Farmers took the main stage at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit this week, bringing boots-on-the-ground perspectives to one of the largest gatherings of global ag tech leaders for the first time.
The World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit is an international networking and deal-making event for global agribusinesses, solution providers, entrepreneurs and investors. Bringing together more than 2,000 agri-tech leaders, the goal of the summit is to accelerate the commercialization of advanced agricultural technologies by generating global partnerships and collaborations. This year’s focus during the March 14-15 meeting in San Francisco was “Future-Proofing Resilience in Ag: Climate-Water-Energy-Food Nexus.”
While farmers have been inserted into a few technical sessions during past World Agri-Tech Innovation Summits, this was the first time farmers were invited to talk during an opening session. The “Farmers’ Voices: Managing Risk and Responding to Volatility” panel discussion gave tech leaders the opportunity to learn about the challenges and opportunities of climate change directly from three farmers. The session took place during the morning of Day 1 of the conference, Tuesday, March 14.
The panel was moderated by Ernie Shea, president of Solutions from the Land, who asked the three participating farmers two main questions:
- How are you adapting to the challenges your farm enterprise is facing?
- What help do you need to improve resilience and profitability?
Featured farmers included:
- Matt Coutts
Matt Coutts is a grain farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada. He serves as chief investment officer on his family’s farm, Coutts Agro, where he focuses on strategy, capital allocation and investing across the agricultural value chain. Coutts Agro produces pulse, cereal and oilseed products on more than 100,000 acres for customers across the globe.
The Coutts family are early adopters of technology to improve environmental and economic sustainability. They use no-till and are interested in biological inputs and other ways to reduce carbon emissions and sequester more carbon.
- Larkin Martin
V. Larkin Martin is a seventh-generation farmer who manages her family’s farm in Alabama, which grows corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat. Martin Farm uses cover crops, crop rotations and no-till to retain and improve their soils and to mitigate economic risk.
Martin uses a variety of technical tools, including software, hardware and chemistry, that allows her to be more precise in when, where and how much inputs she uses—good for both the environment and profitability. However, Martin says data interoperability, or the ability for different pieces of software to speak to one another, is a struggle that will only continue to grow in the agriculture industry.
“It’s very difficult for us to turn siloed information [from field application, weather, soils and harvest data, for example] into comprehensive records of activity and outcomes— real, managerial, helpful information,” says Martin, adding that many of the technologies available today are offered through companies with specific objectives, such as validating carbon credits, that require farmers to sign up and exclusively provide data to them.
The problem is twofold: Farmers don’t have a tool that allows them to see their operations holistically and, to use available tools, they are often locked into a contract with a company without having had the opportunity to evaluate options. It’s a sticky situation in an evolving marketplace.
“We need some kind of assessment tool that is farmer-focused and farmer-usable so a farm can develop their own opinions and knowledge of their circumstances before they go look for markets that are evolving right now around some of the things that are newly valued [such as soil carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services] in farming right now,” she says.
Martin also serves as director of the Soil Health Institute; chairman of Servico, a cotton ginning and agricultural services business; and past chair of the Farm Foundation. She is a director of Rayonier Inc., a NYSE-traded timberland REIT, and Truxton Trust. She is also a past chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and of The Cotton Board. She was named an Eisenhower Fellow in 2012.
- Stuart Woolf
Stuart Woolf is president and CEO of Woolf Farming & Processing, a family-owned operation that grows and processes specialty crops in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He helped establish two related entities: Harris Woolf California Almonds, which processes raw almonds, and Los Gatos Tomato Products, which manufacturers bulk tomato paste for industrial users. He has also held leadership positions in several industry organizations in California.
Woolf says his greatest challenge on the farm is water. He practices regenerative agriculture to build up the land’s health and ability to hold water, and he’s looking at alternative crops, like agave, which is naturally drought-tolerant. He also protects pollinator habitat, works toward carbon neutrality through solar projects and has partnered with neighboring growers to create one of the largest private groundwater recharge projects in California.
“Given all the challenges in agriculture, particularly California agriculture, I remain exceedingly optimistic we’re going to be able to adapt to climate change and move forward with innovation and technology,” Woolf says. “I love that there is a large body of innovators and investors who want to help us get climate-mitigating technology on the ground in agriculture.”
It was an honor for Solutions from the Land to give farmers the spotlight at a conference filled with corporate agricultural technology developers and investors. There are no better people to inform those making ag technology than those who use it—farmers and ranchers.
Farmers must be at the center of all discussions and decision-making regarding policy and technology that will help them continue to deliver more resilient, sustainable and nutritious food production systems. We were glad to see them on the main stage at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit and will continue to promote their inclusion in such important events.