Among the America’s Cultivation Corridor’s range of efforts to develop Iowa’s agricultural and bioscience economy, it started a new initiative in 2022 to engage the next generation of agriculture professionals.

The Next Gen Innovation Impact Study program, partnering with Start Something (a program of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University), launched in 2022 working with students to develop better communication of the ways innovation supports agriculture and sustainability in Iowa.  

The Business Record checked in with Cultivation Corridor Executive Director Billi Hunt to learn more about the program and look ahead to where the Cultivation Corridor has set its sights in 2023.

What is the Next Gen Innovation Impact Study program that America’s Cultivation Corridor launched in 2022?
The Next Gen Innovation Impact Study was a semester-long program hosted by America’s Cultivation Corridor in partnership with Start Something College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. The inaugural class of eight innovation interns learned from Iowa’s agriculture and research leaders about innovative technologies, programs, research and practices that have the potential to significantly elevate agricultural sustainability and food system resilience in our state and around the world.

Throughout the semester, the interns met weekly for panel discussions, tours and interaction with mentors. They completed reports highlighting innovations in aspects of modern agriculture, including crop production, livestock production and advanced manufacturing. In addition, they conducted a survey with more than 500 of their peers on perceptions of innovations in agriculture. Their findings will be used to develop communications plans and materials to better share the story of agricultural innovation, especially as it drives sustainability up and down the food system.

What was the need to start this type of program? Where did the idea come from?
The idea for the program was sparked by a series of conversations with the Corridor’s board of investors, who recognized the need to better tell the story of the impact that innovation has on agriculture and sustainability. Our investors see every day the drive to do things better from the farmer through to the consumer and believe it is important that we communicate those efforts more clearly.

We focused on college students because as we are seeing generations shift in agriculture and food production, it is important to understand how the next generation views the industry and its role in sustainability. Throughout the semester we saw fresh perspectives from students and are looking forward to sharing their insights and innovative ideas with the industry and consumers.
It is also important to find ways to better connect the entire food system and value chain, especially as companies are setting ESG (environmental, social, governance) goals that rely on agriculture and farmers to achieve. We know that consumers are expecting more transparency and accountability; we need to connect each link of the value chain to meet those expectations.

You said during the 2022 Envision Iowa in-person event that the results of the Envision Iowa survey would only be meaningful if action followed. What do you see as opportunities for action in Iowa based on the survey results?
Growing Iowa’s workforce is a top priority. We also need to build capacity for housing, child care, mental health and other needs in many communities around the state to accommodate new workers. It is exciting to see a number of great projects underway in communities across the state – we need to learn from each other and make the most of good practices instead of re-creating the wheel in different communities and regions. Iowa is a small state, and we need to make the most of our resources – financial and people – whenever possible.

Most importantly, we need to come together. Good ideas and initiatives can only be made possible when we come to the table to discuss, plan and implement them. There are so many great ideas and opportunities in front of us, but we have to come together to make them happen. It is hard to solve problems by email.

What are the top short- or long-term projects that Cultivation Corridor has in the works right now?
In 2023, we are looking forward to hosting new cohorts of the successful Cultivo Virtual Academy, which provides a unique opportunity to global scale-up companies. In just six weeks, the virtual program provides an introduction to U.S. finance, regulatory, legal and market systems and makes valuable connections to Iowa leaders, researchers and farmers. We plan to continue to grow the Next Gen Innovation Impact program at Iowa State University and use the findings and insights from these interns to drive future communications programs at the Corridor.

We are excited to build on the momentum of 2022 as in-person events and travel have returned and we are able to showcase Iowa as the place to start, build and grow the next generation of agricultural innovation. The world comes here to connect, innovate and grow, and we look forward to telling that story in a variety of ways in 2023. Finally, we are looking forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of America’s Cultivation Corridor in 2024.

What innovation-related trends or initiatives around Iowa will you be watching in 2023?
We’ve often heard that innovation thrives in uncertain times, and we’re seeing that in Iowa right now. Our state rebounded from the pandemic quickly, and now as we face uncertain economic conditions, it is the right time to step forward with investments in new ideas and technologies when others may be stepping back.

Whether it is the fast-growing startup ecosystem, new innovations and ideas in Iowa’s family-owned companies, or investments by global leaders, we’re seeing growth across the state. I am excited to see what the future holds as these innovators work together to bring the next generation of ideas and technologies to reality for farmers, livestock producers and ultimately consumers.