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VOL. 10 | NO. 13 | Saturday, March 25, 2017

Editorial: Ag Innovation Breaks Stereotypes, Boundaries

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You’ve heard the saying “this isn’t your parents’ fill-in-the-blank.” A better version for agricultural innovation might be “this is not your son’s idea of innovation” – which has a couple of stereotypes.

One centers around devices in a lab with an open floor plan, beanbag chairs and free burritos at any time; another involves lab coats and clear face visors in the sterile labs of a medical center. And you can find plenty of innovation along both of those lines in Memphis.

However, you can also find new and exciting developments in dirt-covered settings with no walls or windows, and in tractors outfitted with more hardware and software than the techiest office in Silicon Valley.

This kind of innovation is admittedly hard to spot, even for venture capital, as farms get bigger and the players remain within families whose agricultural tradition is a way of life spanning generations.

Many of us don’t spend much time thinking about where our food comes from. But that stable group of leaders producing our food didn’t hang around for this long by doing the same thing.

They know innovation. And they know that where it intersects with the marketplace is more than an opportunity to change. It’s an invitation from consumers who want to know more about their food.

The Mid-South probably will never be Silicon Valley. But with 300 ag companies in the immediate Memphis area, ag innovation isn’t just theoretical. It’s not a fixed ideal on a possible horizon. Head for it and you will find it.

It is scalable for the right ideas, and the judgment on the right idea can come quickly.

From a biofilm to give produce a longer shelf life to high-speed imaging technology for corn pathogens, Memphis is the place where venture capital should be finding farmers.

It’s not the image that comes to mind when most of us think of innovation – or diversity, for that matter.

Use the health care example. A medical center is no longer a success based on its bed count. It’s where the research is. And its success – its status – is how it erases boundaries and distance.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is as committed to boundary-breaking collaboration on a global basis as it has ever been.

Ag innovation is a promise that can both change the world and is necessary to live in a changing world.

For Memphis culture, this transition seems to have deep roots.

It’s hard not to see King Cotton’s shadow – the last time that ag innovation made Memphis its capital in a big way. That was based on our location; what lies ahead of us are ideas.

We would submit this is more significant for what it means for food and textile production around the globe. It’s the difference between feeding or clothing the world and leading it in the best way to produce the materials for both.

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