Executive Education

How the Midwest of the U.S. Became the Global Agtech Leader

It was the tech story read ‘round the world. Earlier this year, CNN shed light on what Midwesterners in the U.S. have known for years: The middle of the U.S. is where innovation abounds. The region has actually blossomed into a dominant tech hub. Why? Leaders in the Midwest recognized their strengths and didn’t try to import success. They saw their farms and their agricultural innovation were advanced, and they built on that fact. 

Tech leaders making their way to this part of the country are joined by industry powerhouses in the agtech field. Companies like Bayer and Monsanto, which will spend a predicted $16 billion in research in the next few years, are investing in Midwest-based agtech. And they’re certainly not alone. The Midwest has become a magnet for agricultural organizations around the world searching for a place rich with talent, innovation, and potential revenue.

Lands Where Agtech Reigns

With offerings like Google Fiber broadband and electric mass transit streetcars, Midwestern cities are hardly places time forgot. Their vibrancy and innovation showcase a dominance in a wide range of industries, with agtech heading the list. These regions lead in soil and crop science, sustainability, food safety and traceability, agrifinance, big data and software, precision and prescription agriculture, farm animal health and nutrition, biofuels, and farm-to-consumer systems.

Where are these Midwest centers of innovation that attract agtech leaders of today and tomorrow?

The pack of favorite places includes Kansas City, Missouri, where Shatto Milk Co. is investigating sustainable farming practices, and TerraManus Technologies is assisting growers with soil and water management. Not far away in St. Louis, Israeli agtech companies like Atomation and NRGene are making their moves into the U.S. ag sector by basing their operations in the U.S. next door to the Danforth Plant Science Center and Monsanto.

In fact, Missouri, the center of the Midwest, contributes a healthy $88 billion in revenue to the agriculture industry and provides nearly 400,000 jobs.

And in Nebraska, conservation efforts are booming. Farmers in the Platte River Valley are actively addressing the problem of nitrate buildup in the ground as a result of their fertilization techniques. These farmers hope that agtech will help those downstream from their fields and factories. And even the Midwest’s largest metropolis, Chicago, plays a role in agtech. There, venture capitalists like investment fund Seed 2 Growth Ventures provide seed monies to get food technologies off the ground.

Capitalizing on the Midwest’s Agtech Success

Agtech is exploding throughout the Midwest — across the plains and up and down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Executives in the agtech industry and farmers searching for a welcoming spot to set up shop in the Midwest are just a few steps away from new possibilities. Here’s how to get your foot in the door:

  1. Collaborate with regional organizations.

Become a part of the future of agriculture by joining with innovation communities or expanding into new facilities in any of the Midwest’s thriving agtech hot spots. In Missouri, numerous agtech leaders are assisting startups in their field; these relationships are helping achieve more efficient commercialization of ideas that will change the face of farming.

You may even want to partner with universities or research centers. For example, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Cultivation Corridor launched The Accelerator last year. The Accelerator is very similar to The Yield Lab, the first agtech accelerator in the U.S., and is a partnership between corporate and civic organizations.

  1. Find a Midwest conference to attend.

Every year since 2009, the Ag Innovation Showcase has been held in St. Louis, Missouri. To date, it has raised more than $400 million in seed funding, providing presenters with investor leads and participants with partnership opportunities. And it’s not the only agtech event to add to your calendar.

Showcases like the Midwest AgTech Conference in Chicago, Illinois, and the Midwest Women in Agriculture Conference in Plymouth, Indiana, take place across the region, allowing innovation leaders to discuss trends in modern farming, agtech, gene editing, food waste, water scarcity, soft robotics, and much more. The insights you can gather from attending sessions and networking over coffee are tremendous.

  1. Make the effort to visit.

Agtech companies throughout the Midwest are understandably proud of their strengths. Avail yourself of their hospitality by arranging a visit with a potential partner. The connections made with partners, investors, talent, and regional leaders through an in-person visit will shed light on regional accomplishments and opportunities for you, your company, and your team.

The Midwest has long been home to revitalization, innovation, and reinvention. Advances in agriculture are still bursting forth from the heartland, providing food, fuel, and fiber to nourish and clothe the world. Agtech’s promise has never looked so appealing.

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Steve Johnson
With more than 30 years of experience leading regional and state economic development initiatives, Steve Johnson, CEO of Missouri Partnership, works with companies evaluating Missouri for investment and leaders across the state working to attract those companies, giving him a unique perspective on the economic development industry.