The Future of Agriculture is Bright and, Hopefully, Sustainable


By Mayzie Purviance

The future, especially for the agricultural industry, can bring forward some concerns.  However, events such as the Youth Ag Summit (YAS) shed some light on a younger generation of cultivators.

“It’s an awesome way to network with other people who are interested in your passions for wanting to make a difference in ag around the world and in our home communities, and to be able to stay in touch and work toward solutions together,” Hans Riensche, Iowa State Agribusiness business student and farmer, said.

Riensche, along with 99 other delegates from 45 countries, attended YAS in early November in Brasilia, Brazil.  Young agriculturists submitted their applications and in May 2019, successful candidates were notified that they were selected for an expense paid trip to YAS.

“I was standing in an aisle at Wal Mart when my phone buzzed with an email notification,” Riensche said.  “The only thing I read was the subject line, ‘Bayer Youth Ag Summit’ and the first word, ‘Congratulations…’ and I immediately started freaking out.”

Riensche was selected as one of six U.S. delegates, with his focus project being “incentivizing agricultural sustainability.”  He grew up on a corn, soybean and wheat operation in Iowa and his family partnered with Indigo Agriculture several years ago to explore opportunities of sustainable farming.

“We wanted to do something that had a little more purpose than just growing food, fuel and fiber for the world, which is a noble cause, but what will be the next step be?” Riensche said.

“[We were] looking at how you can advance the nutritional composition of food and also how we can turn sustainability into an opportunity for supplemental incomes for farmers.”

Once at YAS, delegates are divided into groups.  Each group has a specific focus area and is given the opportunity to present the group’s projects to the entire summit.

“There are so many things I haven’t even considered that others are looking to address,” Riensche said.  “So, you know, I’ve been forced to ask myself: Is this my solution and is this the solution that needs to be shared right now?  How do I maximize my interactions with others and find out ways to keep our connection growing?”

Riensche said he networked 24/7 at the conference and exchanged contacts with many of the other delegates.  He hopes to nourish these connections in an effort to help one another in the future.

“I had a chance to connect with someone from Nigeria who was in my group,” Riensche said.  “They’re also working on sustainable ag solutions for climate change in Nigeria.  We’re all interested in learning and helping the other one succeed.”

“I think that our generation brings the perspective that agriculture can be more than what it has been in the past,” Riensche said.  “Farming is something that isn’t just feeding our communities or a business, its impacts are global and we need to make sure that impact is positive.”

Connection is key at the Youth Ag Summit.  Riensche said he plans to keep in contact with some of the people he met to benefit both their projects.

“You’ve got people who want to help make a positive change in your phone, ready to go.  Ask them questions, bounce ideas off each other… the network is the number one thing I’m taking away from this conference.”

Although the summit is held in English, Riensche said it’s not a first language for some of the delegates.

“It makes you think about issues differently just to get out entirely away from your industry, get out of your comfort zone, even get out of your language, and think about the world differently,” Riensche said.  “That’s not to say that what we’re doing doesn’t have the best intentions or it’s not done with good motives, but it makes you ask questions about it and see how you can work collaboratively with others in the agricultural industry to create improvements.”

“You’ve got everything from Australia to New Zealand to Nigeria to South Africa,” Riensche said.  “I met a guy from Egypt earlier… there’s just not anyone who’s not included it seems.  They’ve done a great job of representing everyone’s interests.”

Also at the summit are various panels of speakers, each with a different message.  Taking place in Brazil, Riensche said many of the topics discussed pertained to tropical agriculture and the Amazon.  However, among the delegates, other issues were discussed.

“One of the biggest issues the delegates have talked about is connecting consumers and producers,” Riensche said.  “That’s a pretty common and standard issue, I’ve heard it brought up numerous times.”

He said he heard a lot of concerns about digital ag as well.
“What’s going to be the focus of digital agriculture?  How is it going to make an impact? Because today, we haven’t seen the impact of digital agriculture, I think that’s something that’s yet to come,” he said.

Riensche said the most interesting focus of the conference, to him, however, went hand in hand with his original project: incentivizing sustainability.

“Right now, the only form of sustainability incentives is the idea of the organic movement,” Riensche said.  “Take this as you will, but there are still questions as to whether those practices are sustainable and whether they are enough to feed the world.  There’s also the big question of whether or not what we’re doing in conventional agriculture is right or wrong.  I’m not taking a side here, I’m just asking the question: Are we right?”

Riensche said he comes from a conventional farming background and one of his friends comes from an organic farming background.  He said they each think their method of production is best.  But he wonders, which one really is the best practice?

Another focus of the Summit was communicating a “true message.”

“They’re not telling us what the message is, they said it’s up to us to learn and find out,” Riensche said.  “They’re not trying to shove anything down our throats, they’re allowing us to tell our stories of agriculture and the food systems.”

Riensche said everyone at YAS brought forward some potential solution to a challenge they see in their community, and he plans to use his experience back home in his operation.

“It’s just been an amazing opportunity and this has been something I was really hoping I could be a part of,” Riensche said.  “Now that it’s a reality, I want to see how I can take all this knowledge back and be a benefit to my agricultural community and our communities across the country.”

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