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Annual Indiana summit stresses ag innovation to solve problems

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Last week, AgriNovus – an industry sector initiative formed to cultivate agricultural innovation in Indiana – hosted its annual Ag Biosciences Innovation Summit. The event featured speakers on topics of ag innovation efforts in Indiana, and how to foster more innovation among researchers, companies, universities and organizations in the state.

To feed the future’s population, farmers in the United States will have to grow a great amount of food. But to do that, they will need some tools to catalyze the process on less land, with a reduced amount of food loss and increased sustainably.

Speakers at the Summit all agreed ag innovation is flourishing in Indiana, and holds the potential to make world-altering innovations. Lt. Gov. and Indiana Ag Commissioner Suzanne Crouch gave the opening talk.

“I am constantly in awe of the growth and the scope of our agricultural assets in the state,” she said. “Those assets contribute over $31 billion to our state’s economy. Our success is built on a partnership with seemingly disconnected industries, but getting our traditional agricultural strings connected with our life science and tech centers becomes more and more critical with each passing year.”

Crouch said she and Gov. Eric Holcomb are in support of, and will encourage, innovation. “We understand the importance of ag biosciences in Indiana, and we will continue to encourage and incentivize innovation and entrepreneurship as we take Indiana to the next level.”

Another VIP at the Summit this year was Sonny Ramaswamy, a former Purdue University staff member and current director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. To frame the challenges of the ag industry and how innovation might resolve those challenges, he brought up themes which were echoed throughout the Summit.

“We’ve got two bookends at either end of this nutritional insecurity situation –hunger, resulting in death, and excessive amounts of calories, resulting in death as well,” he explained. “It’s happening right now with about 7.5 billion people. In addition to that, we’ve got a slew of other challenges we’ve got to think about.”

Ramaswamy described the state of the current world food system as an “existential threat.”

“We’ve got the technology and knowledge to be able to address this, but we can’t deploy it, because we, humans, cannot agree on how to go about it.” He drove home that crop and livestock producers should be at the center of all ag innovation.

“These producers that we have are being barraged, literally, by a whole slew of non-living conditions like climate change, like environmental degradation, like policies and regulations,” Ramaswamy said. “And there’s biological constraints as well, such as insects, pathogens and weeds.

“It’s almost like our farmers are stuck in a headlock and being squeezed, and these ag innovations that we’re talking about is our ability to relieve that pressure.”

Despite the somewhat bleak picture Ramaswamy painted of current world food challenges, he also said the path forward can be found in ag innovation.

“We need those types of transformative discoveries and 21st century abilities to deliver that information through extension,” he said. “It’s not enough to just increase yields. We have to make sure it’s a sustainable and a profitable enterprise. From the farm to the trash can, we need smart minds to be able to solve these problems.”

The day’s activities included three panels with various ag bioscience experts who, in the spirit of innovation, answered questions posed to them via Twitter as well as in person. Themes and topics revolved around research collaboration, entrepreneurship, the influence innovation in agriculture might have on the world at large and how opportunities for innovation can be cultivated in Indiana.

To close the event, Holcomb praised the ag innovation community and said he and his team will continue to tout Indiana’s ag accomplishments on trade missions.

“We need to do even more to tell Indiana’s success story, and I’m finished being modest these days – and when we get to Tokyo, or we get to Budapest, or the U.K. or Paris, or New Delhi most recently, we are relentlessly sharing the fact that Indiana is rocking and rolling, and a lot of it can be traced to where your industry is,” he said.

Following the Summit, participants were encouraged to stay for a networking reception. Presentations are uploaded online at the AgriNovus website and may be viewed at