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Arrowhead Center AgAssembly: Agri-food innovation an economic linchpin for New Mexico

  • By Cassie McClure
  • 575-312-3242
  • Oct 04, 2019

The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum allows daily visitors to get a glimpse at New Mexico’s agricultural past, but for one day it also highlighted the emerging leaders in the agri-food industry who will carry the state into the future.

New Mexico State University Arrowhead Center’s event AgAssembly Sept. 26, brought together aspiring entrepreneurs from the AgSprint startup accelerator program, interested members of the public, and investors in the agriculture and food industry. All were ready to discuss the technology, the challenges, and possible solutions related to the booming growth of the field.

With close to two hundred in attendance, NMSU President John Floros opened the event by cementing the university’s role as a linchpin for agriculture within the state.

“We work not only for the needs of today, but the needs of the tomorrow,” said Floros.

Rolando Flores, dean of the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, followed Floros to welcome the crowd, stating, “We recognize NMSU as the number one component to bring New Mexico agriculture forward.”

Jeff Witte, Secretary of New Mexico Department of Agriculture, gave a quick regional outlook by first discussing his trip to the Southern New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo. With over 400 children giving presentations on projects, all tied to agricultural themes, Witte surmised that the future interest of those students would be like another ag champion of southern New Mexico’s past, Fabian Garcia. Garcia’s late 1890s research on onions, chile and pecans made the state a present-day leader for those products not only nationally, but globally, Witte said.

“Perhaps the next Fabian Garcia is in this room right now,” Witte said.

There were indeed some hopefuls to perhaps take up Garcia’s mantle waiting in the audience, not only the teams presenting from Arrowhead Center’s AgSprint program, but also those who were selected amongst a competitive group of applicants for Rapid Fire Pitches.

The rapid pitches were for those who signed up to take sixty seconds to win over the audience with their business. Kelsi and David Palacios from Wholesome Coffee, which promised to be a coffee creation that gave not only caffeine but mental focus and joint health, won the Crowd Favorite award of $500 sponsored by the Richard P. Feynman Center for Innovation at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

That excitement was followed by a brief conversation about the growing opportunities for the hemp industry in New Mexico. The conversation included Joshua Rich, president of Rich Global Hemp Corporation; Paul Laur, director of corporate development at Pebble Labs; and Duke Rodriguez, president of Ultra Health. They discussed topics and answered audience questions about the hemp industry. From how the environment in New Mexico is perfect for growing – due to its low humidity – to how NMSU, the University of New Mexico, and Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory produce the workforce and innovation needed for the industry. 

The innovation on display at AgAssembly were from the teams in the AgSprint program, a five-month business accelerator for innovators with agricultural applications in food, energy and the environment. Each of the five companies had seven minutes to present their businesses, which ranged from a new way to grow indoors, to a vegan health bar with ancient grain teff.

The $20,000 award went to Andrea Romero, owner of Tummi Yummi. Romero’s company specializes in instant probiotic eggs and hopes to improve gut health and immune systems. The award was sponsored by New Mexico Gas Company, an Emera Company.

“The AgSprint program was invaluable,” said Romero after her win. “I could not have actually gotten a product to market without it. Plus, I started with I-Corps which was really intense but really valuable in that it sets high expectations for the rest of the program.”

I-Corps is NMSU’s program tied to a National Science Foundation initiative to move innovative academic research products to commercial markets.

AgAssembly wrapped up with a Fireside Chat on the agricultural applications that have led the industry to have a record-breaking year, with $16.9 billion in funding in 2018 – a 43 percent jump from the previous year. Jonathan Childress, community engagement manager at Microsoft and Javier Gonzales, the former mayor of Santa Fe who now leads public policy at Descartes Labs, Inc., talked about what that could look like for investors.

Kathryn Hansen, director of Arrowhead Center, was pleased by the interest of the community and local investors on the food security infrastructure.

“The future for agri-food and companies that focus on innovating in the field is strong,” she said. “NMSU has a crucial role to play with agri-food infrastructure and technology. Arrowhead Center works with all NMSU colleges to get new businesses on their feet, help them market and develop their products, and move them into the industry.”