New frontiers in agriculture: Wyoming hosts NASDA meeting, looks at forging paths forward in the industry
Cheyenne – The Little America Hotel and Resort hosted individuals from across the U.S. ag industry for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Annual Meeting, held Sept. 10-13.
Themed “Old West, New Frontier,” the Cowboy State provided visitors a well-blended taste of its rich Western heritage and forward-thinking spirit.
“I appreciate everyone making the effort to be here,” stated Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director and NASDA President Doug Miyamoto during his welcome speech. “We are happy to host you all here in Wyoming. Hopefully, you have already gained a sense of the ranching and Western culture and heritage engrained in this state.”
“It is an honor to welcome you all here today,” added Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon. “I think the theme of an old Western frontier is still very applicable today. I also think it is important to focus on the opportunities ahead of us and the knowledge agriculture can provide at this time.”
Overcoming challenges, forging forward
To kick off the week-long meeting, Gordon shared some of his experiences while ranching in the state and offered insight into the challenges Wyoming producers face.
He noted these challenges range from utilizing water and irrigation efficiently, to dealing with harsh weather conditions, to adopting new sustainable practices such as carbon sequestration.
“Wyoming is the first state to blatantly say they are setting up for a carbon-negative future,” he shared. “Many other states have talked about it, but they also attach it to a long deadline. There is an urgency about what to do to address the climate situation, and here in Wyoming, we are doing it a number of ways.”
“First, we understand how important it is to have vital and healthy forests,” he continued. “Dead and dying forests give off carbon dioxide (CO2). They will either decompose biologically or oxidize, both of which produce CO2, so we need to ensure our forests are well managed.”
Gordon noted programs at the University of Wyoming (UW) have also been dedicated to providing ranchers and farmers a better understanding of what is happening in their soil and are looking into programs where producers will be rewarded for investing in the carbon-negative solution.
“The biggest challenge we have, however, is we don’t have a market for carbon. When looking at the demand for CO2, there is none. It is dependent entirely on administrative action or some sort of taxation,” he stated. “So, we need to figure out a way we can help develop a marketplace, in which we use private sector solutions and free enterprising to solve the climate crisis.”
Finding new frontiers in Wyoming ag
Following Miyamoto’s welcome and Gordon’s presentation, the meeting hosted a panel titled “New Frontiers in Agriculture,” featuring Nate Storey, chief science officer of Plenty; Josh Dorrell, chief executive officer of the Wyoming Business Council (WBC) and Dr. Parag Chitnis, vice president of research and economic development at UW.
Miyamoto served as the panel moderator.
Storey began the panel discussion by explaining how Plenty, an indoor vertical farming company, has forged a path forward for the state of Wyoming.
In February, the State Loan and Investment Board approved a grant to support the development of the world’s largest and most advanced vertical farming research center through Plenty.
“I started in the greenhouse industry while studying at UW. I was looking at different ways to increase productivity in the greenhouse itself, which rapidly evolved – in the same way agriculture has evolved since the beginning of time – to get more productivity out of less space,” he explained. “Specifically, in a greenhouse we are looking at how to get more productivity out of less volume, which became a big challenge for me in developing all of the technology that would ultimately lead to Plenty.”
Because indoor vertical farming requires capital-intensive equipment, Storey further explained, with the help of like-minded individuals, he set up shop in San Francisco and raised money to build farms and accelerate technical development.
Today, Plenty is focused on expanding across multiple crops and looking into growing unique produce one wouldn’t usually find growing in the states.
“Plenty builds on existing capacity and opens doors to growing crops in the U.S. that we haven’t grown before,” Storey stated. “It has been a fantastic joint effort, and it is really exciting how we are bridging the gap.”
Chitnis further noted UW is continuing to work closely with the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, community colleges and government agencies to build more greenhouses for university students to study this innovative trade.
Utilizing partnerships to make change
Dorrell expressed although Wyoming’s size may come with its challenges, he also thinks it is a huge advantage when it comes to making change happen in the state.
“We don’t have a lot of people or a lot of overhead to make things happen, so in this state, we move pretty quickly. We can get things done,” he stated.
Through his position with WBC, Dorrell explained one of the changes he is pushing for is diversifying the state’s economy to create resilient communities and avoid the traditional boom-and-bust cycle many Wyoming towns face.
“How do we take the wonderful resources we have, not just in agriculture and tourism, but in energy and natural resource extraction, so we have an ‘and economy’ and not an ‘or economy?’” he asked. “We work closely with our partnerships to develop a system allowing our communities to face challenges and to provide them with a framework to work through challenges when they arise.”
“We have to make the right investments as a state, make sure we have the right policy in place and elect strong leaders so we can utilize our network, align our team and move forward,” he continued.
“The challenge new frontiers bring is people assume we have to choose between ‘Old West’ or ‘New Frontier,’ but it doesn’t,” Dorrell concluded. “What we are so excited about here in Wyoming, is it means taking the legacy that has been built and continuing with it in new ways. This way we can work together to build something even bigger.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.