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Summit looks to drive swine sector innovation

Some $17 billion invested into agri-food tech sector in 2018, but little of that made its way into livestock agriculture.

The National Pork Board hosted the inaugural Swine Innovation Summit in Indianapolis, Ind., Sept. 17, the goal of which was to help pork producers and food influencers better understand emerging technology trends facing today’s food production systems.

The summit was held as a special event prior to the Forbes AgTech Summit Indianapolis.

At the event, it was noted that current food production systems are undergoing explosive change and that animal agriculture, including the hog industry, needs to prepare and move at a faster rate in order to keep pace. The three key drivers of that change include emerging technology, new and dynamic business models and consumer behaviors that affect shopping preferences and food choices.

“Today’s consumers literally carry supercomputers in their pockets and have access to information – both accurate and misleading – that they leverage in making on-the-spot purchase decisions,” said Andy Brudtkuhl, director of emerging technology for the National Pork Board. He noted that agriculture is on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution, and this will come in months and days, not decades. He characterized the revolution as the “digitalization of basically everything.”

The reason livestock agriculture must innovate and explore change is because consumers are changing and, in many instances, changing more quickly than industries can even react, Steve Lerch of Story Arc Consulting said in opening the summit. He presented some of his learnings from having spent 10 years at Google.

Lerch told the group that it’s not enough to just produce food these days and noted that consumers are increasingly seeking options and want to know all about the products they buy and consume.

“It’s a hard world to keep up with. People jump from trend to trend quite quickly,” Lerch said. For instance, he said the food industry is just getting around to addressing the issue of genetically modified organisms, and that interest peaked five years ago. Businesses and industry have traditionally not been able to move fast enough for consumers, and that needs to change, Lerch said.

Among other things, Lerch emphasized the importance of building an innovative business culture, which he defined as one that encourages innovation, is always moving forward, fails well and bets on technical insights and advantages that others don’t offer. “It’s essential to understand what you do best that others can’t compete with,” he said.

Some $17 billion was invested into the agri-food technology sector in 2018, but little of that made its way into livestock agriculture. Discussion at the summit was about how to attract some of those dollars and grow and advance the pork sector. Speakers pointed out that opportunity does very much exist.

Beth Bechdol of Agrinovus Indiana said she believes one of the greatest opportunities the Midwest agribusiness sector has to offer is a high-quality, well-educated talent pool. That is something the industry can and should rally around in order to be more competitive with the Silicon Valley of California, she said.

It is about forming a hub that all in the industry can get behind so efforts can be better focused and challenges addressed, Silicon Valley Global Ventures (SVG Ventures) chief executive officer John Hartnett said.

As part of its mandate to support pork research, promotion and education, the National Pork Board offered the conference free of charge to pig farmers, swine veterinarians, authorized academics and allied industry. In all, the meeting attracted some 130 participants.

The National Pork Board became a THRIVE Corporate Innovation Partner with SVG Ventures in 2018 with the intention to connect the swine industry with world-class technology . The first annual Swine Innovation Summit was a collaborative effort between the National Pork Board and SVG Ventures-THRIVE to highlight entrepreneurs as part of the THRIVE Swine Startup Showcase specifically for pork producers and swine industry partners.

“Our ultimate goal is to drive innovation and to solve critical challenges facing the agriculture industry in the Midwest today, and our expanding partnership with National Pork Board reflects this vision,” Hartnett said.

The five finalists selected to pitch on stage at the Swine Innovation Summit were BinSentry, Hog Wash, ProteoSense, SwineTech and Teichos Labs. The companies were chosen for their ability to meet the summit’s focus of developing strategic solutions to improve swine farming sustainability practices by reducing land and water usage, lowering the livestock industry's carbon footprint, improving food safety and protecting animal welfare.

“Changing food production practices also includes technology that is disrupting not only how food is produced but how it is transported, presented and sold to unknowing consumers,” Brudtkuhl said. “Understand, this is a trillion-dollar industry, and it has never been more important to be ahead of emerging trends.”

National Pork Board leaders said they planned to participate in the Forbes AgTech Summit on Sept. 18-19 as part of the ongoing support of agricultural technology innovation and the THRIVE Midwest Challenge. Forbes and SVG Ventures-THRIVE are founding partners of the AgTech Summit and partner with AgriNovus Indiana, Corteva, Elanco Animal Health, Land O’Lakes and Purdue University to provide networking and showcase opportunities in the Midwest.

SVG Ventures-THRIVE is a leading agri-food innovation ecosystem, comprised of top agriculture, food and technology corporations, universities and investors. With a community of more than 2,000 start-ups from 82 countries, the THRIVE platform invests, accelerates and creates unparalleled access for entrepreneurs to scale globally to solve the biggest challenges facing the food and agriculture industries. THRIVE was launched in 2014 by SVG Ventures, a venture, innovation and investment firm based in California's Silicon Valley.

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