Summit looks to drive swine sector innovation

Some $17 billion invested into agri-food tech sector in 2018, but little of that made its way into livestock agriculture.


Sarah Muirhead, National Hog Farmer

Sep 18, 2019


The National Pork Board hosted the inaugural Swine Innovation Summit in Indianapolis, Ind., Sept. 17, the goal of which was to help pork producers and food influencers better understand emerging technology trends facing today’s food production systems.


The summit was held as a special event prior to the Forbes AgTech Summit Indianapolis.


At the event, it was noted that current food production systems are undergoing explosive change and that animal agriculture, including the hog industry, needs to prepare and move at a faster rate in order to keep pace. The three key drivers of that change include emerging technology, new and dynamic business models and consumer behaviors that affect shopping preferences and food choices.


“Today’s consumers literally carry supercomputers in their pockets and have access to information – both accurate and misleading – that they leverage in making on-the-spot purchase decisions,” said Andy Brudtkuhl, director of emerging technology for the National Pork Board. He noted that agriculture is on the verge of the fourth industrial revolution, and this will come in months and days, not decades. He characterized the revolution as the “digitalization of basically everything.”


The reason livestock agriculture must innovate and explore change is because consumers are changing and, in many instances, changing more quickly than industries can even react, Steve Lerch of Story Arc Consulting said in opening the summit. He presented some of his learnings from having spent 10 years at Google.


Lerch told the group that it’s not enough to just produce food these days and noted that consumers are increasingly seeking options and want to know all about the products they buy and consume.


“It’s a hard world to keep up with. People jump from trend to trend quite quickly,” Lerch said. For instance, he said the food industry is just getting around to addressing the issue of genetically modified organisms, and that interest peaked five years ago. Businesses and industry have traditionally not been able to move fast enough for consumers, and that needs to change, Lerch said.


Among other things, Lerch emphasized the importance of building an innovative business culture, which he defined as one that encourages innovation, is always moving forward, fails well and bets on technical insights and advantages that others don’t offer. “It’s essential to understand what you do best that others can’t compete with,” he said.


Some $17 billion was invested into the agri-food technology sector in 2018, but little of that made its way into livestock agriculture. Discussion at the summit was about how to attract some of those dollars and grow and advance the pork sector. Speakers pointed out that opportunity does very much exist.


Beth Bechdol of Agrinovus Indiana said she believes one of the greatest opportunities the Midwest agribusiness sector has to offer is a high-quality, well-educated talent pool. That is something the industry can and should rally around in order to be more competitive with the Silicon Valley of California, she said.


It is about forming a hub that all in the industry can get behind so efforts can be better focused and challenges addressed, Silicon Valley Global Ventures (SVG Ventures) chief executive officer John Hartnett said.


As part of its mandate to support pork research, promotion and education, the National Pork Board offered the conference free of charge to pig farmers, swine veterinarians, authorized academics and allied industry. In all, the meeting attracted some 130 participants...