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See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

By Sara Baier
  • Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture
  • Cornell AgriTech
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Agriculture
  • Digital Agriculture
  • Food
  • Crops
Farmers are on the front lines of climate change, but they often lack the tools to adapt to the growing number of climate challenges, or the tools to mitigate their own environmental impact – New York’s agriculture is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions according to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

This finding, and others from “A Call For Innovation: New York’s Agrifood System,” a report published this past spring by Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, is the basis for the topics to be addressed at this year’s Grow-NY Summit, slated to bring food and ag innovators together at the Syracuse Oncenter on Nov. 16-17.

The summit comprises a pitch competition featuring 20 startups from across the globe, followed by an awards ceremony announcing the four $250,000 and two $500,000 winners, as well as one $1 million grand-prize recipient. Registrants for the event can also choose to attend virtually.

But amid all the pitches and prizes, the crown jewel of the Grow-NY Summit is its educational symposium featuring thought-provoking panel discussions and fireside chats, all led by Cornell leaders in food and agriculture. By structuring the symposium around the report’s findings, Grow-NY and the Center for Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech aim to attract new ideas to the region, helping farmers and food processers connect with technologies and services that will enable them to be successful, while reducing costs and environmental impacts.

Adhering to this theme, the opening session, “Regional Agrifood System Needs: Addressing Climate Change,” on Nov. 16 (9 to 9:20 a.m.), featuring Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will speak to the pivotal role agricultural communities can play in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

“Approximately 20% of New York state’s land area is farmland, which presents nearly 7 million acres of new opportunities for agriculturalists and environmentalists to work together to solve the current climate crisis,” Houlton said. “Cornell University is proud to be a partner on the forefront of building a resilient planet capable of withstanding changes of climate and providing healthy, nutritious food to all.”

Other Cornellian-led sessions on the first day of the Grow-NY Summit (Nov. 16) include:

  • Is Robotic Farming the Solution? (9:20 to 10:15 a.m.): This panel discussion, featuring Kirstin Petersen, assistant professor in the College of Engineering and head of the Collective Embodied Intelligence Lab at Cornell, will cover the potential positive impacts of effective and affordable robotics on harvest efficiency, pest and disease identification, and field management needs. 
  • CPG Trends of Tomorrow (1:30 to 2:30 p.m.): In this conversation, featuring Andrea Ippolito, lecturer at the College of Engineering and the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and director of W.E. Cornell, innovators and investors will discuss launching compelling food and drink products to the increasingly more health, environment, and social justice conscious consumer.
  • Crop Protection Innovations (4:30 to 5 p.m.): In this fireside chat, Christine Smart, director and professor at the School of Integrative Plant Science in CALS, and Pam Marrone ‘78, former member of the Cornell Board of Trustees and the founder and director of Marrone Bio Innovations, will discuss crop protection praxis and potential.

The second day of the summit (Nov. 17) will open with “Regional Agrifood System Needs: Transitioning Rural Economies” (9 to 9:20 a.m.) a conversation led by Ronnie Coffman, professor of global development and director of International Programs at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Richard Ball, Commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, on growing agriculture and its related industries.

“Agriculture drives rural economies throughout New York and is crucial to the state’s vibrancy and future development,” Coffman said. “There is an urgent need to transform food systems if we are to protect the livelihoods and food security of all New Yorkers.”

Being the fourth most populous state and home to the largest city in the nation, New York state’s farms are pivotal in providing food to the densely populated East Coast. Additionally, agri-food related industries, such as farming, fishing, forestry, and food and beverage restaurants, retailers, and distributors, provide almost 1.25 million people with employment – almost 10% of the state’s total employment.

"The Grow-NY educational symposium is an annual opportunity to tackle some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the food and agricultural industry here in New York state. I look forward to this year's discussion about how we can build on the state’s work with the Climate Action Council and the Ag and Forestry Advisory panel to address climate change, helping New York State to lead the way in our clean energy economy, while also ensuring the preservation of prime soils and farmland so our farmers can continue their critical work of putting nutritious food on the table for our communities,” Ball said.

Other sessions on the opportunities and challenges facing New York’s food and ag industry include:

  • A New Age for Hemp (9:20 to 10:15 a.m.): Featuring Larry Smart, professor at the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell, this discussion between growers, processers, and end-users will address the tremendous marketplace of hemp’s many applications and how New York state is poised as a center for hemp innovation.
  • Supply Chains: The Shift to Localization (1:30  to 2:30 p.m.): Farmers, investors, and retailers will discuss the challenges and opportunities a local supply chain provides in this conversation featuring Heather Sandford ’97, owner of Empire Food Consultants, and Michael Kreher, member of the CALS Dean Advisory Council and partner at Kreher Family Farms.

“In partnership with the Center for Excellence in Food and Ag, each year the Grow-NY Summit strives to set the bar higher with the caliber of conversation at the Symposium,” said Grow-NY program director Jenn Smith. “This year we will have some provocative takes and fresh ideas, and encourage everyone in New York’s agrifood community to attend.”

The Grow-NY Summit can be attended in-person ($45 for all-access; $25 for students) or viewed online for free. For more information and to register, visit

Sara Baier is a marketing and communications specialist for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

This story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Header image: Speakers at the 2019 Grow-NY Summit. Photo by Allison Usavage/Provided

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