⋅ BY MARY HIGHTOWER ⋅
University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
More than 220 people found their way to the Poinsett County site along Arkansas Highway 1 to witness a groundbreaking for the Northeast Rice Research and Extension Center, a facility intended to keep the state’s rice industry strong and help the public better understand how their food is produced.
The new center is owned and operated by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and is part of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station’s research network.
Jean-François Meullenet, who heads the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, welcomed the crowd on Tuesday and gave his vision for the center.
“We really envision this place to shape the future of rice production in Arkansas and also educate Arkansans about rice farming,” he said. “Rice is obviously a very special crop to this state. It’s really what sets our agriculture apart from the rest of the nation.
“I hope the center will help cement the future of the rice industry in our state,” Meullenet said.
Deacue Fields, head of the Division of Agriculture, said the center brings together all three threads of the land-grant mission: Teaching, research and extension outreach.
“Arkansas is the No. 1 rice-producing state in the United States,” Fields said. “For Arkansas to maintain its No. 1 position and grow in economic importance, it requires an investment in research, extension and education.
“One of the things that makes this center unique is the fact that it has the education component as compared to other research and extension centers,” he said. “We’re focusing on educating consumers and youth about where their food comes from and how agriculture actually helps to improve the quality of their life.”
Joe Christian, a rice farmer and chair of the Arkansas Rice Research and Promotion Board, said the education component is the standout feature of this center.
“There will be research done here for better economics for these soil types and growing rice here in northeastern Arkansas, but the education piece will absolutely set the center apart,” Christian said. “The number of farmers in this area and around the nation is dwindling, and because of that, the general public is losing touch with where their food comes from today. We’re here to tell the story.”
Marshall Stewart, chief executive officer of Greenway Equipment, said there were two reasons his company opted to support the center. The first was continual research to develop “farming practices to continue to move this industry forward.”
Farming is tough and “you don’t have a lot of room for mistakes,” he said.
Stewart also echoed Christian’s sentiments about center’s educational aspect.
“There are a lot of people who just think food comes from the grocery store,” Stewart said. It’s “important to get more young people and more adults involved in agriculture to truly understand the impact that agriculture has.”
Steve Cox, member of the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees and head of the board’s agriculture committee, said he was glad to represent the Board of Trustees “at the start of something that I believe will truly be a benefit not only to our rice growers, but also to all of northeastern Arkansas.”
See earlier story on the center.