Arkansas Ag Secretary, Israeli Ag minister speak at Arkansas Soil and Water conference

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 178 views 

A group of several hundred people spent Wednesday learning how soil and water can play a key role in the growth of crops as well as helping the bottom line of farmers. They even learned how other countries are using technology to conserve water and energy.

Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward gave the keynote speech at the Arkansas Soil and Water Conference in front of 250 people at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center. Those who attended the conference learned about everything from cover crops and no-till farming to poly-pipe and rice irrigation.

Ward, who grew up in Lake City, told the group that soil and water are a key part of agriculture and the state’s economy. Arkansas has 33 million acres of land, with a large portion set aside for farming. However, the state has been able to do a lot with what the land provides, Ward said.

The industry provides one out of six jobs in the state, Ward told the group. As for regulations, Ward said he believes that while some have good intentions, many can create problems at the ground or local level. One such regulation is the Waters of the United States, working its way through federal court, Ward said.

Supporters have said the regulation, which have been discussed in Congress and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, would protect the environment while opponents have said the regulation is an affront to private property rights. Ward said farmers believe in protecting the environment, but “don’t want to face burdensome regulations either.”

Arkansas has received funding for conservation programs in recent years because of the state’s ability to work together on projects. Ward said the world has seen population increases but continues to look for ways to develop food.

“Northeast Arkansas is at the forefront of this work,” Ward said of the area’s row crop tradition.

Ward said groups have looked around the world for places to develop food but have increasingly looked at Arkansas as a mentor.

Conference speaker Menechem Hesse, Israeli Minister for Agriculture and Science Affairs for the United States, Canada and Mexico, said Israel was facing a “water crisis” a few years ago and began working on a series of proposals to improve the issue. The country built its first water delineation program as a result.

“Now, we have too much water,” Hesse said.

Hesse, who is based in Washington D.C., said the country’s leaders found that purifying the water at 200% was expensive, but purifying it at a 70% to 80% level would help preserve the nutrients in the ground. Another part of the program is monitoring everything from dairy, trees and food for water content, Hesse said.

The country’s farmers also used to cover their crops for the sunlight. Now, they cover the crops for strength, Hesse said.

“It helps with growth,” Hesse said, noting the work can help accelerate growth.

Farmers in Israel also grow corn, grapes, citrus and watermelon, Hesse said. At least a quarter of its trade is imported from the United States while only about 6% of Israeli goods are exported to the United States, Hesse said.

The conference also brought several vendors to Jonesboro. Wayne Smalley with South Carolina-based Rivers Associates, said technology has changed agriculture.

One of the products on display, the McCrometer flow valve, measures the amount the water that go through a pipe before heading to the field. Smalley said farmers use flow meters and soil sensors to make sure water gets to the field in an efficient manner. Another key aspect of the issue is diesel and electricity, which can run the pumps.