Illinois Soybean Association on the Future of Agriculture in Illinois and Beyond

A better tomorrow depends on bold ideas and real progress demands a focus on the future. Chicago Ideas Partner Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) is looking intensely at agriculture (ag) technology as a way to help better prepare producers for the dynamic changes happening, now and in the future, of agriculture. Whether the task is building relationships and bringing Silicon Valley expertise to the table, or helping Illinois producers navigate the evolving ag tech landscape, ISA is thinking about the soybean industry of tomorrow, and technology’s place in that world. So, what does the future of agriculture look like and how will it impact us all? We sat down with Craig Ratajczyk, the CEO for Illinois Soybean Association, to better understand the way forward:

When you talk about agriculture in the future, what does that look like?

When we look at the future, we look at the next generation of ag technology, the agriculture landscape and industry professionals leading the agriculture and food industry. The global population will reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, and global economic superpowers will be China, India and the U.S.—in that order. Professionals leading production, logistics and distribution operations will utilize ubiquitous technologies like artificial intelligence, advanced automation and the next IoT, similar to other leading-edge enterprises.  Leaders will be globally-minded and will operate with a holistic mindset where sustainability, regenerative and healthy products are top of mind.

Tell us more about how Illinois Soybean Association is building a better tech ecosystem for Illinois agriculture, and why is that important?

Illinois is ripe with innovative talent, a tech-rich community eager to expand, and is in the heart of global ag production. Investment in ag technology has increased significantly across the globe in recent years. There is interest from a multitude of pioneers and leaders who wish to enrich the ag tech ecosystem here. They will bring more innovation, capital and collaboration to an environment that will establish Illinois as the center of the ag tech corridor.  This will create new jobs, add to the economic growth of the state, and establish Illinois as the global ag innovation leader.

What role does Illinois Soybean Association play in that ecosystem?

ISA facilitates collaboration of global businesses, governments and entrepreneurs alongside agriculture to grow the ag tech ecosystem in Illinois. There is a substantial amount of time, money and effort being invested in this space. We help bring that to Illinois, as well as advocate for technologies that will be most beneficial to our industry, producers, environment and consumers.

ISA believes that Chicago is ripe for development when it comes to entrepreneurs, private and public investors, and venture capitalists investing in agriculture. What factors do we have that others do not?

It’s simple: investment and innovation can’t happen in a vacuum. Chicago is the world-class beachhead city to world-class production agriculture right outside its doors. Illinois is also home to major global industry players, such as Valent BioSciences, Tate & Lyle Americas, Kraft Heinz Company, BMO Harris Bank, Cultivian Sandbox Ventures, ADM and many others.  Chicago and Illinois bring together all the pieces in a way no other city and state can.

What are some of the more exciting technologies you see on the horizon for your industry, and how will those developments impact consumers?

We are at an exciting tipping point for a vast number of remarkable technologies that will positively impact how producers grow agricultural products and deliver them to market in a more environmentally friendly, sustainable and healthy ways. Autonomous tractors using “auto steer” are improving. We see autonomous trucks, trains and ships being developed that will assist with managing costs that consumers ultimately pay while using more sustainable fuels, such as renewable biofuels, that are better for the environment and consumers. We see the evolution of technologies like gene-editing that have the potential to radically benefit human health and provide better, healthier agricultural products for consumers.  We see artificial intelligence, deep learning, autonomous vehicles, sensors and nanotechnologies all revolutionizing our industry in the very near term. With low Earth-orbiting satellite efforts that organizations like “SpaceX” are undertaking, we anticipate better interconnectivity in our industry. That will allow for many technologies to become reality much sooner than anticipated. Advances that previously took decades to realize will provide benefits to consumers within just a few years.


Learn more about the Illinois Soybean Association and get involved.

Vanessa M. Buenger is the director of marketing & content at Chicago Ideas. She is passionate about storytelling and the power it has to change the world.

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