The Dutch culture is very interesting. Their approach to business and industry attraction and retention is summed up in a model they refer to as a triple helix. It is academia, government, and industry. When they show this approach in a presentation, there is a part of the model where all three sectors overlap. I call that the point of impact.
When I met Jonathan Webb, the founder and CEO of AppHarvest, we built the idea of high-tech agriculture based upon the success of the Netherlands. At first, I really couldn’t wrap my hands around it. The concept was fine, but I was trying to figure out how in the world the Netherlands could be such a player in the global agriculture market. I’m not a geography major, but I knew the country was small, and as an advocate for technology, I couldn’t fully comprehend the tech side of agriculture.
Getting to know Jonathan and the team at AppHarvest made me understand the power of tech in the agriculture industry.
Today, it rocked my world.
We visited Wageningen University in a part of the Netherlands called the Food Valley. Wageningen is two universities – a standard university and a research university that was created as the former Agriculture Institute of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture.
If I had any question about how the Dutch have pulled off being such a leader in agriculture, it was answered within the walls of this university and the passion and intellect of its faculty and students. The photos above show off the university’s UniFarm, one of the world’s most recognized research centers for agriculture.
The mission of Wageningen is to explore the potential of nature and to improve the quality of life. At the surface, the statement seems quite standard, but we continued to learn more about the university, the word “explore” continued to resonate with me. The idea of high-tech agriculture is more than steel and glass, it is truly an evolution and exploration of lifelong learning.
High-tech agriculture is not just about jobs in Appalachia Kentucky. It is about feeding the world.
Did you know 9.6 billion people will be living on earth in 2050?
Did you know that 70% more food is needed to feed tomorrow’s world?
Did you know that 80% of earth’s arable land is already farmed?
Did you know that 80% of all people will live in cities by 2050?
Some may see this as a challenge – perhaps even an insurmountable challenge.
We see this as an opportunity.
Our coalfields fueled the industrial revolution and built America and established it as the greatest country in the world.
That same region, fueled by the ingenuity, faith, and grit of its people, can indeed feed the world.
We have all the ingredients, no pun intended… Land, ample water supply, workforce, location, a deep connection to farming, an education and workforce ecosystem, and a plan, our Blueprint for the Future of Appalachia, a plan created by the people of the region that provided a consensus on the objectives in which we could create a brighter tomorrow.
The first goal – technology and connectivity.
The other six are how we are going to do it to create a future in Appalachia.
You may ask, what technology is in agriculture?
It’s the science of the seed, the soil, the plant, the lighting, and the watering. There’s the continual study to increase yields, provide optimal flavor, and eliminate harmful pesticides.
At Wageningen, researchers have a proven track record with decades of experience. One study highlighted today was one simply based upon the increase of yields in a controlled environment, or a greenhouse.
In 30 years of research, tomato yields doubled, and sweet pepper and cucumber yields increased 90% and 30% respectively.
This exciting new chapter is one that provides boundless opportunities. Our people are eager to learn, eager to grow, and eager to work. But this must be a collective approach where stakeholders are a part of something bigger than any one company, educational institution, organization, community or region.
That’s exactly what is happening here. AppHarvest has assembled leaders from University of Kentucky Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, University of Pikeville, and Berea College, alongside me, Bob Helton (Morehead Rowan County Economic Development Council) and USDA Rural Development Kentucky State Director Hilda Legg.
The university partners have reaffirmed their commitment to not this project, but the cause of high-tech agriculture in Appalachia Kentucky. The leaders at Wageningen have committed to collaborate with us and our partners.
At the end of the day, we have, in the words of University of Pikeville President Burton Webb, “an opportunity and obligation to find solutions.”
And that is exactly what we are doing.
Oh, on a final note, do not ask me how to say Wageningen.