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After a year's hiatus, the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture returned for its 48th edition Jan. 10-11 at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach.

More than 600 farmers, ranchers and agriculture leaders attended the event, hosted by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Gov. Mike Parson. The third-generation farmer, who was named governor last June, gave a rousing welcome during the conference’s Missouri Agriculture Awards Luncheon.

“I’m a rookie here, but this truly feels like home with so many friends in this room,” Parson said. “The Show-Me State continues to be a leader in ag production. It’s an $88.4 billion industry that supports 400,000 jobs in this state. But it’s not the numbers that impress me. It’s the values we share in Missouri agriculture. It’s a great privilege to serve this indus­try of hardworking families.”

Parson pointed out it’s the first time he can remember that Missouri’s governor, director of agriculture and lieutenant governor are all “true farmers.” The governor runs a cattle operation in Polk County, Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn is a fifth-generation farmer who raises swine in Shelby County, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe produces beef cattle on his family farm in Phelps County.

The agricultural background of these leaders is positive for Missouri farmers, said Parson, who also praised the efforts of his cabinet in col­laborating to provide much-needed relief for farmers during this past summer’s drought.

“We were able to work together as a group to get some meaningful things done in a short period of time,” Parson said. “That’s what govern­ment should be doing—helping people when they need it.”

Acknowledging that there will always be “tough times,” Parson said preparing Missouri agriculture and rural communities for the future is one of his top priorities as governor. He mentioned expanding access to broadband internet as one example of accelerating education opportuni­ties for today’s youth.

“We can’t operate like we did 10 years ago if we are going to maintain agriculture as our state’s No. 1 industry,” he said. “To be competitive in today’s market, the next generation is going to have to know technology, know what hard work is all about, and know where the job markets and trends are going across the world. It’s up to us to work together to make sure our kids and grandkids have the same opportunities we have.”

Prior to lunch, Missourian, agriculture journalist and national television host Tyne Morgan recorded a segment of the U.S. Farm Report from the conference. In her “Commodity Out­look” session, Morgan featured agriculture economists Dr. John Anderson, chairman of the business, applied and technical sciences at the College of the Ozarks; Dr. Scott Brown, director of strategic partnerships at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; and Dr. Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. Portions of their panel interview were broadcast the following weekend during the U.S. Farm Report’s regular schedule on RFD-TV.

Growing agriculture’s impact

The conference organized sessions around the MDA’s ongoing “MORE” initiative. During the “feedMORE” segment, Dean Chris Daubert of MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources previewed a soon-to-be-released study that shows Missouri has the capability to grow the impact of its food and agriculture industry by more than $25 billion in the next eight years. The study was commissioned by the university. A coali­tion of agriculture industry partners, including MFA Incorpo­rated, contributed to the initiative.

According to the study, the best way to boost agriculture from its current level is to focus on taking raw products Missouri already produces and adding value to them through advanced man­ufacturing or processing efforts.

The feasibility study made three main recommendations. First, Missouri should create a network of universities, colleges and Extension offices that can coordinate resources and identify new business opportunities. Second, the study recommends focusing on creat­ing products that can address issues re­lated to human and agricultural health challenges through precision medicine. Finally, the study suggests an initiative to grow value-added food processing and manufacturing to benefit both crops and livestock.

By implementing the suggestions, the impact to Missouri’s economy by 2027 has the potential to be dramatic. Business growth from these efforts could create and support nearly 70,000 new jobs and generate nearly $4.4 billion in new personal income. Im­portant to all Missourians, the growth would raise annual state and local tax revenue by more than $1 billion.

Dean Daubert told the conference audience that the full study would be completed and available for public viewing by the end of January. The final version will be available on the Missouri Agricultural Foundation’s website once the report is released.

“My hope is that one year from now, at the 2020 Governor’s Conference, we can share what we’ve learned through a year of investigation and how we can realize those economic impact figures,” Daubert said. “We’re excited to be part of this big ini­tiative. It’s a great opportunity for Missouri ag, and the focus is to help all of Missouri farmers and ranchers become even more profitable.”

Connecting rural communities

Another food-focused session at the conference featured Vivian Howard, chef, author, restaurant owner and TV personality, who served as keynote speaker on Thursday, Jan. 10. She shared her story of returning to her small-town North Carolina roots to open a farm-to-fork restaurant and discussed her expe­riences as star of the PBS show, “A Chef’s Life,” which just ended a five-season run in October.

Eric Maly, with the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, explained the organization’s mission to improve the status of food-insecure families in its 32-county service area. The organization works with 140 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other agencies to identify need and distribute food. Efforts include mobile food pantries to serve areas that do not have a permanent site and “Buddy Packs” at elementary schools to provide students with ready-to-eat food to take home over the weekends. A summer feeding program provides weekday lunches in areas with high poverty rates.

Other governor’s conference sessions focused on technol­ogy, from connecting rural communities with high-speed internet to advances in crop research and development. Todd Sears, president and CEO of IntelliFarms, shared the story of economic development in his small town of Archie, Mo. He connected with the right resources to bring high-speed internet to the rural Missouri town, helping to ignite businesses in his community.

The buzz about “blockchain” was addressed by Mark Pryor, chairman and CEO of The Seam, a leading provider of trading and technology solutions. Pryor said demands for increased traceability and transparency throughout the agri­culture supply chain are at an all-time high, and blockchain technology is poised to provide a common digital fabric with open, neutral, borderless possibilities.

Dr. Jeremy Williams, senior vice president for Bayer Crop Science, discussed how advances in molecular breeding, biotechnology and gene editing, combined with data sci­ence and artificial intelligence, will empower growers.

“Agriculture sits at the intersection of enormous global challenges that include a growing population, limited nat­ural resources and a changing climate,” said Williams, who spoke at the conference on Friday. “Farmers need innovative solutions—tailored to the specific needs of their farm, their crops and their soil—so they can grow food successfully, safely and sustainably.”

Missouri Ag Director Chinn, who gave her keynote ad­dress on Friday morning, said the conference was a positive way to kick off 2019.

“Agriculture has a lot to be thankful for as we look in the rearview mirror at 2018, from a dry summer to a wet fall and a final farm bill to a new look at international trade deals,” she said. “Hosting our friends in Missouri agriculture for this forward-thinking conference is truly an honor. We hope it will inspire many farmers, ranchers, agribusiness leaders and aspiring agriculturists to return home energized to make a positive difference in their communities.”

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