Wrap-up: Governor’s Conference and ACI
January marked a busy month for Indiana’s food and agriculture industry. Governor Pence hosted the Inaugural Governor’s Agriculture Conference followed shortly thereafter by the Agribusiness Council of Indiana’s annual Conference and Expo. Both events featured an impressive array of speakers including Governor Mike Pence, Dow AgroSciences CEO Tim Hassinger, Elanco Animal Health President Jeff Simmons, Cargill’s Executive Chairman of the Board Greg Page, as well as representatives from every sector of the industry.
One of the common themes that emerged from these events was the challenges that the food and agriculture industry will face in the coming years. The world’s population is growing – it is expected reach 9 billion by 2050 – both in size and relative wealth. Accordingly, food production must double over the next three decades. At the same time, resources such as arable land and potable water are not keeping pace with the population growth and demand for food. As a result, there is a demand on food producers to produce more with less.
This challenge is compounded by a number of issues. Increased federal, state and local regulations provide obstacles to growth and innovation. Perhaps more problematic is the growth in consumer distrust of scientifically-proven industry innovations, such as genetically-modified crops, crop protection products, and intensive animal agriculture production methods. Additionally, the demand for human capital to drive innovation and research is outpacing the flow of talent from Indiana’s universities and technical schools. Projections of depressed commodity prices over the next several years provide yet another challenge that must be overcome.
The events’ speakers, however, discussed a number of solutions to these challenges. Two important themes ran through the discussions throughout these conferences. The first was investment in human capital. Dr. Jay Akridge discussed the steps being taken to increase not only the number of graduates from Purdue’s College of Agriculture, but also the quality of their education and the partnership with Ivy Tech to provide an alternative path for those wishing to pursue secondary education in food and agricultural production. Industry leaders like Tim Hassinger and Jeff Simmons discussed the importance that industry is placing on identifying, attracting and retaining talent in Indiana. Meanwhile, Dr. Dwight Armstrong (CEO, National FFA), discussed nationwide efforts to expand agricultural education and leadership in secondary schools.
The second major theme to emerge was collaboration. Educational leaders discussed the importance of collaborating to develop a holistic, multi-track approach agricultural education. Industry leaders discussed the need to collaborate on research, branding and marketing, which has resulted in the launch of AgriNovus Indiana. Consumer education was also identified as an area in which industry collaboration is needed, with groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, CropLife America and others taking the lead on providing science-based education to consumers on topics such as GMO crops and livestock production practices.
Perhaps a third theme ran through the conferences as well: optimism. Despite the challenges facing Indiana’s food and agriculture sector, speakers from across the spectrum expressed optimism that Indiana has the talent, resources, and desire to make the industry a major factor in Indiana’s economic growth and development over the next several decades.