Agricultural producers, industry representatives and academic specialists gathered in Austin recently for the 2015 National Value-Added Agriculture Conference held at the Austin Marriott South.
The conference was themed “The Future of the U.S. Food System: Providing Nutritious, Sustainable, and Healthy Food for All Americans.” It was hosted by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University.
“This conference brought together a combination of government, academia, as well as producers to discuss how to feed all Americans in the future and in a sustainable way,” said Dr. Marco Palma, AgriLife Extension economist, College Station, and one of the conference planners. “We had people from various industry groups and academia, as well as a broad representation of agricultural producers. We used this conference as a way to bring them together to talk about the current issues and develop programs in terms of research and extension and outreach that will have an impact on the food sector.”
Palma said the importance of value-added agriculture continues to grow. He said one example of a value-added agriculture agricultural product is a “functional food,” one which provides both nutrition and other health benefits. Palma said the popularity of healthy food continues to thrive due to the fact that consumers want their food produced in an environmentally friendly manner.
“There’s so much more awareness among consumers for these types of products with regards to how they are produced, distributed and their availability,” he said. “This is something that is happening everywhere. Consumers are becoming more aware of where their food comes from every day.”
Opening-day sessions featured producer success stories in organic crop production, bees, honey, wine and ecotourism, as well as opportunities for entrepreneurial businesses in value-added agriculture.
Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner, provided opening remarks during first-day programming.“One in seven jobs is directly related to agriculture in Texas,” Miller said, during the opening morning keynote remarks. Miller said the average age of a Texas farmer and rancher is 59 ½, and the department is working to keep youth on the family farm. He said Texas has a lot of value-added operations, with more than 11,500 individuals involved in some work or activity that adds value to commodities produced in the state. Many of those individuals, Miller said, are involved in the Go Texan program, which markets and promotes value-added products such as jams, jellies, wines and specialty meats.
“Texas leads the nation as the largest exporter of agricultural goods,” Miller said. “We are also the largest cattle and cotton producer.”
Conference participants visited the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin, U.S. Foods, and two local urban farms in Austin: Agua Dulce Farm and Springdale Farm.