Advancements in ag research and technology not only help farmers produce more with less, but also have had a big impact on their ability to build healthier soils. John Butler is the CEO of Agricenter International and a fifth generation farmer from northwestern Tennessee. Before joining Agricenter International about seven years ago, he worked on his family farm for about 25 years and had a career with Cargill where he worked across multiple geographies in North America. He shares his unique perspective as someone who has worked in agribusiness, operated a more traditional farm, and now is running an urban farm and research hub. He shares his take on soil health, how they adapt principles to their local context of the Mississippi Delta Region, the impact of their research and education efforts, and new technologies as well.
“I can’t farm the way I farm today if I had the same tools I had in the 80’s. What’s allowing me this flexibility is the chemistries that we have, the fertilizers that we have, and the equipment that we have. On our AgriCenter research plot last year, we flew fungicide with the drone over our corn crop. I mean, I don’t know if I would have said that five years ago. I don’t know if I would even have known to have said that five years ago. So, it’s a pretty cool space. We’re evolving significantly.”
Agricenter International was founded in 1979 as a joint effort between Shelby County and the state of Tennessee which set aside 1,000 acres to operate an urban farm. Today, the nonprofit organization is an education, agribusiness, research and agricultural hub of the Mid-South. They have over 1.5 million visitors annually, and partner with around 80 companies every year to conduct research that includes over 20,000 replicated plots on around 700 acres of land. The breadth and scale of the organization is impressive enough, but the diversity is also remarkable, including row crops, specialty crops, tree crops, and a wide range of new products and growing practices.
“Our mission is to advance the knowledge and understanding of agriculture. And so we do that through a lot of different lenses and some of it’s very, very intentional. And some of it is not so intentional. We have a commercial kitchen. We have canning classes through extension. Everything you can think of from A to Z. And so, because we have so many resources here on campus, we have about 40 companies that are located here…. It’s really an opportunity for both consumers and producers to connect.”