Beyond Farms & Ranches
It’s old news that Colorado is beef country.
In fact, a 2012 Census of Agriculture report put the state at No. 5 in U.S. ranking of beef production and in the Top 10 for a category that includes sheep and goats, wheat, potatoes and carrots.
But Tom Lipetzky thinks what is most impressive is the innovation that brings to fruition these seemingly simple products.
The director of marketing programs and strategic innovations for the Colorado Department of Agriculture notes that the “Advancing the Agriculture Economy through Innovation” summit planned for March 19-20 will draw disparate businesses together to talk about a business sector often overlooked, especially when it comes to technology.
“People think of agriculture as farmers and ranchers,” Lipetzky says. “Ag is broader than that. It’s the seed suppliers, the genetics folks, the people in shipping and in retail. We’re looking at the broader view of the value chain, from inputs to the consumer.”
According to Jane Saltzman — director of content for the Boulder-based VanHeyst Group, an organizing partner for the summit — highlights for the event include a water-centric “firing line panel,” with participants from the innovation, energy, legal, policy, science, management and municipality sectors. Also on deck: a panel on the evolution of the fast casual food market and its relationship with the food producers. Then a session will explore the up-and-coming hemp industry, with local industry trailblazers who are pursuing growth, processing and product development of the controversial plant.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Integral to the industry’s success is that Colorado draws some of the finest researchers in the nation, Lipetzky says, highlighting the role of institutions such as Colorado State University.
Gregory Graff, associate professor of agriculture and economics at CSU, is lead author of a new report outlining the significance and growth possibilities for the agricultural industry in the state. It follows a report pulled together last year.
“The governor’s office asked us to analyze the ag industry through the lens of (Gov. John) Hickenlooper’s economic plan,” Graff says.
The blueprint asked each industry to look at areas such as regulatory challenges, attracting and retaining companies, branding, innovation and new technology, according to Graff.
The team made a number of discoveries between the 2013 and 2014 industry accounts. For instance, “The Emergence of an Innovation Cluster in the Agricultural Value Chain along Colorado’s Front Range” takes a sweeping look at what gives Colorado its strength in the industry, Graff says.
“A cluster means that you have a concentration of related firms,” Graff explains. “The simplest example is Silicon Valley and computing, or Hollywood and the movie industry.”
Here, he says, we have communities of companies that build around synergistic relationships.
“Being neighbors with each other helps you build off each other’s strengths,” Graff says. “It’s already happening, and we expect it to really take off in Colorado.”
“The agriculture industry has always been innovative, but is becoming more so now as new technologies have developed or deployed to efficiently manage the cultivation of foods, fibers, fuels, raw materials and to power and connect the systems — such as irrigation and planting — that run them,” says Stephanie Garnica, senior manager of programs and global initiatives with Colorado Innovation Network (COIN). “This has led to an exciting intersection of different industries coming together ... (agriculture and aerospace, agriculture and bioscience, agriculture and high-tech) and has created a huge market for the Internet of Things.”
Bill Stoufer, chief operating officer of Ardent Mills, says his company selected Colorado for its new headquarters largely because of research institutions like CSU; but the culture of Colorado was another a major draw.
“When you think of Colorado, you think health and wellness,” he says. “When we take a customer to a farm or milling facility, it’s a positive, impactful message.”
Without a doubt, Lipetzky says Colorado consumers are unique, calling the “farm to table” movement a part of the Colorado’s culture.
“Our industry is really diverse in that we do have this spectrum of small and big producers,” he says. “With the local markets, we have people with just a few acres who sell to restaurants.”
And here, he notes, many look for words like organic, antibiotic free or grass-fed on their labels, noting that farmers markets thrive in the state from spring through autumn. “If there’s enough demand, a small producer will fill the need.”
Another indication that Colorado’s agriculture industry is expanding: The number of scholarly articles and patents has grown tremendously in the past year, Lipetzky notes.
It’s not all rosy, as he notes common challenges, such as water use and shortages, that have mass impact. But he suggests that with collaborative problem solving, solutions are considerably more likely.
With the 2015 summit, the goal is to draw resources collectively. When considering what companies to invite, Lipetzky said, “We ended up with dozens – everything from water technology to the fast and fresh food segments. Collaboration will be a big push.”
Bill Stoufer, chief operating officer of Ardent Mills, discusses some of the recent changes in agriculture’s grain sector. Stoufer, who has 23 years of industry experience, notes
the following trends:
Against the grain
Gluten-free: Look at store shelves, he says, and it’s easy to see that many in America have removed gluten from their diets, or at the very least cut back.
The big picture
The growth of whole grains and high fiber is a huge growth market, Stoufer says.
“People are exploring the world through food,” Stoufer says. “We’ve seen a rise in ethnic diets, everything from Hispanic to Mediterranean foods.”
Taste and texture
While consumers may be looking for healthier grains, one thing Stoufer said has been a constant through his years in business: Nobody is willing to sacrifice taste or texture.
Mark Your Calendars: Ag Innovation Summit
Colorado farms offering agritourism and recreational tourism, ranging from farm or winery tours to ranching vacations.
Farms and ranches in the state.
Revenue generated annually by Colorado food producers and processors.
Number of countries around the world where Colorado products are marketed.
Value of agricultural products exported from Colorado.
What Colorado’s agricultural industry contributes to the state’s economy.
People employed by the ag industry.
Number of acres of wheat planted in-state.
Sources: USDA 2012 Agriculture Census; Colorado Proud, a Colorado Department of Agriculture program that supports products grown, raised or processed in the state.