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Farm Babe: Alltech conference disrupts the scene in agricultural technology

When Irish biochemist Dr. Pearse Lyons founded his company Alltech in 1980 with only $10,000, I wonder if he foresaw how his ideas would grow into a multi-billion dollar empire over the course of the decades.

Ideas. That was a common message throughout the One17 conference at the Rupp Arena in Lexington Kentucky, last week when 4,000 attendees gathered from nearly 80 countries. Ideas, inspiration, and disruption were prevalent as CEOs of new agricultural startups would pitch their ideas, motivational speakers would talk about disrupting the consumer buying experience, experts in their respective fields led focus sessions, and the “ONE VISION” 10,000-square-foot interactive experience would allow us a glimpse into the future of food.

And the meals and entertainment! “Riverdance” Irish dancers, opera singers, a Beatles cover band – the groups stole the show every evening with opportunities to network with people all around the world and sample some of the local brews and whiskeys also owned by the Alltech umbrella of companies.

Image courtesy of Alltech

As a young farmer, it was fascinating to me to see how bright the future looks. Some folks out there are irrational pessimists, while some are rational optimists, and Peter Diamandis (author of “Abundance: The Future is Brighter than You Think”) shared his thoughts. “We are linear thinkers in exponential growth,” he said. Optimism of the future — we are in the best of times if we open our minds to innovations.

A few other speakers included Jack Bobo from Intrexon, who talked about agriculture to improve the planet; Lisa Bodell of Futurethink, who emphasized the importance of simplicity in the workplace; and Dr. Aoife Lyons, who shared the psychology behind consumer buying habits. But for me, the speaker who had the biggest impact was George Blankenship. George worked with Steve Jobs on a regular basis and helped build brands by changing the consumer buying experience with brands like Gap, Tesla, and Apple. What makes people line up around the block and be so obsessed with the Apple brand? Brands such as Apple have been disrupters. They’ve changed the game for phone technology, while other companies such as Uber changed taxis, Netflix changed movies, and Amazon disrupted the online (and soon the in-store!) shopping experience. Mr. Blankenship was this years’ recipient of the Alltech Medal of Excellence. You left these sessions with feelings of motivation, excitement, and inspiration.

Image courtesy of Alltech

Disruption rarely happens by accident. Most commonly it is the result of vision, planning, and dedication. Dr. Lyons would say that good companies make products while great companies build dreams. The opportunities are endless and the world is at your fingertips. From drones to data driven solutions, technology that lowers our environmental footprint, and feed efficiency technology, the future of food and technology is very cool — one that makes me prouder than ever to be a farmer in 2017. If you ever get a chance to attend this conference, don’t miss it!

For more info on highlights from the conference, follow @alltech on social media and check out the popular hashtag #ONE17.


Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.