Crops, Capital And Innovation Discussed At Agri-Tech Forum

by Michael Wilkey (mwilkey@talkbusiness.net) 72 views 

Economic development can go hand in hand with agriculture serving as a key part of the region’s future, several farm capital business owners said Wednesday (Oct. 14).

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, hosted the 1st annual Agri-Tech Symposium in the auditorium of the ASU Convocation Center. At least 40 people heard about agriculture and what role investment can play in the industry.

Part of the investment has been to boost the use of technology. For example, farmers who may have used Mother Nature to water crops years ago now use irrigation systems on timers as well as GPS to plan fertilization. Eric O’Brien, a co-founder and managing director of California-based firm Fall Line Capital, said the increasing demands of food and water play a huge role in agriculture, especially in California. The western state has faced a drought for a long period of time, with the lack of water hurting the quality of crops being grown.

O’Brien said his company works to offer capital for farmers, with employees at the Silicon Valley company learning about the industry on a daily basis.

Clay Mitchell, a co-founder and managing director with O’Brien, said plastic mulch can help with irrigation and that raising soil temperature can help with growing. Mitchell said the mulch, which involves a plastic cover, can help corn crops grow. Locally, Mitchell said the use of GPS has helped to grow crops over the past several years.

O’Brien said there are at least five companies that are part of the company’s portfolio focusing on different aspects of agriculture. One company may focus on GPS while another may focus on farm management software, O’Brien said.

Pete Nelson, chairman and CEO with Memphis-based AG Innovation Development, works with economic development opportunities for farmers. Nelson said logistics, new technologies and the number of crops grown in Northeast Arkansas help the area’s economic development goals. However, issues like water erosion and pests can play havoc with crops.

Nelson said the large growth of crops can help lower the startup cost for a farm, with technology also helping to lower the costs. Technology can be used to build new companies, Nelson said, with technologies going from the college classroom to the farm. He said a goal for his company is to create 100 farm companies in the next five years, especially farm technology companies.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
All three on the panel, as well as Crawford, took questions during the forum.

O’Brien said many farm businesses start with someone working in a farm shop. From there, the person learns about the business and markets. Mitchell said land management can create problems, at least during the beginning for the beginning farmer.

Nelson was asked by Crawford about the incubation of technology in the region. Nelson said the partnerships of colleges on research projects is imperative, while Mitchell said technology can have some limitations.

Crawford asked about new crops, possibly produce, helping with improving the supply chain. Nelson said it is possible, with the 10 year project, to emphasize robotics as a way to reduce costs.

Crawford said the state has diversity of agriculture from crops to livestock. O’Brien said both have gone hand in hand in areas that have seen agricultural growth in the past.

Crawford asked the three about the use of data in agriculture and the protection of it.
O’Brien said there is a lot of information available to farmers, while Mitchell asked the group to be careful with the data. But, Mitchell said there has been a lot of insights gathered from the data but people still must be mindful.

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