2019 Agenda

Agenda and Speakers Subject to Change
Request An Invite

Field Day at Agricenter International – optional add-on day

Monday, May 13  (11 am – 4 pm)

Tour Ducks Unlimited

Lunch at Agricenter followed by

In-Field Demos featuring 8-12 start-ups

Conference Sessions

Tuesday, May 14 | Peabody Hotel  | 8 am – 5 pm


The year is 2030.  Autonomous vehicles are alive and Facebook is dead.  The “Peak Food” crisis was averted, but we didn’t just produce more.  Food is no longer measured by calories and fat content. Nutritional density and microbiome score have emerged as the standard.  What does that mean? Hundreds of Billions have been saved in American healthcare, but not due to any new drugs or devices. Production of corn and sugar are in decline, supplanted by peas and hemp.  Food and agriculture are on the cutting edge of human health. Producing the right foods has led to a resurgence in farmer profitability. The industrial revolution has finally hit the farm as technology has reduced labor and inputs while improving the quality of the output.  And Agriculture is being praised for its contributions to the environment. The world has changed, but how did we get here?

The Consumer of the Future  

Millennials and Gen Z together represent over half of the population by 2030.  Ranging in age from 25 to 50, they will dictate much of how the world will operate.  They are culturally diverse, well-educated and technology-oriented. Millenials are particular about their food. Fearful of GMOs. Fearful of chemicals. This momentary fear of BigCo in control has slowed progress, as rapid progress in yield in the 80s and 90s have led to stalemate over technology in 2018. But emerging markets and Gen Z are changing all that. Gen Z is embracing CRISPR. They are biohacking. Liberated from privacy and fanatical for data, Gen Z has had their microbiome sequenced, going well beyond just DNA. They innovate. It is only a matter of time before Silicon Valley integrates 23 and Me, blockchain, Amazon Basic, and Fitbit to personalize food to the individual’s Xome and Microbiome. Perfect traceability of every ingredient. An integration of food, health, and social justice. Will “organic” stand the test of time? Does the GMO argument go away?

The Convergence of Food and Health

Diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders. What if they all had to do with the food we consume? Today’s research already shows that cancer patients with the correct nutrition can increase their life expectancy by 6-12 months.  What if the $500 billion to $1 trillion spent annually to treat chronic disease was spent on healthy food? Is Big Food’s next step to buy a healthcare insurer?

We blame Washington for everything else; why not for making us Fat?

Is Congress to blame for our health problems? For most Americans, the likely answer is yes, but not for the reasons you may think.  In the late 70’s, Congress began exploring the links between diet and health, due to significant issues with hearth health. It culminated in the publication of the first US Dietary Guidelines in 1980 and every 5 years since. They concluded fat was bad and carbohydrates were good. As a result, they traded heart disease for obesity and diabetes.  We now know too much refined carbs and sugar can make us fat, but it also leads to inflammation which has been linked to numerous chronic diseases that cost us billions to treat. What is less obvious is the impact on the microbiome. A diet too high in sugar can cause the composition of the microbiome to change, overpopulating certain microbes that feed on the sugars. These microbes then signal to the brain that they need more sugar, causing us to consume even more. And these bad bugs play a role in conditions as diverse as depression and diabetes.

But what if we really did know what to eat?  What if you could customize your diet to eliminate obesity, reduce disease and improve happiness?  Let’s take it a step further. How about if I told you I could customize your diet to help you learn how to play the violin or become a master at chess?  The $500 billion to $1 trillion available to the food industry from chronic diseases now seems like chump change. What do you think people would really pay for personal optimization?

If Sugar goes away, what are the implications for the Farmer supply chain?

In 2017, roughly 6% of corn production representing 850 million bushels from 4.75 million acres was used to produce sweeteners including high fructose corn syrup.  900,000 acres in the US were dedicated to the production of cane sugar and 1.1 million acres to the production of sugar beets. What if 6.75 million acres of land no longer went to producing sweeteners?  What if consumers understood the health implications and demanded peas, hemp, quinoa, kale and berries? What happens to the supply chain? Can we handle that kind of change?

Existing Sources of Protein (crops, livestock–cattle, swine, aquaculture)

Meat demand is growing. As the global middle class continues to grow, they demand more animal-based sources of protein.  Yet, meat is under attack. Animal protein is bad for you. Plant protein is good. Livestock production is cruel. LIvestock are one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.  Manure runoff is ruining water tables. If we didn’t have to feed all those animals, how much more food would we have for humans? Antibiotic usage is leading to human antibiotic resistance. We are overfishing our oceans. You name it and there is a complaint about it.  

Traditional proteins are being put “out to pasture”.  So by 2030, is meat no longer on the menu? Or, will innovation save the day?  From the 1950s to the present, there were 12 different periods where corn production increased more than 40% over a 12-year timeframe while also reducing the number of inputs.  What if technology could humanely increase cattle production by 40% with no more land required, reduce the amount of grain needed per cow by 20%, make the beef healthier than chicken, AND eliminate 90% of methane emissions all at once?  What happens if that extends to other traditional protein production? What happens to the alternative proteins market?

New Sources of Protein

If it is not from an animal, it can’t be called meat, can it? Yet, there is the Impossible Burger.  Milk comes from cows, but not if its Ripple. Mom no longer needs to tell you to finish your peas. Cricket bars – that might be where I draw the line, but you can buy them.  Are new sources of a “perfect” protein emerging? How do you determine whether the protein should be turned into a consumer brand, a food ingredient, or a feed ingredient? Heck, chickens probably like crickets.

Innovation Showcase & Start-up Pitches


Wednesday, May 15 | Peabody Hotel | 8 am – 5 pm

Opening Day Recap

Global Perspectives on Protein: Parts of the World Need Cheap Nutrition

US Needs are not the same as the needs globally.  Much of the food crisis and lack of food security is in Asia, India and Africa, particularly as those populations continue to grow.  How are their needs the same? How do their needs differ? How do we work together to ensure that innovations in the food system improve the health and welfare of the global population? Despite the more than 30,000 edible plant species on the planet, two-thirds of global calories are derived from the five crops that have received the majority of R&D investment. The African Orphan Crop Consortium is sequencing the genomes of 101 highly nutritious crops at the heart of cultures across the continent that are staples to 250 million smallholder farmers. What will the next supercrop be?

What Does the Farmer Need?

We’ve heard from the consumer, and they want transparency, personalized nutrition and super crops? They wanted sustainability too, but farmers don’t seem to be getting paid for being sustainable. Why should they expect that consumers will pay for these benefits?  If farmers aren’t getting paid for it, what incentive do they have to change? Does a marketplace develop where they find the opportunities to grow new crops? Can fragmentation lead to decommoditization? Transparency requires technology. But which technology wins?  Is it technology that delivers transparency, or is it technology that helps the farmer lower the cost of their supply chain and deliver transparency too?

Farmer Profitability / Finance

Farmer profitability is at an all-time low.  How did we get here and how do we get out of it? Do farmers have enough credit? Are they incented to do the right thing? How can farmers make more money? Is it about sales, costs or financing?

Decommoditization of Agriculture

How do I differentiate myself? Contract farming to a CPG? Growing seed for a Big 4? New crops (peas, chickpeas, hemp, duckweed, cannabis)? How about high protein corn for Tostitos? How about high protein sorghum for an ethanol plant?  How about high protein wheat? Why are we not planting crops that people want to buy? Why is there no mechanism to let the farmer know?

Why won’t CPGs pay for Sustainability?

The American farmer is under attack.  Runoff from farms is forming silt in lakes and rivers.  Fertilizers are linked to algal blooms. Cows are the leading source of methane.  But, farmers have no incentive to pollute. They know they are the long term stewards of their land. They are only incented to conserve. Do they have the right tools? What is the right metric?  If consumers want sustainable crops and want farmers to make the changes, why won’t they pay a premium?

Automation: In-Field Robotics Automation as a Solution to the Labor Crisis

Sustainability is not even remotely close to the biggest crisis facing the American farmer.  There are not enough workers. And this is not just limited to specialty and permanent crops (fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc), where robotics are in their infancy.  The same issue is impacting row crops. How do we solve it? Everyone talks about the uberization of equipment, but Mother Nature keeps getting in the way. If we remove labor from farming, will there be unintended consequences to farm communities and rural America?

Food System Innovation – How do the M&A and Capital Markets Evolve?

Seed, A, and sometimes B round capital is readily available.  What about the C and beyond round? Going public? An exit? Am I a food company?  Am I a biotech company? Am I an agriculture company? Am I a tech company? How am I valued?

Recap of the past 2 days

Innovation Showcase & Start-up Pitches

World Famous Memphis in May Barbeque Competition

Super Sessions – Optional Add-on Day

Thursday, May 16 at Peabody Hotel (8am – 2pm)

Pick 1 of 2 concurrent sessions

Indoor Farming (Option A)

  • Demand is the key to unlocking the market.  How do farms make certain they are producing what consumers demand?
  • Lessons to be learned in controlling costs
  • Technology on the horizon to increase yield, improve nutrition, and deliver addictive flavor
  • What needs to be true to access more expansion capital
  • 2pm—Bar-B-Que

Hemp (Option B)

  • The uses and farmgate value of hemp (Cannabidiol or CBD’s, protein, fiber)
  • Genetics
  • Agronomics
  • Processing
  • Should I start growing hemp?
  • 2pm—Bar-B-Que