Creating Indiana’s Own Brand of Innovation
The big picture for global agriculture is a challenging one. There will be 10 billion people on the planet in 2050, and not surprisingly all those people will want to eat. The amount of arable land available to farm is diminishing. The environment can’t absorb the impact of increased chemical and mineral fertilizers, and fresh water is in short supply.
Third world farmers are poorly prepared to shoulder much of this, so U.S. farmers will need to increase production by over 50 percent with less fertilizer and potentially less water. It is a challenge the agricultural industry is addressing with extraordinary speed and resources through agbioscience innovation, and Indiana is positioned to be at the forefront of providing solutions.
EnviroKure was recently invited by AgriNovus Indiana to join Governor Holcomb’s Israel AgTech Trade Mission. My company produces biostimulants to improve soil health, and we are building a production facility in Bluffton, Ind. We have recently received a series of patents on our technology and are familiar with the challenges in bringing new innovation to an industry which has traditionally resisted significant change. The Israelis are recognized for their robust Ag Tech sector, and I was deeply interested in observing this firsthand.
Arriving in Tel Aviv, I was impressed by the Israelis’ sense of optimism and a confidence that was prevalent among the general population as well as in our business meetings with start-ups and established companies. Their history has created a strong sense of communal independence and a refreshingly positive attitude in trying something new. It was quickly obvious that Israeli success in Ag Tech was not solely reliant on advances in hardware and software, but on a culture that embraced innovation and was supported with public-private partnerships that encouraged investment.
Among Israel’s original challenges was food security. The country had a rapidly growing population; depleted soil that was rocky and heavy in salt and more than half desert; the climate is arid and semi-arid; and fresh water is limited. Innovative solutions like drip irrigation have resulted in an agricultural economy that produces 95 percent of its own food, and the country is a major exporter of citrus. Their diet is centered on fresh produce with an Israeli salad of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions in olive oil being ever present at your table.
Our Indiana mission was timed to coincide with two major ag events. The first was – AgriTech Israel 2018 which was oriented to the producer with Israeli technologies in water management and soil amendments on full display. Among the 500 exhibitors was Netafim, the preeminent developer of drip irrigation technology which is widely used worldwide. The technology continues to improve so that water and liquid fertilizers can be applied to a crop as needed, when needed, and where needed – a requirement of efficient, precision agriculture.
At AgriVest 2018 the emphasis was on funding and sustainability, bringing investors and start-ups together in an informal and energetic environment. The enthusiasm of the young companies was palpable, and the competition for best ideas was entertaining and inspiring. The three sponsors even included a state funded investment firm.
The trade mission was a tremendous opportunity for EnviroKure for several important reasons. First, our product lines are liquid biofertilizers and biostimulants that are designed for application through driplines and precision spray equipment, and our business strategy includes licensing a production facility in the Middle East. Being a part of the trade delegation that included Governor Holcomb, the Secretary of Commerce from IEDC and the Director of the IN State Department of Agriculture provided a welcome endorsement in arranging meetings. And, as an early stage company, we are always in a series of investment rounds, and the interest in our technology was gratifying. We found this to be true not just at the trade shows, but also in a business roundtable hosted by the Israeli Chamber of Commerce. It was an ideal environment to discuss our business expansion, and those conversations are continuing.
While the Israeli culture of innovation is impressive, I was most excited to see all the signs of Indiana creating its own brand of innovation and agbioscience leadership. Locating our full-scale production facility in Indiana has been deeply supported by state and local government, and AgriNovus led by Beth Bechdol was an active participant in bringing us into the Indiana agbioscience community. Being included in the Agbioscience Mission to Israel provided us the opportunity not just to develop international business connections, but to connect with the Delegation itself – the government, business, and academic leaders and innovators that will help shape our expansion in Indiana as well as the strategic direction of the company.
Innovation in companies like EnviroKure will be advanced by the efforts of organizations like AgriNovus – by bringing the Forbes AgTech conference to Indianapolis later this year and by providing forums like the Israel mission for collaboration. With the continued support of state government and the right investment environment, the opportunity for Indiana to be the premier home to agbioscience innovation is right in front of us.
Mark Lupke is President and Chief Executive Officer of EnviroKure Incorporated.