Newberry Envisions AgFoodTech Driving Economic Growth

Duke Energy Florida check presentation to Newberry for a $20,000 grant to fund a business incubator feasibility study (Photo courtesy of the City of Newberry).

By Kamal Latham

 

The City of Newberry’s #1 economic development priority is creating high-wage and high-skill jobs through the envisioned F-300 AgFoodTech Innovation Park and Business Incubator (the project was dubbed F-300 in honor of Florida’s 300 specialty crops).

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automation, sensors, data analytics, precision agriculture, and advanced energy are examples of advanced technologies that can reduce the time, cost, and complexity of producing, harvesting, and packaging food and agricultural products.

Newberry seeks to create good paying jobs for current residents and future generations by helping researchers, entrepreneurs, and established companies grow and scale businesses, modernizing the food and agricultural sectors with cutting-edge technologies.

Agriculture is Important: More People to Feed

More food will be required to feed more people. The world’s population is projected to grow by nearly 2 billion people by 2050, according to the United Nations. America’s population is projected to grow by 25 million people by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry and supported over $270 billion in sales revenue and more than 2 million jobs throughout the state in 2022, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) 2022 Annual Report. 

According to agfunder.com, over $100 billion has been invested into agriculture and food technologies worldwide since 2012. Disrupted supply chains due to the pandemic and extreme weather have highlighted a need for better technologies to produce, harvest, and package food.

Newberry is the Right Place: 100+ Year Agricultural Heritage and 170+ Acres Available

Newberry’s heritage has been rooted in agriculture for over 100 years. Its farmers have produced food landing on the plates of people in North Central Florida and beyond. Its annual Watermelon Festival hosts thousands of people every year and has been held since 1946. 

City residents decided to drive economic growth and job creation with agriculture in a visioning exercise about 10 years ago. Creating economic opportunity while preserving the community’s charm, natural environment, and rural character was important. The values, creativity, and culture of the community birthed the AgFoodTech Park project. 

The City has designated 170+ acres for development of this transformative project along State Road 26 and has already invested millions of dollars into infrastructure (e.g. water and wastewater). The first tenant was celebrated in 2021 when Newberry, Alachua County, and UF/IFAS collaborated to relocate the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Alachua County to Newberry.  

Strong Support: 15-Member Public and Private Sector Consortium

A group of 40+ stakeholders – including AgTech venture capital firms with over $600 million in assets – met in 2022 to explore establishing an agfoodtech innovation park and startup business incubator in Newberry. A working group was launched afterwards to inform project planning.

Newberry now leads a 15-member strong consortium of international, national, state, and local organizations supporting F-300, which would help commercialize university innovations, facilitate entrepreneurship, create high-wage and high-skill jobs, and promote growth.

Consortium members include leading organizations such as UF/IFAS, Santa Fe College, the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA), Florida Feed Association, Inc., Duke Energy Florida, Florida Business Incubation Association (FBIA), Greater Gainesville Chamber, Newberry Area Chamber, Micro Nano Technologies, and Agriculture Intelligence, Inc.

AgFoodTech Assets: $300 Million UF/IFAS Research and $70 Million AI Project with NVIDIA

UF conducted over $1.25 billion in research in 2022-2023. UF/IFAS was the second-largest contributor with more than $300 million in expenditures, which resulted in UF being ranked the #1 university in America for agricultural research expenditures by the National Science Foundation, according to UF. 

UF has emphasized artificial intelligence (AI) and has the strongest AI supercomputer in higher education.  The HiPerGator 3.0 supercomputer was completed in 2021 due to a $70 million partnership with Silicon Valley-based NVIDIA, which was the 3rd largest company in the world with a market capitalization over $2.8 Trillion at the writing of this article. 

UF/IFAS has hired faculty researching AI applications in agriculture using the HiPerGator and is launching a Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence to design and demonstrate technologies facilitating a transformation from labor-intensive to technology-intensive agriculture based on AI and robotics. The Newberry region has significant assets to become an AgFoodTech Hub. Regional Coordination: F-300 Aligns with CEDS and Greater Gainesville Chamber Strategy F-300 aligns with the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for 2023-2027. The CEDS supports the development of innovation parks and business incubators in the region to promote economic growth. 

F-300 also aligns with the Greater Gainesville Chamber’s Collaborate 2025 5-Year community and economic development strategy as one of its five target industry clusters is agriculture science and technology. The project will engage the K-12 education system, workforce development boards, and other entities to ensure broad-based regional collaboration.

$75,000 in Grants Secured: $20,000 from Duke Energy Florida and $55,000 from USDA 

Newberry successfully sought and secured $75,000 total in grant funds to advance the F-300 project. The City was awarded a $20,000 grant from Duke Energy Florida in 2022 to complete a feasibility study for a business incubator focused on AgFoodTech.  It also won a $55,000 Rural Business Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2023 to complete a business incubator business plan and develop a stakeholder group to shape F-300. The incubator feasibility study and business plan are being finalized.

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