Arkansas Ag Secretary promotes state’s diverse, $20 billion agri sector

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 137 views 

Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward said Tuesday that the state agriculture department deals with everything from fertilizer to fuel pumps, with the agriculture industry being a major player in Arkansas for many years to come.

Ward spoke to about 200 people at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber Agri-Business Breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn in Jonesboro. Ward gave an overview of agriculture in Arkansas, saying the industry is the number one industry in Arkansas. The state’s natural resources have helped make the industry flourish, whether through row crop or poultry. Ward said he has had an opportunity to see the state by flying to events in the past week.

“No one compares to the diversity of agriculture that we have in Arkansas,” Ward said.

The state is number one in rice and near the top in poultry production, with poultry moving around the state. While row crops and poultry are key, Ward said he has been surprised by the state’s work in aquaculture and forestry in recent years. Overall, the industry has 280,000 jobs in the state and provides about $20 billion to the state’s economy, Ward said.

Ward said there is a 22,500 employee gap in the U.S. agri industry between demand and supply. However, Ward said the field provides a lot of promise for people interested in agriculture.

The state agriculture department is about 10 years old, with several state agencies combined into the department. The Arkansas Forestry Commission works on forestry issues, while the state Plant Board oversees planting. Another relatively unknown part of the department is the Bureau of Measures, which oversees the gas pumps in the state, Ward said.

The department also dealt with a problem with avian flu last summer. Even though only one turkey was diagnosed with the affliction, which is not contagious to humans, Ward said nearly 40,000 turkeys were destroyed in Arkansas.

Ward also said the department has worked on several marketing plans to help spread the word about Arkansas agriculture. One program, Arkansas Grown, has helped farmers with marketing while an international marketing plan has helped other countries learn about Arkansas agriculture, Ward said.