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GUEST BLOG: The Cost of Doing Nothing is Greater Than the Challenge of Trying Something

Posted on August 25, 2016 16:50 PM by WGCIT

Nathan Dorn

CEO Food Origins

What an amazing week that was! Congratulations to the Forbes team, Taylor Farms, Western Growers, Thrive Accelerator and most importantly, the City of Salinas.  The 2016 Salinas Forbes AgTech Summit built on the first one with nearly double the attendees.  The audience was filled with the biggest and most successful agricultural companies of California.  The content was amazing; and on stage, we discussed the biggest challenges and opportunities not only to California Ag, but to the entire US food supply system. We awarded GeoVisual Analytics for where they will take big data from imagery and Trace Genomics opened the discussion of soil health and taking our comprehension of how the bio-me has so much to offer toward the success of farming in the future. 

Thinking about the content, I could not imagine a deeper discussion in 8 hours on the grand challenge of keeping the world fed than what we had.  Kip Tom’s comments of how those who don’t use technology to get deeper insights will be unable to stay competitive in a very short time.  Sam Duda’s call to take action now on our water, soil and labor challenges.  Julie Borlaug’s great discussion on the history of farming genetics and how when it comes to GMO’s “Maybe so, Maybe not. We’ll see.” (much like that Chinese proverb) and “I don’t know yet,” are the real answers, but the discussion is being ambushed by the extremes much like our political world.  Finally, Dan Hodgson was dead on with his comments regarding the nature of AgTech when he said this is a relationship business suited toward the individual challenges of individual farmers more than the paradigms of conventional venture capital.  There was so much there that it almost feels like we need a re-run of the conference on RFDTV to take it in again.

The content was actually fun.  I found it refreshing to see the diversity of agriculture and their challenges and have a real discussion with those few people who are looking to improve and solve some of the issues.  Feeding 9 billion people would require solving all of the problems from: Phosphates in the water of Iowa affecting corn farmers, the lack of water for the Almond farmers of the Central California, the quality of water to coastal farmers, the availability of labor, lack of connectivity, weed resistance to chemicals, the absence of chemistry due to public pressures and legislative actions, public perception of farming practices, to the discussion of GMO’s and so many more.  There are many expert opinions that pointed to the real cause of the Arab Spring was food insecurity.  So guess what guys, the 650 of us who were there have now been charged with solving these issues to preserve ‘Peace and Stability’ as if morning glory growing in our broccoli wasn’t enough.  My heartfelt answer is to you venture capitalists, farmers, entrepreneurs, business men, and legislators: Thanks for showing up, and thanks for listening.  Come back and participate in the discussion and bring solutions. 

I was thinking, what was the best part about the conference?  What would make me come back next year?  After taking the last few weeks to reflect, I have my answer.  The best part of the conference (please forgive me) was when the protesters interrupted the Driscoll CEO (Kevin Murphy) with bullhorns and signs outside the tent walls.  Driscoll’s is a great enterprise, but like all others, not without flaws. Mr. Murphy did a great job acknowledging the challenges and laying out all their efforts to resolve them.  But the exciting part to me was the protesters were OUR (Ag Community's) call to action. 

When the protestors started to yell, my mind immediately went to a conversation I had just a month prior with Salinas local AgTech innovator Frank Pierce.  Waiting for the bank to open, I saw Frank go into a restaurant for breakfast.  Those of you who know me, know I am in for breakfast, anytime and those of you who know Frank, he is down for talking, anytime.  We talked about innovation, challenges now and challenges in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.   He said, “at least you don’t have the labor problems.”  I asked him, “What do you mean? Every farmer I know says there is a labor challenge.”   Frank told me in the day, he was beaten and left for dead when telling the crew, they needed to work overtime to get the crop out and we do not have a labor challenge. 

The protesters who disrupted our discussion did the thing that the conference was failing at.  The protesters gave us URGENCY.  Immediately after they started, the participants leaned in and became more engaged.   There has always been a reason to innovate, now there is a reason to implement and the issue is much bigger than just one company.  The protesters made clear, “The cost of doing nothing is greater than the challenge of trying something.”  Frank was probably right.  We don’t have problems now like what we did in the past or might in the future.

Since the Salinas event, Food Origins has been involved in trials, and engaged with customers and innovators.  It feels like the wheels are turning.  Forbes was very insightful to see this is the time for AgTech to shine.  I believe the catalyst for change in our food supply system has happened and as Kip Tom spoke, those who are actively adapting, learning, and investing are going to find success, those who wait for the technology that solves all their woes will be looking back and reflecting on what the good old days.  As far as being worried about today’s labor challenges, water the rules being handed out by the legislative community, new consumer demands and all those things making us change I say, Maybe so, Maybe not. We’ll see.

Cannot wait for next year!