Editor’s Note: Vonnie Estes has joined Produce Marketing Association (PMA) as VP of Technology. PMA represents companies from every segment of the global produce and floral supply chain.
Estes is a prominent figure in the agriculture biotech scene, having held technology leadership roles at prominent companies including DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta, as well as for small startups and venture funds. Most recently, she was vice president of business development for Caribou Biosciences, the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing startup. She’s also been an independent business consultant since 2015.
According to a press release, Estes will engage with PMA’s members and industry, coalitions and other stakeholders to provide the supply chain with science- and technology-specific connections, information and solutions they need to sustain and grow their businesses. Specifically, she will help PMA members to gain greater awareness and understanding of emerging science and technologies – particularly science and tech related to labor, food safety and sustainability.
We asked Estes to give us an update in light of the news.
I have been privileged to spend my career working in the trenches developing technologies to increase agricultural productivity by lowering costs, increasing sustainability and delighting consumers. In my time in agriculture, I have been a part of many cycles of technology: times of great technical discoveries and adoption and times of cost-cutting, consolidation, and stagnation.
We are at a thrilling time in the speed, confluence, and development of technology in all industries with AI, machine learning, blockchain, gene editing, robotics, and more. The people who develop these technologies do so for diverse application, often without knowledge of agriculture or growers’ needs. This is especially true where I live in the Silicon Valley; there is money from VCs, strategic investors, and incubators flooding toward start-ups with smart people and great ideas. Now, what we need are navigators to bring new technologies from start-ups to the field. I often say this dynamic is like a snake eating a pig: there is so much innovative technology available but the industry is unable to digest it and make it valuable.
Consumers are increasingly demanding that their food is produced using techniques that conserve natural resources, limit environmental pressures, and pay greater attention to rural viability. Agriculture must transparently meet these needs. We need new technologies to grow food sustainably in a changing climate. Outside factors such as government policies and regulations often give conflicting signals that constrain the adoption of technologies by producers. Navigators need to strive for clarity by opening dialogue among stakeholders including policymakers, experts, the public, and NGOs.
I am excited to take on the role of VP of Technology at the Produce Marketing Association at this pivotal time. I look forward to working with members across the global supply chain to adopt new technologies for more profitable and sustainable practices.