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Next Monday morning, I’ll deliver the opening address for WEFTEC 2012  New Orleans, LA; it will be the kickoff for the  Water Environment Federation’s (WEF) 85th annual technical exhibition and conference, a five-day event that is expected to draw thousands of water quality professionals and exhibitors to the New Orleans Convention Center.

It’s going to be an interesting talk – there’s a tremendous amount of potential for innovation the sector, and I’ll be speaking to the theme of a “new direction.”

Last week, I ran a blog post  for the WEF ; it’s on their site via that link, and also reprinted below!

Water’s Worth It – and So Is Initiative!
by Jim Carroll 

To many, it could seem that the phrase “Water is the oil of the 21st century” is one of the most common phrases in use today. After all, there does seem to be a widespread recognition both in industrialized countries and emerging economies that going forward into the future, water is certainly going to be one of our most important resources.

That’s why, when I walk up on stage to keynote the 2012 Water Environment Federation’s annual conference, I’m hoping to see a sea of faces, each bearing a look of confidence that echoes a bright future for abundant and sustainable water resources worldwide!

After all, if water IS the new oil, then it’s the folks in the room at WEFTEC 2012 who have the potential to take us to a world in which water REALLY is worth it. It is those folks in the room who will play a huge role in pursuing the opportunity for deep transformative change that is possible in the industry. It is the folks in the room who will be able to undertake the big ideas, the big strategies, the big initiatives — and the big risks — to ensure that society can best preserve, protect, recycle, and reuse water.

Should they choose to!

Even with my limited exposure to the industry so far, it is clear that with accelerating science, the rapid emergence of a new slew of water treatment methodologies, potential for chemical and metallurgical extraction and more– that there are all kinds of new opportunities for innovative thinking in the industry of water. That’s what I encounter in many industries today — the world is full of opportunities – if we choose to pursue them.

Yet it can be difficult to do so. An environment of municipal, state and federal government cutbacks makes the pursuit of big ideas ever more difficult. Many days it is simply important to get through with what you have in terms of resources, funding and ideas, rather than taking big, bold steps into the future. Ever increasing complexity of the technology and science around water makes it more difficult to source and access the right skills often necessary to pursue bold new initiatives

It’s easy to fall into a state of inertia when it comes to pursuing the future. Yet water’s worth it now and even more for the future. It’s the folks at WEFTEC 2012 who can and I hope will use the conference as a spark to turn their innovation engines on, and align themselves to the opportunities of the future rather than the challenges of the past.

Earlier this month, I was down in Amarillo, Texas, where I was the opening keynote speaker for Day 2 of the annual conference of the Texas Cattlefeeders Association.

Jim Carroll – “I’m willing to admit that it was the first time I’ve ever had audience members getting their boots shined before my keynote address! But talk about an audience focused on innovation!”

The event was lined as the result of another keynote I did in Sonoma County, California last April, where I spoke to a  gathering that included “what were probably the top 100 cattle, stockyard and feedlot operators in the US.” I reported on that event in a post, “Agriculture 2020: Innovation, growth & opportunity.”

The common theme to both of these keynotes? There is massive, significant opportunity for global growth in the agricultural sector. While there might be a lot of short term volatility due to the daily twists and turns with the global economy, one undeniable fact remains: global food production has to double over the next several decades to keep up with population growth and increasing food intake, particularly within emerging economies. I’ve found with both of these audiences that there is a relentless sense of optimism, and certainly a pretty significant openness to new ideas and opportunities for innovation. Read the post about “agriculture 2020” and you’ll get a sense of the reasons for their optimism.

That’s why I was fascinated to come across an article (“Future of ag is all about refrigerators“) that appeared in the Farm & Dairy Blog back in October (its the official for the well known Farm & Dairy Newspaper) that covered  my thinking and message in a nutshell:

We still face a global food market — a world population that stands at 6.9 billion and could reach 7 billion by the end of October.

If those numbers make your head spin and you really feel disconnected from that reality, think about refrigerators instead.

Carroll reminds us, as other have, that the growing population also has a growing segment with greater income, and they will eat more meat. He cites figures that estimate per capita meat consumption growth from 2000 to 2030 of 49 percent in China, 79 percent in India, and 22 percent in Brazil, for example.

And in India, the number one consumer product on an individual’s wish list is a television.

Number two? A refrigerator.

“Right now, refrigerators have only a 13 percent market penetration,” Carroll wrote in a blog post earlier this year.

“Talk about opportunities for growth.

 Sometimes the easiest way to think about future trends is to forget all the fancy analysis, detailed summaries, and simply concentrate on one simple statistic and trend. Most people in the world don’t have a refrigerator. Many want to have one. That fact alone is going to drive agriculture forward at a furious pace.

Farm & Dairy wasn’t the only one to pick up on this theme: over at The Social Silo (“Agriculture gets wired”), an article appeared, “Five Farm Things to Chew On This Week“, which offered up some “food for thought” for those in the agriculture sector.

Their last point? Refrigerators!

We’ve heard so much about world population growth and “who will feed the world,” that we’ve actually become a little distanced from that conversation. But the reality is this: As more people worldwide increase their income and class standing, they will eat more meat. In India, the number one item on wish lists is a television. The second wish? No, not a car, but a refrigerator, says futurist Jim Carroll. “Right now, refrigerators have only a 13 percent market penetration. Talk about opportunities for growth,” Carroll wrote in his blog last spring.

Carroll predicts per capita meat consumption growth from 2000 to 2030 will be 49 percent in China, 79 percent in India, and 22 percent in Brazil.

That alone should give you something to chew on.

Of course, agricultural producers have to balance the reality of growth with innovation in methods involving production, due to growing concerns about sustainability, safety and quality. The Farm & Dairy article went on to observe this issue around innovation.

We’re going to need more food, but we’re going to have to produce it more sustainably. That will take innovation, new ways of thinking, and new ways of farming.

Carroll predicts we’ll see more change on the farm in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the last 50, and he might be right. Today’s farmer has reinvented himself at least once in his lifetime, and will have to be ready to reinvent his farm again.

Ag entrepreneurs will flourish. The opportunity is there for the future of agriculture. Just open the refrigerator.

I must admit, it certainly is a thrill to work with folks throughout the agriculture sector — I do find this to be one of the most innovative sectors of the population. That might come as a surpass to many people, who often view farmers and ranchers as folks who are stuck in tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth — the sector has come to accept innovation as a core virtue for years.

Indeed, I wrote about this way back in 2005, when i was out there talking to the theme, “I Found the Future in Manure: How to Capitalize on the Rapid Evolution of Science”. Those series of keynotes were based on the very theme of innovation that I was discovering throughout the agriculture sector in the early part of 2000-2001. I even ended up writing an article that made it into my Ready, Set, Done book, called “I found the future in manure!”

One thing I’ve come to appreciate is that farmers and ranchers and those who support theme can be some of the most innovative people on the planet. Here’s a video clip from a keynote to a US Military conference in Dallas — yes, the military — and I’m describing to them the unique innovation insight that can be learned from farmers.

 If you want to master innovation — then think about refrigerators, and think like a farmer!


  • Farm & Dairy: The future of ag is in refrigerators 
  • Agriculture 2020: Innovation, opportunity and growth 
  • Farm Progress Magazine: Texas Cattlefeeders will Beef Up in Amarillo 
  • Food industry trends 2011: Report from a keynote 
  • Blog post: I found the future in manure 
  • 2004 article: “I found the future in manure!” 




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