AgTech NEXT Now! Webinar Series Focuses On Changes In The Agri-Food Industry

Mary Shelman

St. Louis, MO (July 22, 2020) – The AgTech NEXT Now! webinar series hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center continued July 14 featuring insights from agri-food thought leader and author Mary Shelman about the “new normal.”

The session was moderated by Claire Kinlaw, director, innovation commercialization, Danforth Center.

Shelman says many changes are taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We live in such interesting and exciting times,” Shelman says. “Entire industries are transforming around us. The pace of change today is faster than ever before.”

Shelman describes four big trends driving change and creating new opportunities in the global agri-food industry.

First, she says transformational technologies are being developed at every level of the supply chain, from gene editing to drones, data analytics, and machine learning. She adds automation is being used to reduce labor in fields and processing plants, which is so important given the COVID-19 situation.

Second, Shelman explains consumers today are asking many more questions and they’re demanding much more of the food that they eat and the companies that produce it. Millennials are leading the charge, she says.

“They’re really the top of the list of the engaged and empowered consumers,” Shelman says. “They’re leading the way in value driven decision making.”

Third, Shelman says, “Sustainability has moved over the last 10 years from something that was nice to have, a fad in the industry, to a fundamental premise of doing business. The agri-food industry has evolved from companies doing work to protect their reputation to now needing to be sustainable to secure supply to win customers, to ensure the entire industry’s license to operate.”

The fourth trend, according to Shelman, is an expectation of significant growth in food demand over the next 30 years. Agriculture now has new capital and new investors supporting it from outside traditional industry players, Shelman says.

More and new capital is flowing to agriculture and food, she says.

“The investors today see the opportunities for disruption and above market returns,” Shelman says. “Agriculture hasn’t always been particularly attractive. Wealthy individuals, some of the wealthiest in the world, are see the opportunity to transform a system they consider broken.”

COVID clearly has exposed some fragilities into the system, Shelman says. She adds the most important thing is that it has accelerated the trends already under way.

Shelman says consumers are “more aware of the supply chain, more concerned about where food comes from, with more emphasis on food safety and healthy diets because they can’t afford to get sick right now.”

The program was part of AgTech NEXT Now! Risks and Rewards in a Post COVID-19 World and the Impact on the Ag and Food Industry series.

The next program “Accelerated Trends in Food and Ag” is scheduled for noon-12:30 p.m. CT Tuesday, Aug. 4. Michael Swanson, Wells Fargo’s chief agriculture economist, will talk about how crises accelerate existing economic and industry trends. The conversation will be moderated by Adam Bergman, managing partner, EcoTech Capital Advisors.

Registration information is available.

Previous programs included a session held May 19, featuring a general discussion about the economic impacts of the pandemics. That session featured St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank Vice President David Wheelock and Sam Fiorello, CEO Cortex Innovation Community and Chair, AgTech Next External Advisory Board.

A second program was held June 9 featuring a conversation about the food supply chain weaknesses and implications for consumers, producers, workers, and livestock. That session featured Aon Managing Director and SVP Chip Lerwick along with Tom Laurita, Danforth Center director of entrepreneurship.

Written by Chris Lusvardi, Seed Today editor

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