The Best and Brightest Are Building The Future of Agriculture: Reflections from GrowAg 2016


Last week we had the opportunity to attend GrowAg, a convening of 100 of the best and brightest emerging leaders in agriculture. Delegates aged 25-40 from all over Australia were selected to attend this unique event, organized by RIRDC. 

The event was a well orchestrated mix of keynotes, working group sessions, panel discussions, and networking designed to create new connections, challenge mental models, and, most importantly, bring together the industry’s future leaders to talk about, and get started creating, the future.

Thanks to RIRDC for putting on the event! 

Thanks to RIRDC for putting on the event! 

 

Feedback and Excitement Around AgriDigital

For us at Full Profile, GrowAg was a fantastic opportunity to get the word out about the potential of blockchain and the launch of our AgriDigital platform. It was one of the first times we have presented to an agriculture audience, and we were thrilled to finally get into the details and benefits of a blockchain-enabled future.

The audience was really diverse in terms of industry, technical experience, and geography. We came away with ideas for new use cases, for example in wine and horticulture. We look forward to following up with delegates and figuring out how we can bring practical applications of blockchains to these sectors.

We also got valuable feedback about where the details of blockchains are still confusing. A common question was, “is this just about bitcoin or cryptocurrencies?” (Answer: no! Bitcoin is one application of blockchain, but we are using the underlying technology for a different use case: helping growers get paid in real-time and de-risking the agri supply chain). We will continue to work on explaining the more technical aspects of our solutions, and we welcome any feedback or questions along the way!

 

Enabling Innovation, Not Just Innovating

It is clear that right now we are in a defining moment for agriculture in Australia. There’s increasing engagement and activities from big and small players, and across the public and private sectors. And this moment is about more than innovation itself; it’s also about creating the conditions within which agriculture innovations can be developed, deployed, and decidedly useful.

Here are a few examples of efforts to enable innovation:

  • Coles $50M “nurture fund”
  • DeltaAg's collaborative approach to IoT agtech solutions
  • Westpac’s “Garage” innovation lab
  • UNE’s foundational research, alongside farmers, into advancing business practices and developing technology solutions
  • Shared economy startups such as AgTribe and AgDraft

We ourselves have experienced and benefited from the increasing support for AgTech in Australia (e.g., Westpac’s hackathon; KPMG's AgTech report), and are encouraged to see it diversifying and growing.

 

Collaboration is the New Competition

Collaboration was a recurring theme throughout GrowAg, especially among the delegates themselves. Examples emerged at both a technical level, such as defining standards for interoperability, as well as a business level, such as creating partnerships between incumbent firms and startups.

At Full Profile, we have also tried to take a collaborative approach. Though we believe blockchain and smart contracts will bring huge value to agriculture, technology alone is not sufficient. We have been working with lots of stakeholders, such as banks, RDCs, government, and of course growers and buyers. We have also worked to build a diverse team with experience across technical, business, and farming backgrounds.

No one ever outwardly rejects collaboration, but at GrowAg the often-nebulous concept started to become less theoretical and more practical. During one of the breakout sessions, we were asked to visualize Australian agriculture in 2026 as robust, innovative, successful, well funded, abundant, affordable, and healthy. We were then asked to figure out how, specifically, this future came to be. Every single one of the groups identified collaboration as critical to realizing this kind of future. A “common vision”, “inclusive leadership”, and “cohesive approaches to up-skilling and education” were consistently mentioned.

New Views are Challenging the Status Quo

The whole experience of GrowAg embodied the idea of collaboration. The conference design itself- from round tables to lots of breaks to mini-workshop sessions- centered on creating opportunities for discussion, as well as more traditional networking time. It was easy to see the benefits of this structure: exposure to new views and constant opportunities to challenge status quo thinking.

Most of the delegates we talked to mentioned new connections and exposure to new views as the biggest benefit of the conference. Of course, even the most innovative and open-minded thinkers won’t change their minds or practices after a three day event; however, we constantly heard delegates say, “ GrowAg has really opened my mind to new possibilities” or “I’ve connected with different kinds of people and started to think in new ways.”

A few specific examples that come to mind are:

  • Challenging the view of a sole focus on increasing production efficiency
  • Exploring grassroots means of bringing the culture of innovation to rural communities, such as through informal “app-y hour” discussions among farmers
  • Bringing “sexy back” to agriculture by finding ways to authentically relate to consumers, thereby decreasing polarizing messages and increasing the empathy

 

GrowAg was only one event and despite having the “best and brightest” in one place for three days, there are still huge challenges left for Australian agriculture. But, GrowAg was an amazing, inspiring experience for our team. And it’s clear that if the future of agriculture is “up to us”, it’s increasingly in good hands that will come together to build an industry that is truly led by the best and brightest.

A video of our presentation at GrowAg is available here. Sign up for our newsletter to be sure you don’t miss it! 

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