Agribusiness in the Kansas City region

Excerpted from the Kansas City Business Journal, Nov. 10, 2017 Special Section: “Table of Experts: Agribusiness in the Kansas City Region.

Kimberly Young of the KC Animal Health Corridor: What are the most important trends in agriculture and ag-tech?

Michael Helmstetter of TechAccel: There are both good and challenging trends right now. One challenging trend is the consolidation of the large multinational companies in the marketplace. That’s affecting farmers on the ground along with everyone else in the agriculture ecosystem.

At TechAccel, our focus is on investing in agriculture and animal health technologies, and those tend to be focused in the biotech space. Trends that have us excited are gene editing — being able to directly manipulate the genome of plants and animals. There is a consumer adoption and acceptance piece to that, but that’s something that is and will continue to be a revolution. Another important trend involves understanding the microbiome in the field around plants and animals and understanding how you can leverage that for growing better crops or having healthier animals.

Another area is artificial intelligence and digitization. Agriculture has been way behind on digitizing, and it is now really ramping up. That’s why a lot of venture money is going into it. I think there are opportunities to leverage that data to do some really creative stuff, particularly on some of the smaller farms that are trying to keep up with the mega farms. That technology may help them gain a competitive advantage.

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Young: What can Kansas City do to help the existing ag companies in the area continue to grow and attract new ag companies to the region?

David DeShon of Citizens Bank & Trust: In my opinion, it’s all about marketing, and it’s every piece of it. We’re sitting in the breadbasket of the nation. You can virtually pick the crop or the type of livestock, it’s all right here. The logistics are in place. It’s just that we need an increase in that production.

William (Bill) Watson of UMB Agribusiness: Maybe we could step up our role as the convener of the discussion. As Michael said earlier, we are surrounded by great universities and companies. If we could establish Kansas City as the center of thought leadership for agriculture, that would go a long way. It doesn’t give you a big bump to your economy next month or next quarter, but that would be a very significant game-changer over time for the greater Kansas City area.

Helmstetter: I agree 100 percent. I wrote an article about how we in the Midwest need to stop fighting the guys on the coasts. We should absolutely be beating our chest and saying, “We are ag.” I think what Kim and the KCADC have done with the KC Animal Health Corridor in terms of marketing is phenomenal. We could broaden that to say it’s not just animal health, but also agriculture.

I do think that being a center of thought leadership and putting a stake in the ground saying, “We are good at this” makes a difference. We’re starting to see venture funds that are investing in ag-related activities in town. The Sprint Accelerator is now an ag-tech-focused accelerator working with Dairy Farmers of America. Clearly, assets in the region are realizing it.

I like seeing the civic leadership of Kansas City investing in agriculture and, particularly in my case, in early-stage, high-risk agriculture technology. Again, I think the appetite is there. We just have to be the ones sending out the message and telling the story.

Todd Sears of IntelliFarms: I would like this region and this state to become the first to help young students who want to get into agriculture. No young person feels they can get into farming. With technology and with the right business plan, there’s no reason why a young person couldn’t start with 500 acres growing a specific crop. That’s what I’d like to see Kansas City do. It kills me every time I go places and all the students say: “We’re not enough. We can’t get into farming.”

Read the full discussion at KCBJ: https://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/feature/table-of-experts/table-of-experts-agribusiness-in-the-kansas-city.html

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