Agriculture Industry Cites Need for Young, Tech-Driven Farmers

Agriculture Industry Cites Need for Young, Tech-Driven Farmers
Jennie Popp

The Arkansas Women in Agriculture conference, taking place Thursday and Friday at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock, focuses on providing a networking opportunity and education for its 130 attendees.

The annual conferences, which began in 2005, were started by Jennie Popp, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Although she is no longer a part of the leadership of the event, she attends the conferences and still sees great value in what they do.

"We pretty much built the conference from scratch, asking farm women around the state what was important and what the biggest needs were," Popp said. "A lot of the women felt isolated, and so this became a networking event."

Previously: Melissa Block says agriculture is a "perfect" industry for women.

The conference has taken place every year except 2013, when the group held regional gatherings.

Popp said she believes this conference is important for the industry because women learn differently than men.

"Pulling women aside gave them a chance to learn," Popp said. "Women were not being ignored in the industry, but I wanted to use techniques that worked best for them."

Thursday’s keynote presenter, Lane McConnell, helps operate one of the largest and most well known farmers markets in the country, in Springfield, Missouri. Her presentation focused on communicating the agricultural message and importance of agriculture to those outside the industry.

"Farmers usually don't go out and tell about the wonderful things they do; that's just not the kind of people they are," McConnell said. "It's really important to communicate the agricultural message."

McConnell said that in many urban American cities, children don't realize how plants are grown or where products such as milk come from. At one school she visited, students did not know that carrots grew in the ground or had a green top. She said agriculture education is important so that people appreciate the industry.

McConnell said that the average age of a farmer today is 56.

"We need more young, innovative farmers," McConnell said. "What I’ve seen is the biggest issue is the cost of getting into agriculture. It’s very costly unless a farm is gifted or given or passed down to you."

One of the sessions at the conference on Thursday was about smartphone apps that farmers can use to make their jobs easier, but McConnell said that only the younger farmers are taking advantage of those technological advances.

Since 2009, there has been a 14 percent increase in women controlling farms in Arkansas.

"I think any woman who can go out and show she’s serious and committed will get the same respect as any man in the industry," Popp said.

More information about this year’s conference is available on the organization's website. 

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