BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The state Agriculture Department promotes Arkansas products in domestic and international markets, and helps ensure that farm, fiber and forestry products are safe.
A relatively new effort of the Department promotes products grown in Arkansas. It is particularly helpful to small growers who don’t have a large budget to market their products. They can apply to the Agriculture Department’s marketing division for the right to place “Arkansas Grown” labels on their products. The labels are distinctive, and help consumers easily identify locally-grown products.
For an additional fee, the Department will help growers market their products on social media and in traditional media. The Department’s web site, at arkansasgrown.org, also lists Arkansas restaurants that prepare locally grown food. It also has a map that locates all the farmers’ markets in Arkansas.
Agri-tourism is also a promotion of the Agriculture Department, along with the Cooperative Extension Service and the Parks and Tourism Department. Destinations include Christmas tree farms, pumpkin patches, and berry farms where visitors can grab a basket and pick their own berries. A common denominator in these destinations is that there is no middleman – the consumer buys directly from the grower.
The Parks and Tourism Department publishes a 27-page brochure on agri-tourism that is also available online. It is a concise yet thorough summary of the economy, geography and culture of Arkansas. One very useful page is a timeline that tells you which month of the year you can expect to find fresh products such as grapes, watermelons, sorghum and blackberries.
An agricultural tour of Arkansas, even a virtual tour on the Internet, reveals some of the state’s unique features.
For example, it’s widely known that Arkansas produces soybeans in abundance, and that the soybeans are used in numerous food products and industrial applications. However, few people are aware that Arkansas also has the nation’s only edamame production facility, and that there is an Edamame Festival in Mulberry. It is a healthy snack made of young soybeans.
The brochure makes a sightseeing drive around Arkansas more educational. It helps identify crops that you drive past and it helps make sense of the “rural skyline,” which is dominated by grain silos, irrigation equipment and large farm machinery.
Arkansas was recently classified as a peanut producing state by the U.S. Agriculture Department. That means an Arkansas representative will sit on the National Peanut Board and have a voice in national policies.
Growing food is not just a business but also a science, and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and its Cooperative Extension Service are leaders in biological, genetic, environmental and nutritional research. The service helped Arkansas farmers break records last year in the production of corn, cotton, soybeans and rice. Sorghum production was up, although it didn’t set a new record.
Agriculture contributed $17 billion to the Arkansas economy last year. That amount factors in farm production, the purchase of materials, supplies and equipment, as well as wages paid for labor.
One in six Arkansas jobs is in agriculture. Agriculture represents a greater share of the state economy than in any of our neighboring states.