Anyone who lives in the Arkansas Delta knows that we have seen families move away, restaurants close, schools merge, and once thriving downtowns boarded up. But where some see only decay, others see opportunity. As fallen leaves and burned fields provide nutrients for the next cycle of growth, so Arkansas' rich history and collective knowledge create an environment ripe for change. Organizations like the Thrive Center in Helena-West Helena seek to encourage just such an environment, "in an effort to increase economic mobility and decrease rural brain drain."
The world is running out of food. Unless we continue to improve our production methods, some say that the world will be facing serious food shortages in the next 40, 30, or even 20 years. Expanding population, possibly increasing to 9 billion by 2050, demands an urgent solution to our food problem. I believe Arkansas' First District will be a crucial component to that solution.
The union of agriculture and technology is nothing new. From a plow to a tractor, a scythe to a combine, scattering seed by hand to hopper fed planters, technology has radically changed producers' faming methods and their maximum yields. With the advent of the Internet and satellite technology, precision leveling and GPS guided tractors are the norm, and drone technology for agriculture is close on the horizon. What if our First District, already using the most advanced farming techniques in the world, could take the lead in agriculture innovation, rebuilding our towns and feeding the world in the process?
The idea isn't outlandish. Agriculture technology includes so many disciplines,from macro data analysis, robotics, software, and biotech, to the finance and venture capital that make these new technologies realizable.
When I started the farm news network AgWatch, I saw a void in agriculture related media and had an idea. After a few short years, the news service was broadcast on 39 radio stations in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
These days, all it takes for new entrepreneurs to emerge and fundamentally change the landscape of our industries is an idea and an Internet connection. Arkansans already know farming better than just about anyone else, and with modern technology, the people of Arkansas are in a prime position to innovate. Education is changing fast. A four-year college degree is no longer a prerequisite for success in our modern world, where hands-on skill and know-how trump accredited degrees. And thanks to recent state leadership by Governor Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas became the first state that will require all public and charter high schools to teach coding and computer science. Soon, generations of Arkansans will be graduating with the hands-on skills required to succeed in our modern, highly tech-oriented economy.
The combination of fertile ground, computer science education, and an agricultural tradition could put Arkansas in a unique position to take the lead on technology-based solutions for agriculture. But innovation wouldn't stop at just agriculture. The problem solving skill-set used to tackle feeding the world's swelling population could be used to address all sorts of challenges rural communities face.
Now, if we could just find a way to get rid of those mosquitoes...