Over a day and a half, the attendees at the 2017 Colorado State University AgInnovation Summit 2.0 heard from a former U.S. secretary of agriculture, the current CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and the chief information officer of a major grocery retailer, as well as a number of dynamic speakers from throughout the agriculture value chain.
Tying these sessions together was the assertion that innovation in agriculture is moving forward, transforming the industry by propelling traditional agricultural companies into new products and delivery models that are responsive to consumer desires. At the same time, rural communities, historically the locus of agricultural production, have had to adjust to a new agricultural economy, one that will require more private investment in rural production, infrastructure and entrepreneurship.
Young people can transform agriculture
Tom Vilsack, former U.S. secretary of agriculture, opened the summit with an impassioned case for renewed investments in rural manufacturing and agriculture – focused especially on encouraging young people to stay in their communities. Youthful energy and ideas are central to agricultural innovation, noted Vilsack, who offered that “young people have the power to transform food and agriculture.”
In hearing from Juan Luciano, CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, attendees learned that even large agricultural companies need to become more nimble and responsive to consumer needs and desires. Luciano may have surprised the audience when he reported that ADM has entered the growing pet food business, the products of which are highly sought after by discriminating millennials and retirees. Luciano also noted a change in consumer behavior as customers, once interested in “price, speed and convenience,” are now more concerned with how food has been produced and food safety as well as how animals have been treated in the supply chain.
Consumer innovations are also connected to agriculture
Shoppers at King Soopers in Colorado, a Kroger store, have become increasingly familiar with ClickList, the company’s growing online grocery ordering service, one of several emerging retail technologies discussed by Chris Hjelm, chief information officer of Kroger. Hjelm also highlighted digital signage that allows stores to change prices in “seconds, rather than hours” and sensors that report the temperature in food cases in real time and send out alerts should temperatures rise, compromising food safety and quality.
These keynote speakers were just a few among many speakers and panelists at the summit who highlighted the ways in which agriculture today is vastly different that 50, 20 or even 10 years ago. Panelists on the technology panel noted the increasing “democratization of information and technology” and that the problems faced by agriculture will have a tremendous impact on the developing world, impacts that have yet to be fully realized or addressed.
Mark Retzloff, founder of Horizon Organic Dairy and Aurora Organic Dairy, commented that agriculture must be responsive to changing consumer demands as well as responsible to the environment impacted by agricultural production. “Values need to be a central concern” for producers, noted Retzloff.
Throughout the summit, speakers and attendees emphasized that technological innovation, new business models and evolving consumer tastes and behaviors have forever changed how food is produced. “Innovation is about fresh thinking that creates value,” said Ajay Menon, dean of CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Through innovation, Menon noted, “agriculture is a force for good.”
The conversation around agricultural innovation will continue among university, industry and community partners in the days, weeks and months to come in anticipation of another summit in September 2018.
For more information on the 2017 summit, visit the website.