Role of agriculture, food discussed at new summit

Discussion on the food we eat was the main dish March 30 at BizWest’s inaugural Food and Ag Summit.

The summit, held at the Ranch Events Complex in Loveland, Colo., featured speakers from colleges, farms, food processors and various marketing and educational agencies who are experts in their fields.

Kimberly Willard, director of events and marketing at BizWest, said the even was prompted by trends and opportunities in the conventional agricultural and natural foods industries.

“We had a steering committee that met to decide what needs should be discussed,” Willard said. “We had it pinned down by February. It was quick work, but it wasn’t born yesterday.”

Willard said the event drew about 200 attendees. Panels spoke on topics such as regenerative agriculture, global trade and raising money to finance and grow business.

 

Aileen Rickert Ehn, chair of the Agricultural Sciences and Technology department at Aims Community College, moderated a panel on recruiting for talent in agricultural businesses.

“In people’s minds, agriculture goes straight to the farmer on his tractor,” Ehn said. “But we’re also talking about food processing, natural foods and technologies.”

She noted that attendees of the panel she moderated were not necessarily people looking for laborers or employees with a background in the industry, but people with passion, integrity and a good work ethic.

“It’s not the same as it was 100 years ago when people who worked in agriculture came from a farm,” Ehn said. “Now, about 70 percent of people in agriculture haven’t come from a farm.”

Students flocking a agriculture now are doing so, she said, because they believe in the industry and what it’s doing. And with a broader knowledge of the agricultural industry comes the understanding of just how many career opportunities exist, from processing to drone technology, to natural foods and clothing.

The summit also featured panels on how immigration reform may present challenges to the industry, global trade and regenerative agriculture.

Steve Hoffman is managing director of Compass Natural Marketing, an agency that services natural, organic and sustainable enterprises. He spoke on the panel concerning regenerative agriculture and took part in the GMO debate held at the end of the summit.

Hoffman talked about the effect agriculture has on climate change and what farmers can do to help.

“Whether you’re a person who believes climate change is human made or natural, the impact of agriculture still needs to be considered,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said farmers should be considering ways to draw carbon back into the depleted soil to improve soil health and present a positive solution to carbon building up.

Michael Brown of Greeley, attended the summit. While he doesn’t farm, his father-in-law did and his brother-in-law is continuing the tradition. Brown said he was particularly interested in the panel on immigration reform.

“I didn’t know about the H2A program that brings laborers to work on farms,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how much of an impact immigration has on agriculture.”

The H2A program helps farmers anticipate labor shortages and transports nonimmigrant foreign laborers to farms to work.

Brown called the summit “amazing” and said there was a lot of good information, even for people who are not in the industry.

For those who missed the summit, there is next year.

“It won’t be a carbon copy,” Willard said. “We’ll decide what issues are important and have a whole new summit.”