Farm Food Facts

Rob Trice, The Mixing Bowl, Climate Change and Agriculture

November 06, 2019 Episode 49
Farm Food Facts
Rob Trice, The Mixing Bowl, Climate Change and Agriculture
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Rob Trice, The Mixing Bowl, Climate Change and Agriculture
Nov 06, 2019 Episode 49
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Today's Thought Leader is Rob Trice, the Founder of The Mixing Bowl.

The stories you NEED to know:
• How the spring season’s Wet Weather and flooding Continues to Impact Agriculture.
• No industry will be impacted by climate change as much as Agriculture.
• Farmers try to decipher what trends shown in the latest Census of Agriculture mean as they plan their Future.



Phil Lempert:
0:00
Welcome to Farm Food Facts for November 6th, 2019 I'm your host Phil Lempert. Remember to watch the new short film from USFRA 30 Harvests to see how farmers provide a source of healthy food while addressing environmental concerns for current and future generations. Go to U S farmers and ranchers.org to watch the film. Today we're talking with a single guest, Rob Trice, who's the founder of The Mixing Bowl. In 2013 he began to leverage his background in telecom, mobile and internet venture capital to the application of information technology to the food and agriculture sectors. He is also the founder of better food ventures, making seed stage investments aligned with the theme of applying it to the food and agriculture industries. He's also an active member on the advisory council for honor the harvest. Rob, welcome to farm food facts.
Rob Trice:
1:06
Thanks for having me.
:
1:07
Why? Why take the jump from telecom, all these other exciting adding things and move it into food and agriculture. What made you want to do that?
Rob Trice:
1:16
Yeah. So most of the time I'm supposed to answer you and tell her I'm a fourth generation farmer. I'm not at all. My background in venture capital, 15 years in mobile internet, telecom, venture capital. I joined that world at the end of 2000 and when I started we went to gene networks and we were talking about the potential of being able to read email on your phone, use location based services. And it was an exciting time to see things like wifi really take off. And by the time of 2013 2012 that space had become more mature. We'd gone from two G networks now we were talking about five G networks and I'd been going to the same conferences, talking to the same people for roughly 15 years. And at the same time I was sitting in there kind of going, there's gotta be something else out there, you know, Uber's disrupting transportation.
Speaker 3:
2:03
Airbnb is disrupting lodging. Where else could we actually use technology to really change an industry? And at that same time, my wife left her job at Stanford, which had been working at the woods sustainability Institute and she started running a cattle ranch. And so I was spending time on this ranch and I kid you not, I mean I watched these Cowboys and they were pulling SD cards out of the weather station using square at the farmer's market was a big deal for them. And it dawned on me that at that point that food and agriculture is five to 10% of the world's economy with substantial challenges. And at that time Silicon Valley is it innovation ecosystem hadn't really been dialed in to food and agriculture. And so I created the mixing bowl as a form to go connect it food and ag innovators. Now arguably we had the very first AgriFood tech conference in Silicon Valley.
Rob Trice:
2:54
And then also given my background in venture capital, started making angel investments under name of better food ventures. You know, now if you fast forward, I've got three fantastic partners who are smarter than me in this area. I think you know, one of them, Brita Rosenheim. Sure. Even when I started the mixing bowl, people were asking me, do you know Britta? She's the queen of food tech and she's been looking at food tech and food media for 10 years. She's been published in a food tech landscape map for eight years. She just came out with a new one available on our better food ventures and mixable website. And then also we're working with a woman named Shauna day, who actually is a multigenerational central Valley, comes from a farming family. I met Shauna when she was an investment banker in the mobile space in 2005 and she had actually come back from London to her small town in the middle of the central Valley Turlock, California to look at how she could apply it.
Rob Trice:
3:48
The first two loves of her life, agriculture and technology. And so she got in touch with Britta and started producing the ag tech landscape map. And then Michael is our other partner. I worked with him in the telecom world and unbeknownst to me, the first 10 years of his career had been in a restaurant. And Michael actually with another colleague of ours named Chris just co-published a landscape on indoor ag tech and they came up with a thousand different companies all looking at how it can be applied to food and agriculture. So Britta is looking at, uh, I believe over 4,000 food tech and food media companies. Shawna is looking over 2000 ag tech companies. Michael's will get over a thousand indoor ag tech companies. It's been tremendous to watch this space really mature. So I guess my first question is, what I hear a lot from farmers is that five G is going to be fabulous.
Speaker 3:
4:43
That's gonna help them to the nth degree. What I hear from a lot of technology people is we are years and years away from having 5g on farms. What's the reality? Somewhere in the middle a, you know, five G will be helpful, but five G is going to be really helpful mostly with broadband, right? So you're going to be able to download movies faster. And so forth. I'm more interested in the narrow band. So how can we actually get small amounts of data from the back 40 of a farm? And that requires just basic connectivity that will be much more important than being able to stream Netflix and HD, you know, in the corner of a farmer ranch. So I think, you know, we've got to be more focused on just getting that general connectivity, particularly as we're starting to talk about things like connected robots doing picking well if that goes down in a swale and loses connectivity, what happens, right?
Speaker 3:
5:37
Does it have the ability to operate offline? It probably does to some degree, but for me at least, I'm more interested in being able to get that data off of sensors and get that off to the clouds. This is the other thing that a lot of people don't talk about is you have two challenges, right? So one is getting data off of the farm and the field to someplace, let's say the farm house, and then how do you get that from the farmhouse to the cloud? Those are substantial challenges and a lot of people aren't thinking about that. Back Collins, we're doing things like sending drones out to the field and capturing HD video. You can get great pictures, but what are you going to do with them? And you can actually get them to the cloud and get them analyzed and stitched together with other data.
Speaker 4:
6:19
So when I look at honor the harvest, a lot of it has to do with making our farming, making our planet better, more sustainable. I know everybody hates that word, but I'll use it for a second. What role does technology play with sustainability with making sure that we go beyond 30 harvests?
Speaker 3:
6:39
So let me give you a couple of different answers. Our group talks about the staircase for food and ag tech innovation. You've got to crawl before you walk, before you run. And too many of my brethren in Silicon Valley are talking about how can we just drop robots into the field, right? And fixed food and ag. We're at the point right now where we have to go crawl and walk before we run. And before you can throw those robots out into the field, we have to go off and just digitize information. Then we need to manage it, measure it, then we can optimize, then we can automate. And if you look at each one of those steps as a staircase, the biggest barrier that we have to digitizing agriculture and food is the farmers notebook, right? The writing things down on pen and paper. We need that digitized so that we can start to create that data trail.
Speaker 3:
7:25
Same thing by the way on the food side, which is you got chefs who are calling in orders, faxing in orders for supplies. So it's not just farmers and you know, looking at them as hayseeds wearing overalls. I mean this is a challenge that is more than just a farmer challenge. So that's one. So just the basic blocking and tackling to get data off of the field and then be able to analyze that information that we talked about a little bit. But then there's a whole nother raft of technologies that are coming for the rapid iteration, discovery of new plants, new techniques, new machinery that will enable us to address challenges really quickly. You know, we could talk about things like things that will allow us to discover new plants, microbial beneficial soil amendments using discovery mechanism based on the medical field, right? So we can look at these things for the rapid iteration that, and that's really a, and just to step back a little bit, one of our groups focuses looking at 2050 and how we're going to feed 9 billion by 2050 sustainably and economically we think that's a bit of a, a false design challenge, but rather how can we be looking at 2019 and inject more agility into our food system now so that we have a, a plethora of ways to address those shortages of food that are coming as population growth happens.
Speaker 3:
8:50
But, and this is where we're a bit agnostic on plant versus meat, indoor versus outdoor. Let's just see what sticks. Let's go develop all of these different solutions and let the market determine what's gonna work or not. Right.
Speaker 4:
9:04
We're going to go back to your first point because I want to say about six weeks ago, I went to uh, Kennett square Pennsylvania home of mushrooms and visited some mushroom facilities. Very, very, very large mushroom facilities. And I used the word facilities cause their mushrooms are grown indoors and so on. What shocked me to your point was how unmet canonized growing mushrooms is. And the problem that we've gotten this country is the demand for mushrooms exceeds supply. So what we have is we have a lot of mushrooms being imported from other countries because us mushrooms just can't offer the supply. So as with the owner of, of the company walking through and outside of each of these, you know, many barns, and I want to see a building held maybe 20 of these mini rooms for lack of a better barn, you know, three stories high and so on.
Speaker 4:
10:01
There's a clipboard and everything has to be temperature control to the nth degree when it comes to mushrooms. And that's all mechanized. But what happens is a human being has to go into that room, outside of that room, I don't know, a couple times a day, whatever, and write down on a piece of paper on a clipboard what that temperature was. And I was shocked and I said that he and his daughter, why is it that computerized? And they said, you know, this is the way we've done it. Always. Why do we need a computer? And I walked away from that. And to your point, you know, baby steps, if we can't digitize all this information, you know, it's the old garbage in, garbage out. We're never going to be able to get to the point of these robots. And I think when I look at Silicon Valley and VC money, what happens is they are, to your point, very excited about food throwing hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars against food, but they really don't understand food.
Speaker 3:
11:01
No, no. Well that's, yeah. Okay. You're, you're tweaking me in a couple of different places. So one thing is when we talk about fixing the food system, too often we think about agriculture in a monolith. And it's anything but and so, so my wife's ranch that she runs the tall, small little town called Pescadero, California population 800 I think. Uh, and that's 799 cows. That's, yeah, well we actually, we used to have 12 dairies right in that town, but now we've got one the last dairy in San Mateo County, which is a goat dairy, but we grow Brussels sprouts, English peas, kale. I mentioned kale will grow a lot of kale, um, some berries and so forth. And what I have is an appreciation now that each one of these, we need to look at all of these different growing systems and where fits or where it doesn't.
Speaker 3:
11:55
As an example, we've got two old Portuguese farmers in our town who grow Brussels sprouts. One uses the mechanized harvester for Brussels sprouts and has a crew of four. The other one doesn't use the mechanized machine and he's got a crew of I think 16 or 18. One is going after the chipped Brussels sprout leaf market that you might see in a salad. The other one in value added and well value added. But the other guy is getting whole stock. He can sell them the whole stock or he can sell a nice, perfect round brussel sprout in its entirety to a restaurant. So he's actually going for a more finished product. And so, you know, there's a cost benefit analysis that each one of these guys has done. We need to look at that at mushrooms and asparagus and dairy and cattle and commodity row.
Speaker 3:
12:50
And this is, you know, we kind of boil it down to four big production system, specialty, commodity, row crops, dairy and livestock. And in each one of those, just at a mass level, we need to look at the maturity for the adoption of technology and where that cost benefit makes sense. And one of my big concerns right now, and going back to your analogy on mushrooms, is where these things are labor-intensive. If we don't get consumers to pay more for the sustainably produced food that we're asking them to produce according to regulations, those crops are going to go away. And when those mushrooms aren't going to be coming from Pennsylvania or California, they're going to be coming from South America. We're already seeing this out here in California, the land of the fruits and nuts with things like strawberries and asparagus where you're seeing operations just pick up and go to Mexico or GLA just because there is more availability of labor and or the environmental regulations aren't as stringent and so you can give consumers what most consumers are asking for, which is cheaper product. Unfortunately. We're going to take a quick break for the news and then back with more insights from Rob Trice boot facts
Speaker 5:
14:08
[inaudible]
Speaker 2:
14:09
and now for the news, you need to know how the spring seasons, wet weather and flooding continues to impact agriculture. Despite the record setting, wet weather patterns which occurred in the Midwest is spring. The USDA surprise the agriculture industry with a report estimating that 91.7 million acres of corn were planted this year. Industry experts also found the USDA is lower than expected. Soybean planting estimate of 80 million acres to be surprising as it's the smallest reported planting since 2013 Todd Holtman lead grain market analyst at DTM States the USDA, his new three crop total for corn, soybeans and wheat acres is 217 point million down 8.8 million from 2018 according to the USTA, the market got the nearly 9 million acre reduction and plantings expected. What was not expected was how the lion's share of the reductions went to soybeans while the discussion and reflection continues around the acreage reports, the agriculture industry is anxiously hoping there's enough temperate growing season available for plants to move through their development, pollination, filling and maturity stages.
Speaker 2:
15:20
Before we faced the first freeze of this fall season and on the topic of extreme weather, we must keep in mind that no industry will be impacted by climate change as much as agriculture. The intergovernmental panel on climate change recently released a report which expressed that no other industry is so directly impacted by climate change than agriculture. Significant shifts in temperature, weather patterns, water accessibility, and pest populations put great stress on agriculture production. There are signs of these significant shifts in countries like Australia where persistent hot and dry conditions have contributed to the deterioration of pasture conditions rise in grain prices and low water supply. Here in the United States, 1 million acres of cropland were damaged in the Midwest after a cyclone storm and flooding in the spring of this year. Complicating matters is the anticipation that demand for food will grow as the global population continues its growth. And as we look to the future, what can we learn from the past?
Speaker 2:
16:20
Farmers try to decipher what trends shown in the latest census of agriculture mean as they plan for their future. Of course, some of this information must be taking into context by statute. USDA is definition of a farm includes some particularly small operations with only a thousand dollars in sales, so that can often skew some of the numbers. The USDA census was first conducted in 1840 and in recent decades it has been done every five years. The figures released earlier this year are from 2017 the average age of farmers in the survey is 57.5 years old. That figures continues to rise. It was 55.6 years in 2012 and 54.5 years in 2007 only 9.4% of farmers are under 35 years of age, but 27% are classified as new or beginning producers. That's the good news and there are now more farmers than ever. Over the age of 65 there was also a large increase in the number of female farm operators.
Speaker 2:
17:22
The latest census shows that 36% of producers are female. The Iowa farm Bureau Federation, economist Sam funk reminds us that you can't always say the numbers say this or that. He explains that in some cases the question or definition may have changed or the technology involved change. Despite that the census does provide an important snapshot of agriculture that can be used in a variety of ways. One thing that the census clearly shows is that the makeup of agriculture is gradually changing. There are more women farming. The average age of the farmer continues to rise. About 39% of farmers don't work off the farm at all. But in another 40% work off the farm for more than 200 days a year. Farmers who want to find out more can look online at the U S DA's website. The ag census page even includes a query feature so farmers can inquire about figures for specific County or crop.
Speaker 3:
18:20
And to continue our conversation about the mixing bowl. Here's Rob Trice. Rob, welcome back to forum food facts. Thanks for having me. What is the one thing about agriculture farming technology that has you the most excited? I'm going to put you to sleep right now. Um, cause you want me to say some cool, you know, virtual reality or something like that. Open data standards. And when I say open, I'm not talking about every farmer needs to share their information. I'm talking about inter-operable data standards. So my background in the mobile internet space is all based on standards. Think about a three G standard so phones can talk to each other. Right, right. Okay. Think about the internet, where would we be with the internet without HTML? This is a really boring example, Phil. Let's get together and have a calendar invite, right? Let's go watch a movie.
Speaker 3:
19:14
I can tell you where we're going to meet. I can give that a title, a start time and end time a location and those are all standardized. And now I can actually put calendar data on your calendar. That's because we have a standard for sharing calendar information. We don't have ag XML, we don't have ag Jason, we don't have strawberry XML, we don't have asparagus, XML. We need these things so that we can get data out of their silos. And there are some groups that are working on it, but it's not happening fast enough. And that's the one thing that I am most riled up about because my biggest concern, if I look at all of the investment into ag tech in particular, we've got to get this data out of the silos. And what I mean by that is every startup that you had talked to is gonna say, well, I have an API, an application protocol interface.
Speaker 3:
20:07
So that my data could communicate with another one. The problem is there's no translation engine in the middle to make sure that we're talking apples to apples literally. Right. And we need that. And there's some good groups that are doing some good work at gateway is a nonprofit group at a DC, the Purdue open ag technology system center. How to Purdue out of the Netherlands, you know who's always ahead of us. They have a farmer co-op called join data where farmers are actually coming together. So I ended up these standards sharing data and collaborating. One of the benefits is once we have this interoperable data, that's where we can learn from each other. And so I mentioned my wife's ranch, part of their mission is to look at how rotational grazing can help with beneficial soil healthy soils. And they had two biologists on staff that are from a group called point blue and they're doing something called the range land monitoring network.
Speaker 3:
21:02
And so they're capturing data from 90 different ranches around California so that we have data that we're collecting in a, a scientifically valid protocol that can be interoperable and analyze. I'm going on a little bit about this, but it's so important because we need that data and we have to avoid the garbage in garbage out problem, but we need that data so that we can fundamentally understand if I take this action on this kind of soil and this micro climate, this is the kind of expectation I should have in terms of sustainable benefit. Whether that's an ecosystem service like water infiltration, carbon capture, anything like that, we need to amass that dataset and we can't right now because we don't have that data sharing infrastructure in place. Rob, thanks so much for joining us on farm food facts. Thanks for having me. For more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit food dialogues.com under the programs and media tab and visit us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USF RA. Until next time.
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