Even though agriculture is facing major challenges in every part of the world, there is reason to feel optimistic about the future of the industry. Every two years, Bayer’s Youth Ag Summit (YAS) invites fresh faces from around the globe to gather and share innovative and pioneering ideas that all have a common thread — to eradicate hunger and do it sustainably.

The 2019 YAS was held in Brasília, Brazil in November and brought together 100 young adults, aged 18 to 25, for an action-packed three days of idea incubation. The concept is decidedly simple, yet brilliant: nurture these curious, passionate minds with the express goal to take existing agribusiness ideas and turn them into tangible takeaways.

The Summit began in Calgary, AB, in 2013, and every other year, has moved around the world to different destinations including Australia, Belgium, Brazil and, in 2021, China.

For five enterprising Canadians — Leah Davidson, Grace Heuver, Kelcie Miller- Anderson, Karly Rumpel and Emmett Sawyer — the conference has proven itself both inspiring and motivating. Farm Forum checked in with three of these enterprising Canucks and learned about their South American experience.

Albertan through and through, Grace Heuver is an exuberant 18-year-old with a quirky taste palate. In a province synonymous with beef, this prairie-dweller loves rabbit meat. Three years ago, during a high school exchange with a family in France, Heuver was first introduced to rabbit meat. Her taste buds were instantly hooked and she brought the idea back to Alberta, where her family has now been converted and also eats the meat.

Soon after, Heuver purchased three California/New Zealand cross rabbits to breed. That idea began to morph into something more, specifically a personal training course to teach urbanites how to raise rabbits as a protein source.

“The meat is good and they require so little space, so you can (raise them) in your backyard,” says Heuver, adding that domesticated rabbits taste considerably better compared to their gamey counterparts. After three years of ups and downs, Heuver is starting to get a handle on rabbit husbandry.

Heuver introduced her concept at the Summit. “To be around people that had so much more expertise than myself … it was just an incredible learning experience and opened my eyes to what sustainable ag could be,” she says.

In 10-person breakout sessions, delegates were asked tough questions about their ideas in order to make them as successful as possible. After hearing from her teammates and Bayer mentors, Heuver’s idea evolved right before her eyes.

Leveraging the Internet, Heuver now intends to take her in-person training and move it into a digital space, effectively making it available for anyone with a Wi-Fi connection. “Going in, I was concerned that my idea wasn’t a good one. I had big goals and aspirations but no actual way to put them into place,” she says. Grace was able to narrow down her initial idea, which had a lot of moving parts, into an online certification course and focus just on training. “I feel a lot more confident now.”

It was a similar feeling of assuredness for 22-year-old Karly Rumpel. The young agronomist lives in Strasbourg, SK, just outside of Regina, and had noticed several food deserts developing in the capital over the last few years. Food deserts are defined as geographic areas where people have no access to affordable, healthy food options such as fresh produce, within a reasonable travelling distance. This lack of choice for average Canadians compelled Rumpel into action.

Rumpel’s brainchild, nicknamed uCanYQR takes soon-to-be-discarded food such as fruits and vegetables that cannot be sold and cans them. “During off-season months, grocers throw away produce that’s about to go bad,” she says. “But, it’s still perfectly good for making canned goods.” And rather than simply can the food and then distribute it, Rumpel plans to empower people by teaching them how to replicate the process for themselves.

When she brought her idea to Brazil, it underwent the same rigours that all projects were subject to. She came out with lots of ideas on how her business, as well as grocery stores, could benefit from tax rebates to PR to branding.

“I had never thought about it, but when people haven’t been looking at your project they can find the gaps a lot quicker,” says Rumpel. In other words, having fresh eyes on her concept helped her to improve it.

Thanks to YAS delegates, Rumpel now has a more concrete path forward and plans to launch uCanYQR in Regina by February 2020, in addition to creating an internal mentorship program. She believes the idea would not be nearly as effective had she not travelled to Brazil and put her idea through the wringer. “Education comes from each other,” says Rumpel. “We can say all we want about the classroom but learning about other people in other countries is how we’ll advance.”

The Summit certainly left an impact on her, as well. After spending time with a few delegates days prior to the YAS, she was overcome with emotion by the time it began. “Walking into day one of the Summit, I actually cried,” she says. “I was taken aback by the kindness and energy. It was instant love and gratitude.”

She is already working on applying that new found enthusiasm to make uCanYQR something special for everybody. “Empowering people and allowing them to eat something they created, it really is nice to see the look on people’s faces,” says Rumpel.

Similarly, the look on many a delegate’s face was one of exuberance, but perhaps none more so than Emmett Sawyer. The affable 19-year-old from Acme, AB, was simply in awe from start to finish at the high level of networking the Summit offered, as well as his ability to make around-the-world connections in three jam-packed days.

“I’d been told the energy would be crazy, but I had no idea that it would ever be something that would have such a great impact on me or how I look at life,” he says. “I would say I was certainly surprised.”

Like the other delegates, the idea he brought to Brazil was not the one he packed up and brought back to Canada. Initially, he planned to create elevated rooftop gardens on top of existing infrastructure in cities with built-in systems to catch and recycle water.

However, following constructive criticism and then taking a step back, Sawyer stripped the idea down to its ethos — helping people feed themselves nutritious food in a simple way — and began to rebuild. “Now the idea is to build a garden kit for people’s greenhouses that will allow them to create a perfect growing environment for vegetables or fruit,” he says.

He plans to accomplish this by creating an app that connects to an artificial intelligence (AI) system within a greenhouse. Users can simply tap a desired crop and the program will automatically adjust settings within the greenhouse to optimum levels for all variables, including humidity and watering patterns. The app is aimed at novice green thumbs who want to plug and play.

His next step is to build the app, which involves having to code, something he currently can’t do. “The best part about life is challenging yourself to be in an uncomfortable space and I think having this project is making me uncomfortable, and there’s nothing better than that,” he says. “I know I have a family from that YAS conference that’s ready to help.” That same family also opened his eyes to possibilities beyond the front door of his family’s grain farm. Sawyer now plans to work outside Canada for at least five years and has immediate ambitions to learn French.

“The connections you make with other people from other countries, it changes you,” he says. “It’s completely changed my life and I’m so glad I met all the delegates at YAS. It’s an experience like no other.” FF