CSU Ag Innovation Summit wraps with message about state's growing reputation
Monday March 23, 2015
By Steve Porter
FORT COLLINS - Bill Stoufer wants the world to know the real reason why recently-created food giant Ardent Mills decided to locate its corporate headquarters in Denver last year.
"When we were looking at where to put our headquarters, it happened to be the worst winter in Minneapolis and Omaha in decades," Stoufer, Ardent Mills' chief operations officer, told an audience attending Colorado State University's Ag Innovation Summit on March 20.
And while acknowledging that was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek comment, Stoufer said Colorado's less-extreme winters did play a role in the final decision to make Denver the nation's biggest flour miller's corporate HQ.
But he also noted a number of other more important factors - the presence of two Ardent Mills' owned flour mills already in Colorado, strong linkages with local wheat growers, close collaboration with Colorado State University wheat scientists and being in a state with a long wheat-growing heritage - that also played into the final decision.
"When we really started thinking about it, we said it had to be Colorado," Stoufer said.
Stoufer said that decision by Ardent Mills in July 2013 has not been regretted.
"Everything that everybody told us has come true," he said. "I'm a lifetime Iowan, but I'm proud to be in Colorado and I'm here to stay."
Ardent Mills was formed as an independent joint venture by its three parent companies - Omaha-based ConAgra Foods, Minneapolis-based Cargill and St. Paul-based CHS.
Stoufer said Ardent Mills is a strong supporter of innovation but it must have a specific purpose and not be just a neat idea.
"Innovation just for the sake of innovation without commercial success is not that interesting to us," he said.
Stoufer was particularly praiseworthy of Snowmass, a new wheat strain developed at CSU that he said "has created a whole new line of products for us."
Stoufer said Ardent Mills is interested in innovation, whether it be in new wheat strains or new irrigation methods that conserve water in states like Colorado.
"Innovation is an iterative process for us," he said. "I think innovation is one of those things that it may not look like it applies to us, but let's talk about it.
"I'd like to see those ideas, because there's a lot of different ways we hope to bring innovation to light."
Friday was the concluding day of a three-day summit on advancing innovation in agriculture hosted by CSU that drew more than 80 speakers and panelists to the university for the inaugural event.
Organizers said the summit was the result of a growing ag industry innovation cluster along the Colorado Front Range, particularly the northern Front Range urban corridor.
Friday's panel discussions included ag financing and the "fast and fresh" food supply chain that's serving a growing demand by restaurants and consumers for fresher, healthier, locally grown produce, dairy and meats.
Former Denver Mayor Federico Pena moderated the panel on ag financing. Pena, who serves as senior advisor to the Colorado Impact Fund, said the $63 million fund was recently created to invest in Colorado-based companies, with Boulder-based Bhakti Chai as CIF's first loan recipient.
Bankers and industry funders on the finance panel said the finance industry has become more open to funding new innovations in agriculture, but the funding proposal must be well-grounded in reality.
Mary McBride, president of CoBank, said ag innovation startup companies need a strong management team in place and a viable business plan that makes sense.
"Is it a sound idea and is it scalable," she said. "It needs to be more than just an idea."
McBride said CoBank has a $65 billion ag portfolio spread across all 50 states and is especially interested in helping rural areas.
"One thing that's near and dear to our hearts is the vibrancy of rural communities," she said.
During the three-day summit, attendees learned how Colorado has become a top ag innovation state, ranking among the top tier in ag research funding, scholarly publications and patents issued.
Craig Beyrouty, CSU dean of agricultural sciences, said he hoped the summit accomplished its mission to raise awareness of those facts.
"We had an agenda to showcase CSU as an innovator," he said. "We wanted to connect innovators with investors, trying to match those if at all possible."
But the summit's bottom line was to raise awareness about one of the state's top economic drivers, and that food is something that connects everyone.
And that is an ongoing message, Beyrouty said.
"What we have to do is make people know they are all connected to the food system."
To read another InnovatioNews story about the summit, visit here.