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Technology allows ag scientists to continue work despite COVID-19

Arkansas Extension Director Rick Cartwright discusses agriculture's response to COVID-19.

Forrest Laws

May 29, 2020

If you think navigating the current coronavirus pandemic has been challenging, think about what it would have been like 30 or 40 years ago, says Rick Cartwright, director of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Extension Service.

Cartwright, who is retiring from the Extension Service on June 31, said today’s communication technology made it possible for Extension staff members to keep working through one of the most severe crises ever faced by agriculture.

After featuring Cartwright in videos from a presentation at the Arkansas Soil and Water Education Conference in January, Delta Farm Press editors asked him to discuss his thoughts on agriculture’s response to Covid-19 since it hit in March. The interview was conducted using Microsoft Teams video conferencing technology.

“I have to say this has been a very interesting experience to live through or work through this COVID-19 situation,” he said. “It gives you an indication of the power of communication, technology and science these days with how fast we’ve been able to react to this and keep going in spite of a global pandemic.

Although classes and other facets of university life stopped, “the Division of Agriculture we work for out in the field never stopped going,” he said. “Our Extension Service never closed down in one sense. Instead of working from these offices we worked from another location, whether it was from home or in the truck.

“That’s something that wouldn’t have been possible early in my career, but today with all this technology we’ve invested in we just keep on working.”

Cartwright was asked about social distancing while harvesting research plots and conducting other agricultural studies. “On a lot of our equipment, a single person does everything,” he said. “You might have someone else doing something like filling the bags, but they don’t have to be together.

“The stuff we work in these days with the technology we have, whether its educators, researchers, consultants, farmers, people who work in community development or 4-H, everyone has so many technological tools they can do their job or something related to their job. This is a different world than it was when I started in the 1970s and 1980s, and, in many ways, a better world.”

For more on Cartwright’s thoughts, watch the accompanying video.

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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