Innovative agri-business leaders from across the globe gather in Washington to share ideas
[LEXINGTON, Ky.] – To stay competitive in agriculture today, stakeholders are looking for the latest innovative ideas to apply to their operations. Sometimes that means stepping out of their known geography and areas of crop expertise and into other arenas to look for new ideas.
“Innovation to me means straying off the expected path and going in a new direction, even if that new direction ends up in a cul-de-sac,” said Simon Allen, an independent agronomy consultant based in the United Kingdom.
For Allen, that unexpected path led him to a farm tour of the Pacific Northwest with like-minded individuals. The tour, sponsored and coordinated by Alltech Crop Science included a visit to the Warden Hutterian Colony in Moses Lake, Washington.
At the colony, Allen found a willingness among the Hutterites to “accept and hunt down new ideas and then embrace technology and interpret it in their own way.” The colony’s ongoing efforts to understand the needs of McDonald’s, leading them to become one of the company’s largest potato producers, stood out to Allen.
The tour also took the group to the Prosser Experiment Station and the Washington State University Vegetable Farm Station in Pasco, Washington.
Silvia Suzuki Nishikawa from Tri-S Agribusiness in Brazil noted that both big and small ideas were gathered from the tour, which took place May 16 through May 20, 2016. Both she and Allen were looking for ideas that would scale up — or down — back in their countries. Located in São Gotardo, Minas Gerais, Tri-S began as a family business with potato planting in the region and is now nationally recognized for its importance to the agri-community. The 180-member co-op produces avocadoes, garlic, coffee, carrots, corn, soybeans and wheat in addition to potatoes.
As a third-time tour participant, Nishikawa noted that Alltech’s founder and president, Dr. Pearse Lyons, has emphasized the importance of research when applying new technology. Nishikawa said that while touring the Washington State University research station, she saw small changes that had been made to machinery that she could apply back in Brazil and that would “make a big difference in our potato operation.”
This “cross-pollination” of sharing ideas with others on the tour allowed participants to step outside their areas of expertise, shared Allen. He explained that while he has no experience in banana or citrus production, he appreciated visiting one-on-one with fruit producers from Brazil and Spain to learn how they approach common crop production hurdles.
“We’re fundamentally all the same,” he added. “We’re working with root systems and leaf systems, but different farming types.”
New production methods that are more sustainable and that require fewer inputs were also of interest to Nishikawa and Allen. As water is becoming increasingly regulated in the U.K., Allen enjoyed learning how the Hutterites efficiently use water in their pivot irrigation systems.
“Each of their pivots covered 100 acres,” he said. “That’s larger than most farms in the U.K., but their mindset (toward water efficiency) is something that is scalable.”
For Nishikawa, maintaining soil health is a concern, and she has been working with Alltech to incorporate biologicals into her operation.
“I’m learning to repopulate the soil with beneficial bacteria and fungi, bettering the soil for future generations,” she said. “I want something I can leave for my children.”
After completing the farm tours of the Pacific Northwest, Allen and Nishikawa joined more than 3,000 participants from 71 countries who attended ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference in Lexington, Kentucky.