A new ag event is planted
The first BizWest Food and Ag Summit draws around 200 people
By Stephanie Alderton
Times Staff Writer
The staff of eastern Colorado business publication BizWest believes their first annual Food and Ag Summit was a success.
The Boulder- and Fort Collins-based magazine hosted the inaugural Summit on Wednesday at The Ranch in Loveland. It was their first agriculture-focused conference, and it drew about 175 farmers and food experts from all over Colorado to hear and participate in panel discussions on some of the hottest topics in today's agriculture.
BizWest Publisher Jeff Nuttall said the company plans to make it an annual event.
"We've been doing events in conjunction with our digital and print publications for a long time, but we had not done anything in the food and ag space," Nuttall said. "So we decided it was time to venture into that."
[An estimated 175 people attended the first-ever BizWest Food and Ag Summit on Wednesday. The conference featured panel discussions on topics like]
An estimated 175 people attended the first-ever BizWest Food and Ag Summit on Wednesday. The conference featured panel discussions on topics like immigration, global trade and GMO's. (Stephanie Alderton / Fort Morgan Times)
The conference started with a talk from Devin Koontz of the Federal Drug Administration about the Food Modernization Act and how it affects farmers. The rest of the day was taken up by panel discussions on topics like immigration issues, global trade and genetically modified organisms, or GMO's.
Although many of the panels were about issues that affect nearly all farmers, such as immigration and financing, the conference's focus leaned toward organic and all-natural food production, which is often a touchy subject among traditional farmers. During the lunchtime "Regenerative Agriculture" panel, four people from the organic industry discussed the environmental benefits of organic and all-natural farming, as well as the increased demand for it among some consumers.
"There are many different companies that want to be able to tell their customers that they're producing their food in a sustainable way," said Rich Conant, a professor of ecosystem science and sustainability at Colorado State University. "Employers want to hire the best people that they can find, and those people are often interested in working for a company that makes a difference."
Steven Hoffman, managing director of Compass Natural Marketing, and L. Hunter Lovins, president of Natural Capitalism Solutions, made the case that organic farming can reverse climate change and replenish depleted ecosystems. A few people in the audience voiced skepticism about this.
Nuttall said each panel was designed to present a balanced perspective of the issues, though. In the GMO debate that finished out the conference, Hoffman joined a crop sciences professor, the board president of the Colorado Corn Growers Association and the director of marketing for Silk plant-based foods and beverages in a lively discussion.
A few minor technical difficulties plagued the conference, such as low battery on microphones and a malfunctioning video presentation. But for the most part, Nuttall said the feedback he received from attendees was positive.
"The people I had a chance to talk to thought it was very impactful," he said. "I know I learned a lot, and I look forward to more of the same."
Each guest at the Food and Ag Summit received a survey card with questions about their experience, including their thoughts on what the next conference topics should be. The BizWest team hasn't decided what next year will look like yet, but Nuttall said many of this year's topics will probably still be major issues then.
Stephanie Alderton: 970-867-5651 ext 227, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/slalderton