A meeting of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA) is being hosted in Arkansas this week.
Leaders in agriculture from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Virgin Islands are taking part in the gathering, led by Arkansas' Secretary of Agriculture, Wes Ward.
During the opening ceremony Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said concerns to the state's agriculture industry include, "threats to global markets because of trade disputes. The second threat is disruption in domestic markets because of infrastructure challenges. The third threat is to ag[ricultural] infrastructure because of cyberattacks we've seen recently. And the fourth one is consumer confidence and understanding."
Hutchinson pointed to the recent cyberattack against meat supplier JBS to make the case for cyberdefense in the agriculture industry. He asked, "Should we, as a nation, require industry to share data on ransom attacks, so that we have a better information flow on the source, on the identity, on the types of attacks coming toward us?"
Hutchinson also called for regulating crypto currency, enlisting private sector investment in cyber security, and getting assistance from the federal government in his recommendations for a cyberdefense strategy for the agriculture industry, which, he said, brings $21 billion annually to the state.
That number could grow if Arkansas can capitalize on its available timber. Over half of the state — 18.6 million acres — is classified as commercial timberland, according to a report issued by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The state routinely grows more timber than it uses each year, leaving a surplus, even during the recent period of high demand for lumber triggered by the pandemic.
Hutchinson highlighted Wal Mart’s new corporate headquarters being built in Bentonville with Arkansas lumber being manufactured in Conway by Structurlam.
"Architecture is going to be leading in terms of looking at mass timber production for more large facilities like [the Wal Mart headquarters]. I think Wal Mart is going to set the example across the nation that's going to help us in our timber production," said Hutchinson.
Mass timber is a building technology that uses large lumber in place of many steel and concrete building components. In addition to the Conway mass timber facility, multiple companies have announced plans to build wood pellet production sites in Arkansas.