The 2018 AgLanta Conference took place on March 27 and 28 in Atlanta with a focus on city sustainability, technological developments in controlled environment agriculture and the future of the industry. Here are five things Produce Grower learned at the event.
1. Atlanta is a major part of Georgia’s agriculture future.
Gary Black, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, was one of the event’s keynote speakers. In his speech, he praised Atlanta’s engagement with agriculture, saying that the city is a good example of how cities can improve ag. He also sees urban agriculture in Atlanta as a key part of #GeorgiaGrown — a state initiative that markets Georgia-grown produce to people living in the state.
2. In the future, Black hopes Georgia becomes the No. 1 state for local food.
“We want to be the best,” he said. “I think we’re pretty good, but we need to be vigilant.” Atlanta will be part of that effort.
Additionally, 100 Resilient Cities CEO Otis Rolley praised Atlanta for incorporating agriculture into its plan to become more urban resilient, which he defined as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stress and shocks they experience.”
100 Resilient Cities is an organization that helps cities develop resiliency plans. In Atlanta, developing urban agriculture was a key part of the plan. That also included appointing Atlanta urban agriculture director Mario Cambardella to his role, the first of its kind in the United States.
3. All data matters.
On the smart operations panel, AgLanta attendees heard different perspectives on data’s role in growing produce. First up was Farmers Cut CEO Mark Korzilius, whose operation grows plants in closed cells with no walkways and uses an automated robot to monitor plants. The robot — named Farmer Joe — collects data and allows Farmers Cut to manage every aspect of growing with precision.
Next up was Allison Kopf, the CEO of Agrilyst, an intelligence software platform for indoor growers. According to Kopf, there can be too much of an emphasis on broader data points. She suggests instead tracking “little data” — the information a grower might write down on a piece of paper instead of tracking in a spreadsheet — which she says is the key to maximizing efficiency.
On the smart resource managment panel, Autogrow CEO Darryn Keiller said that the North American industry needs to look at other parts of the world that have readily embraced technology and data when looking for inspiration. He cites Singapore, Norway, Sweden and Belgium as countries with thriving high-tech growing industries.
4. Blockchain has the potential to make the supply chain more transparent.
On a panel discussing smart distribution, Tyler Mulvihill, director of ConsenSys — a blockchain startup based in New York that works with different horticulture operations — said that blockchain technology could help people understand where their food actually comes from and, in theory, incentivize people to buy (and produce) more local food. He also says more farmers will adopt the technology if it ultimately makes them more money.
Laura Seach, co-founder of Foodshed — a company connecting local producers with wholesale markers using blockchain — added that while the consumer is asking for local, fresher food and it is being grown in new ways, the industry is still relying on legacy systems for distribution. If data provided by blockchain is embraced, she says, then consumers will be able to decide what matters most to them and have a better idea of what they could trust.
5. Food demand will become hyperlocal and it will be big business.
Stan Vangilder is the program manager at the Southern Company, an energy utility company that believes that have a role in ensuring agriculture can play in improving lives. According to Vangilder, the demand for local produce is both a major problem for cities and a major business opportunity.
According to Vangilder, 25 percent of people living in metro Atlanta do not have a car and live more than half a mile from a grocery story; additionally, one in four Atlanta families with children are considered food-insecure. That need, according to Vangilder, means there is a massive market for local produce and an opportunity for entrepreneurs. The Southern Company estimates that there is a $780 million market for new growers and a $300 million market for existing growers.