Bridging the gap to new technology: Part I

Farmers in the First Congressional District in Arkansas grow six of the major commodities produced in the world, and they do it with some of the most advanced technology available.

But that doesn't mean they can't use more technology or more diversified crops, especially considering the current price outlook for those crops -- corn, cotton, soybeans, grain sorghum, rice and wheat -- says First District Congressman Rick Crawford.

"I think farmers in the Delta have been very open to adapting new technology," says Crawford, who held the first in what he hopes will be a series of Ag-Tech Symposiums at Arkansas State University Wednesday (Oct. 14). "What we're looking at is the ability of private equity firms to come in and make investments and make farming even more efficient and utilize technology quicker and more effectively."

For his first symposium the congressman invited three speakers who represent organizations that are working to bring new investment to agricultural and medical technology firms in the Mid-South and in other parts of the country.

They included Clay Mitchell, a fifth-generation farmer who has been a leading innovator in precision agriculture in Iowa, and Eric O'Brien, an investment banker in California, are partners in Fall Line Capital, a company that is investing in farmland and in new ag technology ventures.

The third speaker was Peter Nelson, chairman and CEO of the Ag Innovation Development Group of Memphis, Tenn. Nelson is part of a team creating an innovation ecosystem for agriculture that includes a venture development company which is commercializing licensed technology, a $25 million early-stage venture fund in cooperation with USDA and an accelerator program.

"One of the comments I made during the Symposium was do we want to incubate technology here and move it outward," asked Crawford. "Or do we want to develop technology elsewhere and bring it in. And I think there's probably a little bit of both to that, but I think we can fill a void there by developing technology here in this region because we have some specific needs in the Delta.

"Whether you're in the east Arkansas Delta, whether you're in Mississippi, West Tennessee and on down, Southeast Missouri, the Bootheel, there are a lot of similarities to the challenges. So this broad geography is considerably different than the upper Midwest. I think there is the opportunity to work with some of these private equity firms that want to invest in technology."

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