I recently read Executive Director Dr. Dave Downey’s blog post, Thirty Years and Going Strong, reflecting on the first 30 years of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of the history of this great center for the last 19 years. The center has shaped my career and allowed me the opportunity to engage with the best and brightest minds of the global food and agribusiness industries. I couldn’t imagine a more engaging and fulfilling career. I am grateful to Dr. Downey for his vision, passion, and bravery to blaze the trail the center has followed. I am also extremely grateful to the great people of this industry who have embraced the center and its mission, faculty and staff.

Without this great partnership with industry, we would not be recognized as the leader in agribusiness research and education.

Agriculture in 30 years

As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, I can’t help but think about what the next 30 years might hold here. Given the rapid changes happening in global food and agriculture, thinking about what our industry will look like 30 years from now is a bit overwhelming. The visions I have of the future waver between hopeful progress and the seemingly improbable.

In the realm of hopeful progress, perhaps we will be feeding a much larger population on this planet using the practices we recognize today, but with more adoption of the best practices and technologies across wider regions of the world. This broader adoption of best practices and technologies would allow us to feed the population using fewer resources with greater output while nurturing the planet’s resources.

Or, in the spirit of seemingly improbable, perhaps we will see radical technological breakthroughs in energy production for human consumption (calories, BTUs, kilowatt hours, etc.) that redefine the agricultural industry in ways we can barely imagine today. This might mean that we are converting the sun’s energy for human consumption in much more controlled environments with strict control of processes to produce exactly the intended outcome. This would be akin to the way a pharmaceutical company produces medicines—that is, we finally control the whims of Mother Nature.

The bottom line is that I can’t pretend to know what the future holds for this great industry. But, I am certain it will be an exciting and challenging environment for smart, passionate people. It is my belief, that the core of this industry’s culture is an empathy for people having a safe, healthy, diverse, sustainable and plentiful supply of food, clothing and energy. Empathy is born of people caring about the lives of their fellow humans. It is the desire to act on this empathy that drives this industry. Smart, passionate people make decisions on a daily basis that impact our ability to provide for our fellow human beings.

Helping these smart, passionate people use science to improve their decision making and act on their empathy is ultimately what we strive do in the center.

The center in 30 years

The center’s sole focus for its first 30 years of existence was helping people in the agribusiness industry anticipate and adjust to a changing environment to allow them to make better, science-driven decisions within their respective parts of the industry. The people the center has sought to help are the people who have helped shape the dynamic, incredibly productive, highly sustainable global food and agribusiness industry we see today.

As I look to the future, I see a center that doubles down on its efforts to help people in the food and agribusiness industry anticipate the challenges of feeding a growing population, access and understand the science, and enhance their decision making–all to meet these challenges head-on.

Regardless of what future unfolds to define or redefine how we will provide food, clothing and energy for the people of this planet, it will always be about people making decisions to provide safe, healthy, diverse, sustainable and plentiful resources for their fellow human beings. We want to be the partner of choice for these decision makers as they seek to improve their understanding of this unfolding future and how best to achieve their goals and the goals of the industry.

For the center to remain the partner of choice for the industry in this exciting future, we must always be keenly focused on the information and educational needs of our key clientele: the decision makers of the food and agricultural industry. This focus requires us to have access to faculty around the globe who are conducting cutting edge research on how industry trends interact with the science of food, agriculture, economics, the environment and consumer preferences to impact the decisions that people in the industry need to make. This focus requires us to have staff who are dedicated to listening to the people in the industry to truly understand what their challenges are. From there, we can passionately pursue, design and develop science-based research and education projects that have transformational impacts on people and their abilities to make good decisions for their companies, the industry and society as a whole.

This focus also requires that the center delivers these research and educational projects with industry-leading methods that recognize the experience the participants have as they engage in the research. We have to continue to make sure learning enhances the impact on improving their decision-making skills while also deepening the relationship the center and the industry clientele have as partners in helping feed our growing population.

In reflecting on our future, I am heartened to realize that what has made us successful in the past has laid out a path for us to be successful in the future. In his blog, Dr. Downey highlighted the importance of the combination of faculty with relevant content, staff focused on exceeding client expectations and a customer experience that sets the standard for education. That has been the center’s recipe for success.

I believe the center will be an even stronger partner with the industry in 30 years. Just like the smart, passionate people who make up the food and agribusiness industry, all of the people associated with the center are empathetic to the desire of our fellow human beings for a safe, healthy, diverse, sustainable and abundant supply of food, clothing and energy. We envision our next 30 years as a continuation of our partnership with the people in the food and agribusiness industry to act on this empathy.

We hope you will join us in this mission.