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Nelson discusses ag trends and future during “Cultivate Appalachia Bootcamp”

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The always passionate and somewhat animated Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch, delivered his usual insightful thoughts about the current state of the agricultural sector and important future trends during a late morning session Tuesday with participants in the inaugural “Cultivate Appalachia Bootcamp.”

As previously noted in teknovation.biz posts, it is the first official program of the Appalachian AgriFood Innovation Cluster, an initiative organized by Memphis-based AgLaunch with funding provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The eight participating entrepreneurs will explain their start-ups during an event from 5 to 7 p.m. today to which the public is invited. To register, click here.

Nelson actively engaged the participants throughout his one-hour informal discussion, asking on numerous occasions in one way or another if they were following the top trends that he was trying to emphasize. Near the end, he asked for their list of emerging trends and where they thought the agriculture sector would be in the next 10 years.

Leading Nelson’s list was the matter of change driven by consumers . . . what they want and what they are willing to pay for. He suggested that individuals take time to walk through the grocery section of a Walmart and see how many food products were not available just a few years ago.

“I did that recently and counted about 20,” Nelson said. One of the participants later cited ImpossibleTM Burgers, launched in 2016 and now offering meat, dairy and fish alternatives made from plants.

Other trends that were on his list included changing costs for technology and the business models for those in the food industry. One that he cited was Kroger building indoor farms next to its distribution warehouses.

“There’s no silver bullet for agriculture,” Nelson declared. “We’re going to need plants and animals coexisting together.”

He also identified ongoing trends that will impact the ag sector. They range from water management to labor shortages – not unique to agriculture, land preservation and soil health, and generational transfer of farms.

That prompted a rhetorical question about managing better and building resiliency over time.

Within the next decade, Nelson identified several trends. They included: (1) pricing based on what he called output traits; (2) income streams for farmers from data and incubation services fees; and (3) carbon/ecosystem credits.

At that point, he asked for suggestions from the participants. Their thoughts included:

  • One early prediction was that the days of farmers owning everything on the farm – equipment and livestock – will change. The way we heard it was akin to fractional ownership for tax and other benefits.
  • Another participant talked about peer-to-peer education, helping people learn how to grow something so they can be resilient. Another participant jumped on the idea, equating it to the DIY (Do It Yourself) model.
  • There was the prediction for a value-based system, a trend that is being discussed in the healthcare sector.
  • Verification of the source of a food product was believed to be a likely issue sooner rather than later.
  • Finally, with so much data and Internet of Things devices that are likely to populate farms in the future, the issue of cybersecurity awareness and preparedness was identified.

During a presentation at the opening session on Monday afternoon, Nelson noted that AgLaunch has a two-part vision. The organization is focused on farms of the future and how they can transform communities as a vibrant economic engine.

Co-sponsors of the Bootcamp include the Knoxville Entrepreneur CenterSync.SpaceThe Biz FoundryInvestSWVASouth Carolina Research AuthorityKentucky Department of AgricultureEconomic Development Partnership of AlabamaUniversity of Tennessee Research FoundationTennessee Tech UniversityNational Black Growers Council, and North Carolina Biotech Center along with support from Launch Tennessee.

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