growth Plan. At first glance,it seems like an “all of our eggs in one basket” sort of opportunity, but the philosophy behind it is sound.

Blueberries are just one New Brunswick-grown asset with properties bound for a value-added fate.More than just freezing the berries and selling them, we can create new and more valuable products to export around the world. 

Wines, beauty products and dietary supplements are just some of the product applications for blueberries and other resources that are drawing attention from consumers at home and abroad. The markups,margins and profits are bigger, meaning more wealth and jobs here at home. 

This sort of thinking moves us from commodity markets into high-value markets with year-round jobs at all levels of the value chain. Our producers and processors can employ new technologies and innovate, look at different models and explore value-added aspects of their harvests to employ,export and grow.

The best part? New Brunswick has the biomass diversity and the technical know-how to become a bioproduct sandbox for new technology validation and product creation.

With six million hectares of productive forest and 4.5 million hectares of arable farmland,there’s a lot of space to grow these industries – literally. 

Thirteen research institutions are dotted around the province,from the Huntsman Marine Science Centre at the Southern tip in St.Andrews, to Coastal Zones Research Institute at the Northern tip in Shippagan where they are working with our traditional industries to create new products.

A culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is permeating the Atlantic region.A fresh standard for new product research-and-development and business-model modernization will transform our traditional industries. This culture is encouraged by a supportive business ecosystem and organizations such as BioNB, a not-for-profit that’s marking its 20-year anniversary.

Next week (Sept.26–Oct.2) is Global Biotechnology Week, in which BioNB and its partners will celebrate the 56 per cent job growth and 41 per cent increase in bioscience companies experienced in New Brunswick over the past three years.

These statistics are a promise – a promise that science and technology will bring our traditional industries into the 21st century.

MEAGHAN SEAGRAVE IS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF BIONB.

The New Brunswick government identified blueberries as one of a number potential growth areas in its economic growth plan. The plan in no way precludes government from moving toward energy development.   PHOTO: TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL ARCHIVES

 

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