Ag Tech: Entering a New Era of Innovation

On Thursday, I attended the 2016 Agriculture Technology Innovation Summit, the first conference of its kind on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.

The goal of the conference — organized by Research Park — was to bring together ideas from innovators, companies, and academics and create a forum about where agricultural entrepreneurship is headed for the future. It’s an exciting area of innovation, and you could definitely feel this excitement at the conference.

Speakers presented on topics such as precision agriculture and the future of food. Where are we headed? The future of precision agriculture might include a more “interconnected” farm. Julian Sanchez from John Deere said we should imagine what “things” on the farm would say if they could talk to each other. What kind of information could they provide, and how would this affect precision agriculture?

The real challenges of precision agriculture became clear from the moderated discussion panel. Most of the challenges spur from data, and the massive amounts of data related to agriculture. Panelist discussed how it’s confusing to know what data is meaningful, and how we should value this data in the marketplace. And what’s the best way to collect the right data in a seamless fashion so that it’s beneficial to the farmer?

Questions like these must be answered with innovation, which is why entrepreneurship may have been the most important point addressed at the conference. This was reinforced by one speaker, Aaron Gilbertie of Aptimmune Biologics. He encouraged anyone with a valid idea related to the food animal health to seriously think about starting their own company that will drive innovation.

Panelists encouraged budding entrepreneurs to have mentors, position themselves for success, and overcome their fear of failure in order to succeed.

To feed a world population of 9 billion by 2050, we need a lot of change. A lot of people are going to have great ideas that will turn into some real, tangible change, and they need solid platforms to be able to do this. As a science communicator, there’s a lot to write about. But even more, as someone who’s interested in technology and innovation in general, there’s even more to be excited about.

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