UACES Facebook Panelists say changes needed to harness bio-, ag-tech innovations
skip to main content

Panelists say changes needed to harness bio-, ag-tech innovations

By Mary Hightower
U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

Nov. 5, 2023

Fast facts

  • Panelists discuss their entrepreneurial challenges, successes
  • Panelists express hope for Arkansas as leader in agtech

(735 words)

Download related PHOTOS

(Newsrooms: with ark-agri-food-innovation-summit; and ark-agri-food-innovation summit-usda-nifa)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas is poised to harness the latest technological innovations to solve problems like food insecurity, but that won’t happen without funding and policy changes, panelists said at the Agri-Food Innovation Summit.

A six-person panel takes questions from the audience at the Agri-Food Innovation Summit.
INNOVATION — The panel on agricultural and food innovation for the 22nd century included Khoa Luu, left, assistant professor of computer science and computer engineering; Brandon McFadden, professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness; Marty Matlock, professor of biological and agricultural engineering; Parker Cole, associate director of technology commercialization for the Division of Agriculture; Walter Burgess, co-CEO of Power Technology, Inc.; and Sylvia Wulf, CEO of Aquabounty Technologies. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo)

The two-day summit on Nov. 2-3 featured panel discussions and presentations on all aspects of taking research discoveries and developing practical solutions for problems in agriculture and food production.

More than 200 registered over the two-day summit, which was co-hosted by the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, the University of Arkansas Division of Economic Development, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, and Catalyst/Research and Technology Transfer at Arkansas State University.

Food security

Sylvia Wulf, CEO of Aquabounty Technologies, said she believed in the potential for the Natural State to be a leader in ag and food innovation. Her company produces genetically modified salmon that are tank-farmed on land.

“We are a poster child for how challenging innovation and entrepreneurialism is,” Wulf said. “It took us 25 years to get regulatory approval for our salmon. There was no pathway. We are the first genetically modified animal that was ever approved for use in this country.

“Then we ran into political challenges. It took us several years to overcome what they put in place to allow us to farm” her company’s salmon, she said.

She said her company’s salmon can help reduce carbon footprint compared to the shipping needed to supply Atlantic salmon.

“If you look at Atlantic salmon, it has more frequent flier miles than anybody else in this room,” she said. “We can solve that carbon footprint by creating an industry here in the U.S.”

Wulf also said that “food security is national security. I think we see that because of what happened with COVID.”

“We import 97 percent of the seafood that we eat in this country. It’s a healthy, healthy protein,” she said. “Yet, we are completely dependent on imports. So, we need to be able to develop an aquaculture segment for our economy.”

The challenge ahead is “how do we optimize the technology to where public-private partnerships and some of the funding opportunities that we are talking about today can come into play,” Wulf said.

‘Mud on their boots’

Marty Matlock, professor of ecological engineering in the biological and agricultural engineering department for the Division of Agriculture and University of Arkansas, talked about his time working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He was among the panelists discussing Agricultural Innovation for the 22nd Century.

“We have a $23.3 trillion economy in this country. It’s the largest economy of any nation in the history of this planet,” he said. “We know that venture capital is key to innovation for any sort of technology systems because typically there's just no funding source available other than someone who's willing to take a chance on it. 

“If you have the equity, you go to the bank and you just borrow it — you double mortgage your house,” Matlock said. “But the problem with most innovative companies, especially small businesses, is there is no equity there, so venture capital is your mechanism.

Matlock said that in 2022, the U.S. had $246 billion in venture capital expenditures across every sector.

“That’s about 1.5 percent of our total GPD going to venture capital,” he said. “Of that 1.5 percent, about $12.6 billion of that goes to agriculture. Of that $12.6 billion, $5 billion goes to California. Forty percent of it goes to California. It’s not coming to where the people have mud on their boots and that’s one of our big challenges.”

“How do we innovate when there's no money? Arkansas can do it but it's going to take a lot of innovations in policy to make that happen,” Matlock said. “It's going to take everything from what we're doing here — these conversations, to governmental tax code to incentive programs, to core funding sources — to start this process going. And it's going to take years of investment to make that happen. It could happen here, but it's going take will, the force of will, to push this rock up the hill.”

Wulf agreed.

“I’m passionate about two things,” she said. “I'm passionate about ag tech and biotech and I’m passionate about making sure that Arkansas is an area of focus for investment in ag tech and biotech, because I believe that this state can lead the country in making that a reality. “

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on X at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

# # #

Media contact: Mary Hightower