Ag industry needs innovation and collaboration to feed 9 billion people

Samantha Fox
for The Fence Post

George Seward saw first-hand the need for agricultural education.

The corn farmer and cattle rancher grew up in Yuma, Colo., and in the 1980s the town started to struggle. This was after Seward had graduated from Colorado State University.

He was a panelists on the second and final day of the Colorado State University AgInnovation Summit 2.0 on Aug. 7, speaking in his alma mater’s Lory Student Center.

Today, Yuma is one of the top agriculture counties in Colorado, but if innovation hadn’t happened at the right time, that might not be the case.

“Innovation cannot take place by land grant universities by themselves to solve these problems,” Ajay MenonDean of the College of Agricultural Sciences


The second day of the summit focused on who will innovate and when it needs to happen.

“It’s time for us to own that. It’s time to say if agriculture is going to do it, we have to own it,” said Kathay Rennels, associate vice president for engagement at CSU.

It’s projected the world’s population will hit 9 billion people by 2050. That gives us 33 years to figure out how agricultural technologies can advance to reach this goal.

Plus, as discussed on the first day of the summit, there are still plenty of problems in today’s world with a lack of accessible food.

That’s why the speakers advocated for innovation, through the means of collaboration, to start now.

For Yuma, innovation started in the ’80s and was led by the Monfort family.

The Monforts are a well-known family in Colorado, and particularly in northern Colorado. Warren Monfort changed the beef industry in the first half of the 20th century by building cattle feedlots. Eventually the company entered the meat packing industry, which vastly grew under Warren’s son, Kenneth. The plant, located in Greeley, Colo., is now owned by JBS.

When the Monforts opened a feedyard in Yuma, it wasn’t long until the impact was felt. Because of that one addition, according to Seward, land values doubled six months later.

And then the hog farms came in. And now there are three large dairies, according to Seward.

“We had to go with big ag to get the community back on its feet,” he said.

The farming town grew into the agriculture hub it is today.

According to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ag Census, Yuma was No. 1 in Colorado for the value of sales for hogs and pigs, grains, oilseeds, dry beans and dry peas; the country also was No. 1 in acres for corn for grain and the amount of hogs and pigs.


The collaboration of the different agriculture industries in Yuma was an example of how multiple sectors of agriculture can come together with successful outcomes.

Ajay Menon, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, referred to what he calls the “global triangle” as the foundation for collaboration. The triangle includes the government, the public and companies.

“Innovation cannot take place by land grant universities by themselves to solve these problems,” he said.

Michelle Hadwiger is the deputy director for the state of Colorado in the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. She brought up a way people at the Colorado Department of Agriculture are tying to expand the possibilities of collaboration.

“We’re trying to deconstruct the ag industry to promote it,” she said.

By deconstruction, Hadwiger meant breaking down different elements of the industry. That way people or companies that don’t see themselves as part of the agriculture industry can see they are.

An example of that sort of collaboration is what The Kroger Co. is looking into. Chris Hjelm is the CIO and executive vice president of Kroger, and discussed a number of ways the company uses innovation.

But one of the collaborations outside the agriculture industry the company is working with is Uber. Hjelm said the companies are seeking ways to implement home delivery.

Uber and agriculture are not normally associated. But a collaboration such as the one emerging between Kroger and Uber is an example of the partnerships Hadwiger and Menon are calling for.

“In the end, its about the next generation,” Menon said. “(With innovation) at least we can give them the infrastructure they need. The next generation deserves a lot more from us.” ❖

— Samantha Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at (970) 392-4410, or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.