FIBA’s Fall Connect Draws Big Crowd

Climate issues, labor shortages and the demise of Florida’s citrus crops are impacting how Florida’s agricultural business will thrive in the future, according to a panel of experts at Tuesday night’s fall Connection to Innovation event, hosted by FIBA. Then event focused on innovation in agriculture.

Featured speakers from a range of agricultural businesses in Florida included Gary Wishnatzki, a third generation farmer and owner of Wish Farms as well as a co-founder of a harvesting robotics company; Sara Elliott, Executive Director of 4Roots Foundation in Orlando, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt of Lykes Brothers and Peter McClure of TerViva in Fort Pierce.

Wishnatzki spoke about his company’s invention of a berry picking robotic machine which aims to lower harvest costs, increase quality and save energy. Other technology being developed forecasts where the berries are ripe in the fields, scouts for bugs and forecasts production using artificial intelligence.

McClure talked about a new type of crop his company TerViva is bringing from Southeast Asia to replace the dying citrus groves in Florida. The new crop, Pongamia, is a protein based bean that has many uses. “There is a whole world of technologies that will allow us to bring a new crop in 10 years instead of 100 years,” he said. McClure noted that citrus growers tend to be conservative thinkers, but innovation is necessary for profits. He added that “time and money” are the biggest hurdles in the industry today.

In Orlando, 4Roots Foundation is focusing on regenerative agriculture as part of the solution to today’s farming issues. Regenerative agriculture aims to find techniques and technologies that won’t deplete the soil, such as organic farming. They have a 40-acre urban farm that aims to demonstrate new technologies for farming. “We are trying to de-risk farming and get smarter about conserving our natural resources,” said Elliott.

Other speakers included Tready Smith of Bayshore Capital Advisors and Lisa Conti and John Dicks of Florida’s Department of Agriculture. The event was sponsored by Cherry Bekaert. FIBA’s Executive Director Rachel Feinman noted, “it was energizing to see how many people came out to this edition of our Connection to Innovation series to learn about the great challenges, and also the unique opportunities, facing the local agriculture community,”

She added that “innovation in agriculture provided the foundation for the modern State of Israel, and we think it is just as important to the future success of an economically and environmentally sustainable Florida.”

Feinman noted that “FIBA is pleased to provide these unique opportunities to educate and connect the community on all things innovation, across all of our disparate industries. We hope this is the first of many opportunities we have to support the Florida agricultural community through innovation.”

FIBA is in the process of accepting applications for its next round of Israeli start-ups to come to Tampa and meet with investors.

Article by Susan Leavitt.

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