Quoting from his grandfather’s Western Growers chairman’s report 76 years earlier, Bruce Taylor noted how many of the problems facing the produce industry at least two generations ago are still with us today. He made his remarks during Western Growers’ 89th Annual Meeting, which was held in Las Vegas, Nov. 2-5.
“We have to change how we go about things,” he said, noting that two generations in the future, his descendants shouldn’t be facing the same problems the industry has today.
“Conventional agriculture is losing,” he said, ticking off a number of advertising marketing campaigns that undermine the public’s confidence in the food supply, and especially in conventionally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
Taylor said both Whole Foods supermarkets and the Chipotle restaurant chain have promotional campaigns that basically question the safety of conventional produce. “They are undermining the trust in our food,” he said.
The Taylor Farms California CEO said the fresh produce industry has “a battle on our hands,” and he indicated that fighting it in the same old way isn’t working. “A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Taylor said the fraternity of fresh produce industry grower-shippers spends way too much time beating each other up over a nickel and far too little time addressing problems cooperatively. In fact, he believes the industry should use the legal co-op system to produce higher prices and create a more profitable industry.
He also advocated establishing a better public relations program to share the industry’s “terrific messages” with the consumer. He noted that the advent of social media makes it economically feasible to launch an effective public relations campaign to garner support for agriculture with the right messaging. He pointed to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $120 million through social media videos that went viral.
Taylor, who has long been recognized as an innovator especially with regard to the advent of the value-added sector, also implored the audience to help “accelerate innovation.” He believes that again through collaboration the industry can solve its most difficult challenges with 21st century technology. “I don’t want to have the same battles 76 years from now,” he repeated. “I want to be in charge of our destiny.”
Fittingly, Taylor shared the podium during the Major Luncheon with John Hartnett, president and founder of Silicon Valley Gateway, a partnership that has launched the Steinbeck Innovation Cluster. Hartnett explained that the goal is to marry the technology innovation of the Silicon Valley with the agricultural brain power of the Salinas Valley to solve some of the ag industry’s biggest challenges. He discussed how these “clusters” have worked in other industries in looking at issues and coming up with cutting edge solutions. Hartnett’s motivation is fairly simple: the worldwide population is growing at a quick pace and the rise of the Middle Class is progressing at even a faster clip. In the next 35 years, the size of the middle class worldwide is expected to triple, as will the world’s demand for high-quality food.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity but presents major challenges to the industry,” Hartnett said.
Talking in “technology speak,” he said the “Internet of Things” (IoT) is moving quickly to a world where all devices and instruments will be managed from the palm of your hand in an intelligent way. This concept is catching on and is the next big thing in the world of technology. It portends a world where the smart phone is only the tip of the iceberg and “smart” devices are commonplace. In Harnett’s experience what is needed to jump start activity in any industry is a lot of smart people working together to solve problems. Toward that goal, the Steinbeck Innovation Cluster is hosting an Ag Tech Summit in July 2015. Bright minds from tech and agriculture will be coming together to brainstorm about the ag industry.
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