Business+Tech at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business hosted a panel Tuesday evening on Zoom, spotlighting the agricultural technology, or “AgTech,” industry. The event, titled “AgTech as a Climate Solution,” featured a discussion on innovations in agriculture that are pushing the industry to a more sustainable future.
The panel is part of the Business+Tech Literacy Download 2023, which included a panel on artificial intelligence in data analytics earlier this week. The U-M Food, Bev, and Ag Club helped organize the event, which was moderated by Emily Alexander, programming co-chair of the Club and Rackham student.
One of the two panelists, Meredith Reisfield, is the director of carbon policy and strategic partnerships at Indigo, which creates biological products to replace traditional agricultural inputs. Reisfield explained what AgTech entails, describing innovations that improve the efficiency and environmental sustainability of agriculture.
“I also think of AgTech as anything you’re bringing to agriculture systems to try to optimize for something,” Reisfield said. “That could be yield, it could be carbon or it could be your efficiency of crop merchandising. You can go really niche with some of this stuff. But I would say across industries, we’re kind of looking to technology to scale climate solutions.”
Much of the panel focused on carbon sequestration in agriculture. Carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon that was once atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively removing it from the atmosphere. During photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the resulting carbon in the soil. Proponents of AgTech have seen the potential for carbon sequestration in agriculture to help reduce emissions.
The second panelist, Jack Roswell, is the CEO of Perennial, a platform that focuses on measuring, reporting and verifying agricultural emissions. Roswell explained how to measure carbon emissions specific to agriculture.
“A simple way to think about it is measuring how much carbon has been stored in the soil,” Roswell said. “And then also looking at basically if there were external emissions in terms of nitrous oxide or methane that were involved in the sequestration of that. So that’s how you kind of think about emissions at the farm level.”
Roswell said the AgTech industry also faces some challenges to its innovation. Though companies may set lofty emissions reduction goals for the near future, Roswell said they often lack sufficient plans and practical solutions to make those goals accomplishable.
“Mars, the (multinational food manufacturer), made a billion-dollar commitment to reduce their emissions to net zero, and a lot of these targets are in the 2030 to 2035 range, (but) not a single company in those boardrooms knows how they’re gonna get there,” Roswell said. “In fact, they’re scared because they’ve made the commitments and … the systems are not in place to be able to run these programs at a scale that anyone is looking at from a net zero commitment.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Public Policy senior Mlaika Azhar said though she had not heard much about AgTech before the panel, it was interesting to hear from corporations working on sustainability and helping the environment.
“I thought it was really interesting … when they said they could sequester four to six billion tons of emissions per year,” Azhar said. “I think this is an area that just has a lot of potential.”
Business junior Hope Whitney told The Daily she has enjoyed the ongoing Business+Tech series. She said she feels it is important for students to be aware of problems that will be theirs to tackle going forward.
“I just think the Business+Tech Literacy kind of events that they’re putting on are really interesting and very useful for students at the University right now,” Whitney said. “(Especially) since we’re the next generation of drivers of solutions for the biggest issues in the world.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kiran Lahiri can be reached at email@example.com.