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Exploring Sustainable Crop Production: The Focus of A-State's 30th Agribusiness Conference


This year marks a huge milestone for A-State's Agribusiness Conference. This is the 30th anniversary for the event. Over the years, it has educated and informed the public about issues and developments in the agriculture industry. Dr. Bert Greenwalt, Professor of Agricultural Economics at A-State and one of the organizers of the conference, spoke to KASU's Brandon Tabor about the event.


The History and Impact of the Agribusiness Conference

Brandon Tabor: So we're in the 30th year of this conference. How are you feeling about that?

Dr. Burt Greenwalt: It is a milestone, Brandon.

This conference began in 1995 with a group of colleagues and I who saw an opportunity to develop a program of education, the agricultural economy, offer it here in Northeast Arkansas and the A-State campus. And it's been very successful. We've developed a loyal following and we'll expect to have several hundred people there on February 7th.

Brandon Tabor: And this conference draws people from all over the state. Is that right?

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: We have a diverse audience, which includes students from our College of Agriculture, as well as many people from industry, agricultural producers, agricultural business people, as well as academics from surrounding states and some other schools in and outside of Arkansas.

The Morning Sessions: Sustainability and Farm Bill Updates

Brandon Tabor: This conference, it talks about a lot of things to help producers grow and to make money and to, keep their crops going pretty well. A lot of things happen at this conference. And I remember sitting in at one of the conferences. I covered one of the sessions and it was about aquifers. And that was a very interesting, it was a very interesting session.

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: Historically, we've tried to highlight trends and issues that are impacting the agricultural economy over time, also focusing on agricultural policy issues related to the Farm Bill and international trade.

And we'll be continuing that philosophy this year with the Morning General Session. Harrison Pittman, who's Director of the National Agricultural Law Center in Fayetteville and a past speaker at this event, he's going to look at the history that we've covered over the past 30 years during this conference and show that how some things circle back back to the future is his topic there.

We'll also have Greg Cole, one of our alumni, who's with AgHeritage Farm Credit here in Arkansas. Greg's an astute observer of trends and issues in agribusiness. He's had a long career with the farm credit system. He'll be sharing some of his observations in the morning general session. All of that begins at 8:30 A.M. And that runs us up to the 10 o'clock break with those two speakers.

Brandon Tabor: Okay. And we also have some other speakers who are also on this program as well. I see that you have Chad Brewer, who is the Assistant Director of the U. S. Cotton Protocol. What will he be talking about?

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: Yes, Brandon. After the mid morning break, we'll resume the general session. All of this morning's session is in the Fowler Center, as usual. We have a session this year on sustainability issues for rice and cotton. This is something that's getting a lot of attention in recent years. Also programs that could potentially provide farmers an income stream for compliance with certain sustainable crop production practices.

We've invited in two speakers. You mentioned Chad Brewer with the U. S. Cotton Trust Protocol, and then also Ms. Megan DeYoung, head of Transformation and Business Development for Rice Tech, which develops hybrid rice seed. And so these 2 speakers will have joints presentations about sustainability issues in those 2 crops, those 2 commodities, and then we'll participate in the general discussion later. We also have an update in the general session on the economics and politics of the U. S. Farm Bill.

Some listeners will be aware that we had a 5 year Farm Bill, which expired with the 2023 crop. We were unsuccessful in getting a new Farm Bill passed. So there was a one year extension that covers the '24 crop.

So Dr. Keith Coble from Mississippi State University, policy economist there, and now Vice President of Agriculture there, he'll be giving an update on that situation outlining where we go from here regarding the Farm Bill debate. That wraps up the morning general session. We'll have a question and answer period there just before we break for lunch.

Brandon Tabor: And for our listeners who may not be too familiar with the Farm Bill , even though it says it's the "Farm" Bill, there's a lot more to it than just farm and everything.

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: Yes. The Farm Bill includes the price and income support programs that are very important to producers as a risk management tool, but it also includes funding for conservation programs, research and credit programs, and the vast majority of it about 80 percent of the Farm Bill funding actually goes to consumer food programs.

And that has been in place for many years. It's a package which covers both consumer food and the production side of agriculture, the funding for all of those programs.

The Afternoon Sessions: Featuring Alumni and Industry Experts

Brandon Tabor: This is a very important year. This is the 30th anniversary of this conference. And there are a couple of things that are tied to the 30 year anniversary of this conference, one of which is your featured speaker.

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: Miss Dana Brooks, who's an alumna of the A-State College of Agriculture.

She was here 30 years ago as an undergraduate student, worked with me as an assistant student assistant, helping with preparations and management of the conference. Dana has come back in years since as a speaker at the conference twice before. Also comes and speaks to my classes through Zoom or in person.

She's currently CEO of the Pet Food Institute. Dana has had a career in Washington D. C. working with different associations, groups, including agribusinesses and trade associations like the American Farm Bureau Federation. So she's very familiar with all the parts of the agricultural economy, but now working with the pet food industry, which ties in, Brandon, to our animal health initiatives here in our college, our animal science majors, and as well as the upcoming College of Veterinary Medicine, which is under development here at A-State. And Dana, in addition to giving our luncheon presentation she'll also appear in the afternoon session with Dr. Glen Hoffsis, who is the founding dean of the A-State College of Veterinary Medicine. And that will be one of our after lunch breakout sessions.

Brandon Tabor: Wow, that sounds like history in the making.

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: We're looking forward to having Dana back and also Dr. Glen Hoffsis, who, we have a lot of interest currently in the upcoming veterinary school here. We have many pre-veterinary students in our college who want to learn more about that. And so we're pleased to have that as a session on that timely topic. We also have other afternoon sessions, which we do each year, on the commodity market outlook for rice and other crops, and then 1 specifically for cotton, and we'll have our usual speakers there. Grayson Daniels on rice. Jeff Johnson on cotton, but we also have Chad Brewer again. You mentioned Chad will also assist Jeff Johnson in the afternoon cotton session with the U. S. Cotton Trust Protocol. And then another one of my former students, Dr. Hunter Byram. Hunter did his Bachelor's degree at A-State and then went on to Mississippi State and Kansas State for graduate school.

He's currently back in Arkansas working with the Agricultural Extension Service in the state, working on price risk management and agricultural policy education.

And Hunter is joining us to speak in the rice industry again about things related to the Farm Bill, and risk management programs that are available to rice producers. So very pleased to have Hunter on the program; making the full circle from student to industry presenter.

Brandon Tabor: I know as a professor, you love to see when your students take up, uh, positions like that.

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: Brandon, I've had a long career here at A-State, which I still enjoy working with these students, and it is very gratifying and rewarding to see them leave A-State with their degree, develop their career, and then continue to contribute to the college in many ways.

Brandon Tabor: Another thing that is very important about this conference as well, we were talking about the afternoon sessions , and there is something that is different this year when it comes to those afternoon sessions. Do you want to elaborate a little bit on that?

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: You're thinking about the location this year. The morning general sessions, as usual, will be in the Fowler Center. That begins with walk-in registration at 7:30. Program begins at 8:30. But at 12 noon, historically, we've moved across the parking lot to the [First National Bank] Arena. This year there's a basketball game conflict there. And so we have moved the luncheon to our other very nice facility there across the parking lot, and that's the Embassy Suites Red Wolf Convention Center.

So we'll be in the ballroom there. Very nice setup for that for the noon luncheon and then also in the convention center for the afternoon session. So it'll be very convenient. All everything in the afternoon will be in the Red Wolf Convention Center.

Brandon Tabor: And we want to add as well that this conference is free.

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: Yes. At no cost to the guest. Thanks very much to the generous sponsors. We have many sponsors today. They're all listed on our conference website at astate.edu/agribusiness. All of their links are there, but these sponsors have allowed this program to be presented now for 30 years at absolutely no registration fee, which makes it simple for us and also very convenient for our guests.

The number of sponsors have grown over the years as the conference has grown and more people have desired to be involved. And it's been a pleasure to work with these people now for 30 years.

The Legacy and Future of the Agribusiness Conference

Brandon Tabor: I've got 1 final question for you, Dr. Greenwalt. This is the 30th anniversary.

After all of these years. What do you think has contributed to the longevity of this conference?

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: So 1995, this is number 30. It began really with very good attendance. And it has grown somewhat since then.

We had 1 year of a virtual conference Brandon, during the height of the pandemic and we had very good participation that year. I think what people say about the conference is we try to focus on a niche that is not duplicated by other meetings. There are many farm meetings during the winter months, both from the universities; from private sector providers, but we try to focus on a niche of agricultural policy education, longer term trends and issues, but then with the afternoon breakout sessions on those special issues for those commodities. So I think people appreciate that. We have many loyal alumni who like to participate and attend. There's also a fellowship component there, I think Brandon, in the morning break at the luncheon. We have a lot of opportunities for people to visit with each other. I think our guests look forward to that every year.

Brandon Tabor: Dr. Bert Greenwalt. He is a professor of agri economics at A-State and one of the organizers for the 30th annual Agribusiness Conference, which is set for February 7th at the Fowler Center and for the first time at the Red Wolf Convention Center. Thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Bert Greenwalt: Thank you, Brandon, for helping spread the word.

Brandon Tabor: More details about the conference, including pre registration information, can be found online at astate.edu/agribusiness.

In Jonesboro, I'm Brandon Tabor. KASU News.

A Northeast Arkansas native from Wynne, I’ve been involved with radio for about 15 years. I got my Bachelor of Arts degree from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, where I also served as an award-winning News Director for 2 years at KSWH-LP.