As Rick Cartwright approached his retirement date as director of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, he was asked for his thoughts about the future of agriculture.
Gene editing and robotics are two areas that have not reached their full potential and show promise for improving plants and farmer efficiency, he said, noting he realizes GMO technologies have been somewhat controversial.
But the biggest possibility for the advancement of agriculture comes from people, and especially from young adults entering the workforce, according to Cartwright, who began his career as a rice disease specialist with the Extension Service in 1992.
“People in our business tell me this young generation doesn’t know what’s going on or they’re lazy or things like that,” he said. “That has not been my observation. We hire a lot of these young people in the university; we hire a lot of them in Extension. This generation is sharp, hardworking and they have ethics. And it gives you cause to be optimistic.
“That’s something we need to pay attention to because the potential for young people today is just out of this world for what they will be able to do to improve what our generation has accomplished.”
Asked about his plans for retirement, Cartwright said the simple answer is he plans to help his wife and family.
“They have given up a lot for me to work professionally,” he noted. “My wife and I have been married 44 years, and I think it’s time for me to help her a little more specifically than I was able to do when I was working so much. My plan is to invest time in my family.”
Cartwright said he believes the United States and the agricultural sector will make it through the current pandemic and the problems it has brought to the world since the first COVID-19 cases began to occur in February and March.
“This is not the first challenge we have faced, and, certainly, our parents and grandparents faced things that were as challenging or worse and came through them,” he said.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t understand why my grandfather washed his hands so much. Later, he told me he went through the pandemic of 1918, and he was down on his back for a month with the Spanish Flu.”
Many people of that time were worried about whether it was the end of the world, but they got through it. His grandfather survived the pandemic and went on to raise nine children and have a successful life.
“We will do that, too, and I would encourage people with all that’s going on, with all the technology and information that we have today, I foresee a future that is better. I think the best times are yet to come. So, I would encourage people to not be negative, but to be positive about what’s coming and what can be done when everyone is working together.”