Op-Ed

Lexington: a Silicon Valley for food and agricultural innovation?

Alltech produced a 10,000-square-foot interactive multimedia show on sustainable agriculture for its 2016 annual global conference in Lexington.
Alltech produced a 10,000-square-foot interactive multimedia show on sustainable agriculture for its 2016 annual global conference in Lexington. teblen@herald-leader.com

What better time than now to suggest something positively disruptive for Lexington, our Bluegrass region and the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky?

“Disrupt the Disruptors” is the provocative theme of ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE17), to be held May 21–24 at the Lexington Center. The agenda is bursting at the seams with talks by leading thinkers from around the globe who will delve into discussions about rapidly emerging technologies and trends in agriculture and food production.

By 2020, 3 billion to 5 billion more people around the world will have new access to the internet. What does this mean? How are agriculture, food and business changing in a world of big data?

As we gain speed and convenience in making our food choices, what’s been lost? What are the megatrends? What types of technologies are developing, and what changes will they bring?

Disruption: It’s clearly the new normal, which is why we need to go a step further. We must “Disrupt the Disruptors” by embracing risky, radical transformations that reimagine our businesses and ways of life.

In its 33rd year — each year of which has been right here in Lexington — our annual conference is drawing nearly 4,000 top minds from upwards of 80 countries to downtown Lexington to share ideas, be inspired to innovate and challenged to change.

And, for the first time, the top 10 agriculture and food technology startups from around the world, selected from over 180 applicants to The Pearse Lyons Accelerator program, will make a pilgrimage to Lexington to share and pitch their concepts before a large group of venture capitalists.

All of it right here in Lexington.

It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, but will Lexington rise up in the lifetime of the opportunity?

The future of agricultural and food business innovation needs a home. Think of Silicon Valley but with rolling hills, fast horses, distilleries, Lexington’s special spirit and friendly folks.

Kentucky is already an agricultural and food business-driven state. Agriculture, including the food and beverage industry, is an approximately $14 billion generator for our Commonwealth’s economy, providing an income for more than 300,000 of our residents.

Imagine the benefits if we truly harnessed, right here, the energies and expertise of agricultural technologies, research, education, manufacturing, marketing and investment interests?

Why would we not lay claim to Lexington as the epicenter of agricultural innovation, of how we set the table for the 9 billion people on the planet come 2050?

As I tell our people at Alltech, be curious.

Let that curiosity lead you to ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference. Be part of the conversation. Then, together, let’s dream, and let’s do.

Let’s let Lexington lead the way into a promising new era of prosperity and possibility. Let’s claim a new cradle of civilization here among the paddocks and planked fences: Lexington, the epicenter of ag-tech innovation.

Pearse Lyons is president and founder of Alltech.

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