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Waterloo, Ont. startup using AI to grow mushrooms


A Waterloo, Ont. startup is working to give mushroom farming a boost with the help of artificial intelligence.

Mycro Harvest is based out of the University of Waterloo's startup incubator, Velocity.

It's not your typical mushroom farm and its co-founders aren't your typical mushroom farmers. That's because there's nothing typical about this farming operation.

"We're developing AI-powered smart farms for mushroom growing," said co-founder Christopher Klich.

The company will first focus on scaling production in the multi-billion-dollar fresh mushroom industry.

Mushroom farming relies heavily on manual labour and monitoring. Farmers also need to have highly technical knowledge to avoid losing crops.

"Mushrooms are a very finicky crop," said co-founder Justin Cheng.

But Mycro Harvest is looking to change that with their farm of the future, focusing on more efficient fungi farming.

They've been growing shiitake mushrooms on sawdust substrate blocks. The magic happens inside their lab version of the smart farm.

"We're using specific monitoring technology to essentially keep an eye on the blocks and detect if there's disease because contamination is a huge issue in mushroom farming," said Klich. "[It] also optimizes the environmental conditions. So that's the temperature, humidity and CO2 levels inside the growing room that these mushrooms are grown in."

The mushrooms are grown on sawdust substrate blocks. Technology monitors temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and possible disease contamination. (Chris Thomson/CTV Kitchener)

It's a scaled-down version of what's to come. Mycro Harvest is working toward creating growing units that are roughly the size of an 18-wheeler truck.

"A regular mushroom container, when you buy it at the grocery store, is about one pound. So we're talking about outputting between 3,000 to 4,000 of those little mushroom containers every month per grow unit," said Klich.

The startup says their smart farm will not only scale up production, but it will do so at less than the market rate of traditional farms.

"So the AI, you can imagine being a replacement for that skilled grower that's required to come in multiple times a day that has years of experience growing this crop and kind of qualitatively tell what they need," Cheng said. Top Stories

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