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November 03, 2014 | Tom Ballard

Ag innovation strategies to be explored next week in Murfreesboro

TN Rural ChallengeBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Months of listening to the needs of farmers, university agricultural leaders, and others involved in the state’s agricultural ecosystem will come to fruition next Tuesday (November 11) when the “Tennessee AgriTech Challenge” is held at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

The all afternoon event is focused on strategies and opportunities to accelerate the agricultural innovation component of the rural economic development plan crafted at the behest of Governor Bill Haslam. Titled “Governor Haslam’s Rural Challenge: A 10-Year Strategic Plan,” the blueprint was developed by the State Department of Agriculture, Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, and the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture.

The Governor set a goal of having Tennessee be the number one state in the Southeast in the development of agriculture and forestry, and the agricultural innovation component of the plan will have a significant impact in starting new agricultural companies that will create jobs, increase rural wealth, and provide new opportunities for farmers.

“The (November 11) event is designed to do a couple of things,” said Pete Nelson, Chief Executive Officer of Ag Innovation Development Group and a consultant with the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. The latter has joined with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture to organize the event.

“We want to unveil some of the recommendations that have come from four regional meetings held across the state,” Nelson said. Those sessions were held in Knoxville, Martin, Memphis and Nashville and featured representatives from more than 35 different organizations and companies from across the state.

“We want to discuss what an Agricultural Innovation Ecosystem is and make it understandable for farmers and other members of the rural community,” Nelson added. “Finally, we want to showcase some established companies and start-ups that are examples of innovation in action.”

During the afternoon session, there will be a keynote speech, panel of industry experts, and four 10-minute pitches by entrepreneurs starting agriculturally-focused companies.

Industry panelists are:

  • Ron Meeusen, Managing Director of Cultivian Sandbox Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on building next-generation disruptive agriculture and food technology companies;
  • Walt Mullins, Trait Manager for Bayer CropScience, a company that has made a one billion dollar commitment to ag innovation in US, including $17M investment in its Tennessee-based research center; and
  • Barry Knight, Chief Operating Officer of Cresco Ag LLC, a Tennessee company with the goal of helping farmers gather and compare data in order to make better management decisions for their farms.

Four start-ups will be in the spotlight giving 10-minute pitches each directed at investors in the audience. The start-ups are:

  • Climate Adaptive Genetics is commercializing a heat-tolerant cattle using technology developed at Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University.
  • Croptell is developing a financial farm planning software for the row crop farming industry. The company’s goal is to make farm budgeting and reporting simple, accessible and relevant.
  • Hivalgo is redefining the grains and oilseeds markets through information technology. The start-up’s customers will have access to better information on the tangible and intangible attributes of the grain and oilseeds provided by their producer suppliers and be able to purchase directly from those producers.
  • Sytheros Communications is developing a wireless sensor platform for agriculture and other industries where novel sensors and long-range, low-cost communications can be combined to create solutions to reduce water and energy use.

The packed agenda will give attendees a great opportunity to view what is new and innovative in agriculture, while hearing about future plans to grow many agricultural-based startups in Tennessee.

In a recent news release, Julius Johnson, State Commissioner of Agriculture, said that “the Tennessee AgriTech Challenge is an opportunity to showcase new and innovative ideas and technologies in agriculture. We believe that the agricultural innovation component of the Governor’s Rural Challenge is an exciting and necessary component to grow rural economies in the state.”

For more information and to register, click here.

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