By Connie Swaim
INDIANAPOLIS — Test tubes, petri dishes, robots — there are not the typical things you think about when you consider “farming.”
However, for the more than 500 people who attended the Nov. 20 Agbioscience Innovation Summit hosted by AgriNovus Indiana, these were the things people were talking about. Considering the first summit, three years ago drew only 75 people, it is obvious advanced technologies are of interest to the next generation of farmers.
The theme for this year’s conference was “Pushing Boundaries” and certainly the summit did just that.
“We want to connect people who didn’t know they should be in the room together,” said Beth Bechdol, President and CEO of AgriNovus Indiana in her opening remarks. She said this where food and agriculture intersected with life sciences, automation and robots.
An underlying theme for much of the day was about how the Midwest didn’t need to rely on either coast for technology breakthroughs. Instead, Indiana and the Midwest could be driving forces. Seeming to drive that point home was Susan Martino-Catt, Vice President of operations and seed supply chain with Inari. She spoke during the last segment of the day titled “We’ve Got a Good Thing Going Here! Why Indiana.”
Inari, which was headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., recently moved some of it staff to West Lafayette, Ind. The firm partners with independent seed producers, using its unique computational and genetic toolbox to introduce high performance crops that improve the economic and environmental realities of production agriculture.
“Inari is a seed company, we have no fields near Cambridge,” Martino-Catt said. “Indiana was a convergence of a lot of things, including the proximity to rich soil.”
“It’s time for Indiana to tell its innovation story,” Bechdol said.
There were numerous FFA members in attendance and certainly one thing any young person would take away from the summit was that a job in agriculture may have nothing to do with living on a farm. Certainly, there are numerous jobs in the tech sector that require skills other than knowing how to drive a tractor.
“Technologies have to be implemented on the farm. Getting labor is a big problem because the skill set is different,” said Kristin Bloink, Vice President of global research and external innovation, Elanco. “There is a gap between technology and farming,” she said.
Ronny Moser, Vice President of research, United Animal Health, said start ups and tech companies need the farmers and those who grew up on a farm. It is one thing to develop a technology, but if inventors don’t truly understand how a farm works or how livestock actually lives on the farm, then the technology may fail.
While technology was certainly the topic of many conversations, many things that are old can be new again; especially for companies wanting to reach younger consumers.
During a Start-Up Spotlight segment, Nick Carter, Co-Founder and CEO of Market Wagon, showcased his company which brings farmers markets and artisan products to the doors of consumers who live far from the farm. There is now a big push for locally grown food. “Locally grown food is a niche. It is important to local farmers and will help keep farmers on the farm,” Carter said. He added that he was forced to leave the family farm at 18 because there was no work for him there. He is now excited to be back in farming with his new company. “We can make local food easy and convenient,” he said.
Carter said research indicates 58 percent of shoppers value locally sourced food, but less than one percent of what grocery stores spend is on procuring local food.
Clean label foods were the topic for JoAnne Zhang, CEO and Co-founder of Phytoption. She talked about her product Floura, a product free from chemical treatment, allergens and GMOs. “People want to use natural flours like their grandmas used to use,” she said. She said her product will “help make foods natural again.”
Cargill invested in block chain technologies in response to consumers who wanted to know more about where their turkey came from. Rob Stewart, President, Cargill Protein, said “We listen to consumers. They wanted more connection to the turkeys they were buying.” By adding technology to the mix, Cargill developed a way for a consumer to scan a code on a package of Honey Suckle White turkey and find out about the farm the turkey came from.
For those wanting to learn more about ag, science and biology, AgriNovus offers a weekly 10-minute podcast AG+BIO+SCIENCE which can be found on whatever platform you currently use to listen to podcasts. There is also Quadrant, a monthly convening series aimed at bringing together a diverse group of professionals to further connect the ag, bio, science community. For more information visit www.agrinovusindiana.com.
Those who attended the Nov. 20 Agbioscience Innovation Summit came away with a lot of goodies included Beck’s popcorn.
There were eight sessions at the Agbioscience Innovation Summit and the lineup read like a Who is Who of the ag world. The Disruptive Technologies Presents New Opportunities session included Scott Beck, president of Beck’s Hybrids (far right); as well as John Glushik, with the Heritage Group, Theresa Mayer with Partnerships, Purdue University and Dan Peterson, with the Cook Group.