The agricultural world is adjusting to unprecedented turbulence, with the last 18 months seeing a downturn in the commodity cycle (in a world that still sees food security as a major concern) alongside increasingly erratic weather patterns and climate change. The market is changing too, with leading industry players forming innovation-centered alliances. Large organizations are seeing shifts in leadership at the most senior level, adding to this era of uncertainty and change.
At the same time, the mega-trends in agriculture and food production remain intact. Food demand continues to grow as populations and prosperity increase, and consumers have considerably high expectations of food quality. The agricultural industry faces a continuing battle to balance agricultural challenges with consumer views on best practice, while contending with the inevitable price increases on food crops as a result of limited agricultural land, water and nutrients.
Against this backdrop, agri-tech innovators, thought leaders and investors gathered in San Francisco on 16–17 March 2016 for the second US-based World Agri-Tech Investment Summit (following three highly successful events in London). The conference brought together a range of industry stakeholders, from farming organizations, agriculture and technology investors, and major industry players, to agri-tech start-ups and academic institutions. With such a changeable agricultural market, it presented the industry with a golden opportunity to share knowledge, discover new technological innovations to enhance efficiencies and sustainability, and build strategic partnerships.
The hot topics at this year's conference included key technology innovations such as the Connected Farm and IoT, investment strategies for disrupting at scale, consumer-driven demand and its implications for the food supply chain, and developments in policies and regulation. Future-proofing against climate variability was also on the agenda, putting strategies for sustainable intensification under the microscope.
Naturally, innovation was the watchword, and early-stage and established agri-tech companies had the chance to showcase their technological prowess and their progress-to-market strategies in seven-minute snapshots that illustrated the dynamic state of agricultural innovation. Breakthrough innovations in biologicals, genomics and big data were of particular interest this year, giving the investor "sharks" on the review panel plenty to think about.
a-connect's Robert Berendes was also on hand to chair the opening session on how global alliances can help shape the future of agriculture. This session considered how global agri-food businesses are turning to acquisitions, partnerships and alliances in response to a rapidly evolving marketplace. Robert was joined by a distinguished panel of executive leaders from four large agricultural companies: Bayer Crop Science, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto. All panelists agreed that only continuous innovations in technology, ideally breakthrough innovations, will enable the industry to sustainably provide enough food for 9 to 10 billion people. The panel acknowledged that no one person, organization or innovation is able to solve the big issues in agriculture alone, therefore partnerships and collaborations will be essential to overcome the challenges facing modern agriculture.
The panel concluded that the partnerships of the future will operate across different parts of the value chain and innovation ecosystem, bringing industry partners together with academia, incumbent organizations and start-ups. There will also be more pre-competitive partnerships, with usually competitive organizations joining forces to bring about extra benefits for the agricultural sector.
At a-connect, we appreciate that the agricultural market has evolved at a rapid pace, requiring constant innovation to stay ahead of the curve. We also know that despite its challenges, the market presents many opportunities – for collaboration, partnership and business development. Whatever your organization's unique challenge in this dynamic market, a-connect can help you find a solution to ensure continued business success.