Alltech founder’s vision still driving others to transform agriculture

ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference 2018 draws nearly 4,000

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Dr. Pearse Lyons Alltech founder
Dr. Pearse Lyons, onstage at the 2017 Alltech ONE conference. Lyons died March 8, 2018. (Susan Crowell/Farm and Dairy photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — True to its name, ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference 2018 showcased some of today’s most innovative ideas, all the way from the gene level to disruptive changes to the future of food and how we produce it.

This year’s conference, May 21-22 in Lexington, Kentucky, reflected on the value of an idea and its potential to impact the future of our businesses, lives and even the planet.

Dr. Mark Lyons, president of Alltech, took the conversation a step further. To achieve such innovative change, he said, it takes leaders with the ability to see what others cannot, something both Leonardo da Vinci and Dr. Pearse Lyons, Alltech’s late founder, had in common.

“He and Dad ‘happened to things,’ as Dad put it,” he said. “And that thing was called ‘life.’ Sometimes life happens to us. These two individuals seemed to impact life as much as it impacted them.”

During the conference’s opening day May 21, Alltech bestowed a double award recognizing Dr. Pearse Lyons.

“He was constantly encouraging us to be the best we could be for those around us so that they could flourish and become the best they could be,” said Mark Lyons, reflecting on his father’s goal that Alltech should be built on passion, excellence and fun.

“He wanted them to live with those values he had, and that excellence, something that he and my mother shared — maybe she even more so.”

The Alltech Medal of Excellence was awarded to Pearse Lyons for his work as a scientist. Lyons used his scientific expertise in yeast fermentation and his acute business sense to revolutionize the animal feed industry through the introduction of natural ingredients to animal feed. In the past 10 years alone, his scientific achievements have been listed in more than 300 patents.

Additionally, he was recognized with the Alltech Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic spirit.

“We cannot replace Dr. Pearse Lyons, nobody can,” said Mark Lyons. “But if we start to think like him — if we can get 10 people, 100 people, 1,000 people thinking like him — imagine what we can achieve together.”

USDA wants to partner with innovation

Bill Northey, under secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, explored how government can do its part to help American agriculture adapt to a rapidly changing industry and feed the world.

One component, he said, is for the USDA and farmers to be partners in innovation.

“We must understand our customers,” he said. “We must meet them where they are, with what they need, how they need it. Over time, customer needs change. We have to adapt.”

CRISPR technology

Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou, CRISPR expert and professor at North Carolina State University, discussed the potential for the gene-editing technology to revolutionize food production and agriculture.

“In my opinion, CRISPR might be the one technology that is disruptive, innovative, transformative enough to change and define the genesis of the next generation of products across the food and ag industry,” said Barrangou.

Not only is this technology changing his life as a research scientist, he said, but also as a patient and a parent.

This “molecular scalpel that cuts DNA” has the potential to edit, alter and rewrite DNA to create new gene therapies, synthetic organs and natural vaccines. It even has the potential to create programmable antibiotics that selectively kill agents responsible for disease, such as salmonella.

“Scientifically, the CRISPR phase is unprecedented,” he said. “We went from nothing, to a paper a month, to a paper a week, to a paper a day, to an average of 10 new CRISPR studies published every day in 2018.”

He added, however, that with this new power comes great responsibility, and stewardship in the agriculture world is critical.

Barrangou said the real revolution is happening in the boardrooms of companies that are harnessing this technology.

“This big idea is becoming a reality,” he said. “And this big idea is going to save the planet.”

Nearly 4,000 attendees from 76 countries attended the 2018 ONE conference, now in its 34th year.

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