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Future of Agriculture

Welcome to the Future of Agriculture Podcast with Tim Hammerich. This show explores the people, companies, and ideas shaping the future of agribusiness. If you are curious about innovations in AgTech, rural entrepreneurship, agricultural sustainability, and food security, this is the show for you! For more details on the guests featured on this show, visit the blog at www.FutureOfAg.com. Or, to learn more about career opportunities in agriculture, visit www.AgGrad.com Make sure you’re subscribed so you can catch another fascinating ag innovator next week!
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Now displaying: March, 2021
Mar 31, 2021

Thanks to the Field Work podcast for sponsoring this episode. Visit www.FieldWork.org to learn more. 

Interest in local and regional food systems has been trending upward for a long time. The pandemic has only accelerated consumer interest in having strong relationships with where they buy their food. But what sounds easy on the outside: farmer produces food and consumer buys it - is much more complicated in practice. First of all, there aren’t enough local/regional slaughterhouses for livestock producers to scale their direct-to-consumer operations because of low margins, regulations, and labor. Today’s episode tells the story of how Adam Parks built a local meat business, and how he is part of a group that has formed a cooperative to solve this problem of local meat processing. Adam is the founder of Victorian Farmstead Meat Company located in Sebastopol, California. They have been selling local meat in the area since 2010 at farmers markets, through a CSA (community supported agriculture), and more recently through home delivery. 

 

“I developed a network of six to eight local ranches that raised for me… And we set about taking fresh meat to the farmer's market. That was kind of what made us unique was that we were the first local people to really bring fresh meat to the farmer's market.” - Adam Parks

 

Adam’s collaboration with local producers allowed him to take advantage of a trend he noticed after the 2008 recession involving the consumer preference for a more controlled, less extravagant splurge with high quality food items. Adam also created a newsletter that has helped to build a relationship and trust with customers developed at farmers markets. 

 

“Once we gain that trust, we protect it like gold. Our long-time customers will tell you that they don't worry about what they buy from us. They know that it's as good a product in terms of how it's raised and how it's processed as they can find. And so they just get what we have available.” - Adam Parks

 

Adam remarks that having control over the meat processing aspect of his operation became more attractive as his business continued to expand. He started a 120 square foot butcher shop and is hoping to expand to a much larger standalone facility very soon. Slaughter and USDA sanctioned facilities tend to be hours away which is another part of the business he hopes to make more efficient and sustainable. Adam is one of 16 founding members of the Bay Area Ranchers Cooperative (also known as BAR-C), which is a coop of local producers who are pooling resources to build a mobile USDA-inspected meat processing facility in the area. They hope to be in production this May. 

 

This Week on The Future of Agriculture Podcast:

  • Meet Adam Parks, the founder of Victorian Farmstead Meat Company located in Sebastopol, California
  • Explore how Adam grew Victorian Farmstead Meat Company through local farmers markets and collaborations with producers
  • Discover Bay Area Ranchers Cooperative (also known as BAR-C), which is a coop of local producers developing a semi-permanent USDA sanctioned slaughter facility

 

Join the FOA Community!

Be sure to join the new Future of Agriculture Membership for even more valuable information on the future of the ag industry. I’m sending out my email newsletter on a more regular basis, focusing on what I call the front lines of agtech: where product meets producer. You can sign up for that at www.FutureOfAg.com. There’s an email icon in the center of the page, just click on that and it will take you to a signup form.

Do you have suggestions for topics to be explored? Tweet them to me @timhammerich or email them to tim@aggrad.com

Find us online!

Future of Agriculture Website

AgGrad Website

Mar 29, 2021

The reason for today’s special episode is The Farm Workforce Modernization Act that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now moving on to the Senate. This legislation is an effort to make progress on the mess that is U.S. ag labor policy. Shay Myers, a farmer who was featured on this show back in episode 178, called me to talk about the importance of this bill to U.S. farmers and their employees. In fact, over 300 agricultural organizations supported the bill. Ag labor reform like this has been attempted for decades, but has never been passed, mostly due to politics. 

First, what does this bill do? Put simply, it improves the process for H-2A workers, which is the name of the visa for temporary agricultural workers. It also makes it mandatory that agricultural employers e-verify employees legal work status for employment. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, it establishes a program for agricultural workers and their families who are already in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment if they meet certain requirements. 

Mar 24, 2021

Thanks to the FieldWork podcast for sponsoring this episode. Visit www.FieldWork.org to learn more. 

 

This episode is a good follow up to Episode 250 about one example of how agtech is helping smallholder farmers in developing countries. We are again talking about the potential for agtech in developing markets in this episode, but this time from a different perspective. My guest Igor Buchatskiy sees real opportunities in very large integrated agricultural operations. Whereas last week we focused on smallholder farmers, this episode is about the very large, sophisticated operations that are hungry for technology and innovation in the developing world. 

Igor is a mechanical engineer by training, but after getting his MBA at the University of Chicago, he started a career in management consulting. That led to a job with a family office back in his home country of Ukraine. It was in that role that he discovered his love and fascination for agriculture in 2007. Since that time, he’s worked all over the world with agricultural operations and agtech startups. He’s based in Boston, but you never know where in the world he is going to be. In fact, at the time of this interview he was working on a project in Saudi Arabia. 

 

“(Working in agriculture) was a revelation. Seriously, I thought wow, that's what I should have been doing for the last 10 years instead of mechanical engineering and management consulting because it was just an amazing experience. So I dove head in into that business and we started growing it, bringing new technology, new breed, new genetics, et cetera, et cetera.” - Igor Buchatskiy

 

Igor shares that he was able to be a part of the “Ukranianian Golden Rush” which involved former Soviet union republics recovering from the collective farm system that was no longer in place. The economics and margins were very favorable in the agricultural sector that had previously flown under the radar of other investors. He observed the consolidation of many small farms into large dominant players in the industry. 

 

“What gets me excited is the fact that there are so many bright ideas, you know out of the box ideas that are happening now. And we are at the point in time where the technologies are becoming more accessible, more affordable, and we're getting to the sort of a scale at which all these technologies and all these ideas are starting to converge.” - Igor Buchatskiy

 

Igor shares that in Ukraine and Russia he is observing a lot of large vertically integrated operations. By virtue of the size and employment support of these companies, they are able to use, take advantage of and capitalize on new agriculture technologies where a small benefit in margin can create major revenue on that scale. This allows for large gains in agricultural technology companies by engaging with some of these major players. 

 

This Week on The Future of Agriculture Podcast:

  • Meet Igor Buchatskiy an entrepreneur, ag startup mentor, and board advisor.
  • Discover Igor’s journey into agriculture and the potential he saw in the industry
  • Learn about the agriculture industry in the Ukraine and Russia and the trend towards large vertically integrated operations

 

Join the FOA Community!

Be sure to join the new Future of Agriculture Membership for even more valuable information on the future of the ag industry. I’m sending out my email newsletter on a more regular basis, focusing on what I call the front lines of agtech: where product meets producer. You can sign up for that at www.FutureOfAg.com. There’s an email icon in the center of the page, just click on that and it will take you to a signup form.

Do you have suggestions for topics to be explored? Tweet them to me @timhammerich or email them to tim@aggrad.com

Find us online!

Future of Agriculture Website

AgGrad Website

Mar 17, 2021

Thanks to the FieldWork podcast for sponsoring this episode. Visit www.FieldWork.org to learn more. 

We talk a lot about the types of technologies that are geared towards larger operations, but what’s out there that has the potential to really improve the lives of small farmers, especially of those in developing countries. We have a really interesting example of one of these innovations in this episode. Weather Risk Management Services is an India-based company that collects data to help producers manage their risks. The company started off as offering just crop insurance products, which is still a big part of their business, but they’ve also expanded into products that incentivize and reward farmers for using risk management strategies. 

In other words, a farmer pays a premium and agrees to certain farming practices. In return they are provided a guaranteed yield, and paid if their yield drops below that threshold. This helps take away the risk of adopting new practices. Weather Risk Management Services has worked with over 30,000 farmers in India already, and hopes to grow to one million farmers in the next five years. Founder Sonu Agrawal joins us to share the process, goals and impacts of the company.

“So in many developing countries … not only in India, but several countries in Asia and Africa, there is very low or no access to crop insurance contracts. And since there is no crop insurance, access to finance is also a big challenge because banks do not lend money to small farmers. The banks are not covered against losses due to adverse weather events. So there is a complete lack of access to crop insurance.” Sonu Agrawal

Sonu shares that Weather Risk Management Services provides access to affordable crop insurance that also provides incentives to “the farmer to use better risk management practices.” These practices include things like using drought resistant seeds, applying additional nutrition to the crops or arranging irrigation to their fields. Satellite data helps to monitor these additional practices to make sure the crop is insured appropriately. Farmers then either benefit by way of a reduced premium or increased coverage based on a projected yield.

“Before we enter a village, a lot of analysis is done…..So we analyze and then identify the more important risks or the factors which have resulted in sub optimized yield. And then the whole production process, what we call the package of practices, is designed in such a way so that we can improve the yields gradually.” - Sonu Agrawal

Farmers are offered smaller contracts when they start with Weather Risk Management Services. This is done to overcome any trust concerns and allow producers to take advantage of the gradual increased yield at their desired pace. There is a lot of learning done by the farmers and the company to assess what yields can be expected and what measures can be taken for improvement in these initial smaller contracts. Sonu shares that in the first year of collaboration with a farmer they expect a 5-7% increase in yield, followed by 10-12% in the second year and up to 15-20% in the third year. 

This Week on The Future of Agriculture Podcast:

  • Meet Sonu Agrawal the founder of Weather Risk Management Services
  • Discover what their company offers small farmers in rural areas of India where crop insurance and financing access is limited
  • Explore the innovative methods used to incentivize increased yield production practices

Join the FOA Community!

Be sure to join the new Future of Agriculture Membership for even more valuable information on the future of the ag industry. I’m sending out my email newsletter on a more regular basis, focusing on what I call the front lines of agtech: where product meets producer. You can sign up for that at www.FutureOfAg.com. There’s an email icon in the center of the page, just click on that and it will take you to a signup form.

Do you have suggestions for topics to be explored? Tweet them to me @timhammerich or email them to tim@aggrad.com

Find us online!

Future of Agriculture Website

AgGrad Website

Mar 10, 2021

Thanks to the FieldWork podcast for sponsoring this episode. Visit www.FieldWork.org to learn more. 

David Doll is the General Manager of Rota Unica Agriculture based in Portugal. He grew up on a direct-to-consumer apple and peach orchard in southern Indiana, then got a master’s degree in plant pathology from UC Davis. After a decade as a farm advisor for the University of California focused on tree nuts, he took on his current role of moving to Portugal to manage a large-scale diversified tree crop operation there. On top of all of that, he writes what I think is probably the most in-depth blog dedicated to just one crop that I’ve ever seen at The Almond Doctor. I’ve really appreciated interacting with David online and in the FoA community. I think you’re going to really enjoy his perspective here today. 

 

“I think everyone would say the same thing, but you have to be able to be willing to know what your shortfalls are, be honest with yourself and then throw in the extra effort in order to pick yourself up. I'll be honest, I never thought I would ever be negotiating a loan that's probably more money than I'll ever earn in my life.

But you know, you walk in, you do it and you learn a few things along the way and move on.” - David Doll

 

David shares his experience in going from managing an operation with a $250,000 annual budget to his current operation with more than a $80 million budget. His employer felt that he could be taught the finances overtime but needed to come prepared with the horticulture and orchard experience to support their endeavors. David dove in and has learned and experienced a lot since being there. 

 

“So the investment group is not a Portuguese company. It's actually an American company. And their thesis is food is a way to move water in a commodity that people want. That's it. It’s such a simple statement but it's right on the spot.” - David Doll

 

“We are taking a resource from where we have it and where it may be plentiful at a given time and producing something with it and then moving that to an area that one can’t produce that crop or doesn’t have the resources to produce that crop.” David elaborates by discussing the value of water based on whether it is from a renewable or finite resource. This is definitely a different perspective than the more short-sighted opinion of not viewing water as a significant valuable commodity. David’s blog explores some of these concepts and many other management techniques with all things almonds. “It’s kind of a niche blog but I enjoy it.”

 

“It's kind of this technical writing with a translational twist is what I call it. So I'm always writing about a technical subject, but I'm using that and translating that to help people understand my thought process of how I approach that problem.” - David Doll

 

This Week on The Future of Agriculture Podcast:

  • Meet David Doll the General Manager of Rota Unica Agriculture based in Portugal and author of www.TheAlmondDoctor.com
  • Discover the journey David Doll has taken to become a major almond producer in Portugal
  • Explore an international perspective for the future of agriculture and the unique challenges faced by our counterparts in different parts of the world
  • Learn what inspired “The Almond Doctor” blog and the benefits it offers

Join the FOA Community!

Be sure to join the new Future of Agriculture Membership for even more valuable information on the future of the ag industry. I’m sending out my email newsletter on a more regular basis, focusing on what I call the front lines of agtech: where product meets producer. You can sign up for that at www.FutureOfAg.com. There’s an email icon in the center of the page, just click on that and it will take you to a signup form.

Do you have suggestions for topics to be explored? Tweet them to me @timhammerich or email them to tim@aggrad.com

Find us online!

Future of Agriculture Website

AgGrad Website

Mar 3, 2021

We can all agree that sustainability that comes at the expense of productivity and efficiency is not truly sustainable at all. We are going to need to meld together what’s best for the productivity and profitability of growers with the ecosystem services they can provide. 

Just recently agtech company FluroSat announced that they acquired another agtech company, Dagan, and the combined company was re-branded to a new name: Regrow. You might remember FluroSat founder Anastasia Volkova from her first appearance on this podcast back in episode 175. She joins us again today, now as CEO of Regrow, along with Dagan co-founder and now Regrow Chief Strategy Officer Bill Salas. Both of them are accomplished scientists as well as entrepreneurs. We have a great conversation here about why this merger made sense, what differentiates their carbon model, called DNDC, from other ways to model carbon sequestration, and how their newly combined and rebranded company will help growers maximize productivity, profitability, and sustainability. 

 

“DNDC’s approach is much more first principles on how management influences soil environment, which in turn influences which microbes are more active and drives the outcomes in terms of soil carbon turnover and greenhouse gas emissions.” -Bill Salas

 

“Dagan was interested in how to create the value proposition for soil health at scale.” They went about this by achieving satellite monitoring to monitor large acreages. The network that Dagan had developed between researchers, NGO’s such as the Nature Conservancy, consumer packaged food companies and carbon markets was extensive but lacked a direct connection to producers themselves. Bill shares that they had focused on creating data for multiple partners and by merging with FluroSat they were able to pair that mission with an easy-to-use platform. 

 

“We saw that by adding sustainability monitoring to agronomy and marrying our crop model with the DNDC soil model, we would ... understand where it would be profitable to start adopting these practices and it could form the decision support tool that our customers are seeking as well as connect players across the supply chain.” -Anastasia Volkova

 

Anastasia highlights that one of her goals has always been to facilitate the decision making of producers to incorporate sustainability into their operations. Making the data acquisition process easy and accessible allows producers to capitalize on any sustainable efforts they are making. While carbon sequestration is a great benefit of sustainable practices, nitrogen management, greenhouse gas emissions and better biodiversity are also common sequelae and part of the Regrow mindset. 

 

“We want to make sure that agriculture gets a chance to get it right, scientifically, transparently, and bring this sustainability excitement into an operationalizable business model that scales without taking too many shortcuts on the quality and transparency.” -Anastasia Volkova



Checkout the FieldWork Podcast as well on any podcast platform or at www.FieldWork.org.

 

Join the FOA Community!

Be sure to join the new Future of Agriculture Membership for even more valuable information on the future of the ag industry. I’m sending out my email newsletter on a more regular basis, focusing on what I call the front lines of agtech: where product meets producer. You can sign up for that at www.FutureOfAg.com. There’s an email icon in the center of the page, just click on that and it will take you to a signup form.

Do you have suggestions for topics to be explored? Tweet them to me @timhammerich or email them to tim@aggrad.com

Find us online!

Future of Agriculture Website

AgGrad Website

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