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Future of Food and Agriculture

Leaders of Sustainable Agriculture, Food Innovation, and Tech Discuss Trends

Perteet Spencer, vice president of SPINS Chicago, says food and agriculture industries are experiencing a “new wave of wellness.”

SPINS Chicago is a data technology company that analyzes retailers’ data and consumer behaviors. The insights, gathered from analysis of 10,000 to 15,000 stock keeping units (SKU) on consumer packaged goods per month, shows the following trends:

  1. About 46% of households are engaged in plant-based brands.
  2. Natural-positioned products are growing five times faster than conventional products.
  3. Super nutrients are on the rise from a growth perspective. The top three are ketones, creatine, and CBD.
  4. Natural sweeteners that provide enhanced flavor are on the rise.
  5. Plant-based alternatives are not going away, but the focus now needs to be on scalability, then transparency of ingredients.
  6. Consumers are purchasing products for digestive health that do not include grains.
  7. Consumers are purchasing from mission-driven brands whose practices are not environmentally taxing.
  8. Brands that are doing well address sustainability throughout the supply chain – from sourcing ingredients to packaging.

What does this mean for regenerative agriculture?

regenerative-ag-panel

Regenerative agriculture, or farming practices that increase biodiversity, work for soil health, and improve water quality, remains a focus for the future.

Don Wyse, professor at the University of Minnesota, comments that regenerative ag used to be known as low-input sustainable agriculture, and for it to be successful now, there needs to be an economic pull that incentivizes all stakeholders in ag.

Eric Jackson with Pipeline Foods, Tom Rabaey with General Mills, and Grant Breitkretz with Stoney Creek Farms, related the challenges the industry faces in adopting regenerative ag:

  1. Lack of education
  2. Insurance for alternative crops
  3. Few markets
  4. Need for data

Breitkretz is one of many farmers who has implemented regenerative ag practices on his operation and reaped the benefits. Thanks to cover crops and intensive grazing, Stoney Creek Farms has healthier soil, fewer unusable wet areas, and resiliency against unpredictable weather.

Perspectives from the Farm

A panel of farmers rounded out the discussion, reflecting on the obstacles they’ve faced and opportunities they’ve embraced:

Eric Sannerud of Mighty Axe Hops says, “Getting into farming is very difficult if you’re not born into it. You have to find gaps, be creative, and be an ally to the farming community.” On the common misperceptions in ag, Sannerud comments that farmers should be compensated in order to employ more sustainability practices.

Carolyn Olson of Olson Organics looks forward to the future of agriculture and says, “Your farm can look like anything – organic, conventional, hops, ethanol, etc.” No matter the operation, Olson comments that the most successful people are those who know their bottom line and cost of production. Olson utilizes autosteer and GPS on equipment to keep the same wheel tracks year after year to reduce compaction. Olson Organics farm has a six-year rotation of crops; alfalfa helps with weed control, and oats and tillage radish are their cover crops.

Mike Yost of Yost Farms says sustainability is the most important practice on a farm, whether that’s through tillage practices, perennial crops, or other applications. “Most forward-looking farmers realize that importance, but they don’t want to go to a huge expense and not move the needle,” he says. 

Mitchell Hora of Continuum Ag, communicates the need for better, unbiased data that farmers can use to be more efficient with inputs, policies to foster innovation, and for farmers to keep telling their story to people in and out of agriculture for better understanding.

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