I’ve just wrapped up two days participating in The Future of Food USA, led by the UK-based Innovation Forum group. It was my first time at this event, and I found it to be a fascinating mash up of leading food companies and their value chain partners with a distinctively global feel and focus on scaling regenerative agriculture and supply chain resilience.
One of my biggest take-aways was how much the conversation has fully pivoted from “why should we care?” to “how do we get serious about scaling up change by 2030?” Along those lines, here are a few of my own observations from the two-day event and the enormous opportunities knocking on our door this very moment.
One of the panels I moderated asked food companies to answer the question: “Where should sustainability be a source of competitive advantage, and where should it be inspiration for collaboration?” It occurs to me that agriculture should be asking itself the very same question.
What would it look like for producers to proactively coordinate and speak for themselves to create the roadmap for an improved system centered on their needs and wants? While commodity organizations and non-profits have certainly stepped up to fill this void, there is still a need for producer-led efforts to advocate for their points of view. With the amount of change coming, playing good defense and “telling our story” will not be sufficient.
Building on that, a major theme revolved around the Gen Z consumer and the provocative observation that these up-and-coming consumers don’t want a simple sustainability message. These digital natives “want the receipts” – the full complexity and understanding of how their food was grown and how it got to them. This new perspective absolutely rocked my Gen X “keep it simple, stupid” communications training. What a tremendous opportunity this provides us in agriculture to open eyes to what growing food, fiber and fuel actually looks like!
Finally, I walk away from these two days struck by the absolute inevitability of change, which is a novel perspective after 30 years in the sustainable production space. Against that backdrop, I want to close this week by celebrating the life and seismic impact that Dave Brandt has had on regenerative agriculture.
“The change has been from using tractors and equipment to using the brain and eyes.” – Dave Brandt
As we collectively attempt to pick up the mantle for pioneers like Brandt, the conservation ag community must not forget a key lesson he taught us by example – to invest in cultivating a change mindset as much as we focus on practice adoption to scale “regeneration” on every acre. This wasn’t a prevalent part of the conversation of the last two days, but if we are to really write “the future of food”, it needs to be.