Panel: Entrepreneurship, research drives sustainability of the agriculture industry
“If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted to improve their lives, they would have said faster horses,” says Anne Koontz of Alltech. “They didn’t know cars existed, but we have to be always looking to find the cars instead of just looking to make our horses faster.”
Koontz, along with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Director of Sustainable Beef Production Research Sara Place and University of Wyoming (UW) Vice President for Research and Economic Development Ed Synakowski explored innovation, particularly as it relates to sustainability and entrepreneurship in the agriculture industry.
With sustainability and the future of agriculture as prominent questions among today’s consumers, Place notes the starting point must be in educating consumers and having the research to back up statements.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about beef’s environmental footprint – and that’s an understatement,” Place says. “That’s why it’s important to have the peer reviewed science to back up what we say, rather than just an opinion that we’re not that bad.”
Place notes her job is largely in research and communicating information to the supply chains.
“We need to educate the supply chain, as well, and get them up to speed,” she says. “We have a lot of outreach to influencers, as well.”
Influencers, including everyone from health professionals to dieticians, are frequently asked questions about where food comes from, what its impacts are and more, so Place notes she works to provide information to those people so they can interact with consumers and provide up-to-date information.
Looking at lifecycle analyses, Places notes, “A lot of sustainability research – especially lifecycle assessment – was developed for mechanical processes. Today, we’re taking that and plopping it onto biological systems, like cattle production. It just doesn’t fit perfectly.”
As a result, the framing behind messages comes from a “we’re less bad than…” perspective.
“We’re adding research to talk about the positives, as well,” she comments.
As an example, new research looks at the societal benefits of cattle production and grazing. Much of that benefit is not credited to producers.
“Essentially, all of the lifecycle assessments have been about social costs and ignores social benefits,” she says. “Our research has been focused on clarifying the benefits.”
“We look at universities across the country, and increasingly research and economic development are being linked,” Synakowskisays, noting research platforms of all kinds are being used to improve processes and increase the knowledge base that can make an impact down the road.
Synakowskinotes, at the University of Wyoming, his office overlooks advanced research computing and its impact on industry and entrepreneurship.
“So much of what we do nowadays is represented by transformation in so-called data science,” he says. “Everyone with a smartphone has some sense of what that means. The ability to amass tremendous volumes of data, which can impact almost every branch of business, including agriculture, learning how to sort through and determine what’s important are important today.”
In addition to data science, Synakowski and his office are working to enhance entrepreneurship within all of Wyoming’s industries by providing resources to business leaders.
“We are trying to stimulate not only idea and business model development but also to help generate a culture within the university and, through graduation of students, into the state of Wyoming of entrepreneurial enterprise and a respect for it,” Synakowskiexplains.
“At the university, we also strive to fulfill our land-grant mission and serve the entire state,” Synakowskiadds. “What does that mean for the agricultural community?”
The agriculture industry has long embraced the power of networking through Extension and other opportunities.
“This potentially means increasing and broadening Extension centers to offer services to entrepreneurial resources,” he says. “We also see the potential to engage with our community colleges to provide access to research and entrepreneurship enterprise.”
Synakowskiemphasizes, “The intent of theuniversity is to do our best to foster entrepreneurial activities and engage industries throughout the state to enable access and partnership and elevate everyone’s aspirations in innovation.”
Koontz, Place and Synakowski addressed the Wyoming Agriculture Diversification Summit, held Dec. 6-7 at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington. The group spoke as part of a panel titled, “Research Drives Innovation.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.