65th Rural Life Conference, March 15, to Feature Distinguished Speakers


The 65th Annual Rural Life Conference will feature distinguished speakers. The conference is set for Friday, March 15, at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s (UAPB) Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Complex, 1204 L.A. “Prexy” Davis Drive.

Jason Brown – Owner of First Fruits Farms

Jason Brown will deliver the S.A. Haley Memorial Lecture. After graduating from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill while on an athletic scholarship, in 2005, he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.

As a free agent in 2009, Brown signed a five-year contract with the St. Louis Rams. He served three years and was released from contract in March 2012. With several lucrative offers on the table from the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers, Brown decided instead to take a leap of faith and part ways with the NFL.

After his departure from the NFL, Jason moved back to North Carolina and purchased a 1,000-acre farm in Louisburg. First Fruits Farms has hosted several community events and collaborated with many faith and service organizations. It has also yielded over 1 million pounds of produce, which was distributed to food pantries and churches throughout the Research Triangle Region.

Louis E. James – President and CEO of MCL JASCO

Louis E. James will be the luncheon speaker. He is the CEO of MCL JASCO, Inc., a supply chain management and logistics company that at one time only served the automotive industry. Today, comprised of five sister companies, MCL JASCO, Inc. is a 100% minority- and disabled veteran-owned integrated enterprise. It spans beyond the operation and management of supply chain, focusing on the automotive, energy and government industries.

Working extensively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, James has combined decades of experience with that of his expert project teams to focus on the agricultural needs of historically disadvantaged and underserved communities. His emphasis is on local municipalities, farmers and private landowners. James’ government-related efforts provide extensive services in compliance, construction, engineering, technical assistance and outreach. His company serves as a government contracted leader in conservation and restoration activities, employing its mission to educate, conserve, enhance and restore the natural habitat in territories throughout the U.S.

Dr. Homer Wilkes – Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment

Dr. Homer Wilkes will speak about the role and importance of agriculture. A native of Port Gibson, Mississippi, he currently serves as under secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment and oversees the work of the U.S. Forest Service.

He previously served as director for the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Team and was responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. He has also served as the acting associate chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Wilkes’ tenure with the USDA spans over 41 years. During this time, he has served in roles such as state conservationist and deputy state conservationist for the state of Mississippi and chief financial officer for the NRCS in Washington, D.C.

P.J. Haynie – Owner of Haynie Farms, LLC

P.J. Haynie will be giving a dedication during the conference luncheon. After graduating from Virginia Tech, he chose to pursue his childhood dream and continue his family’s tradition of farming. A fifth-generation farmer, he currently owns and operates Haynie Farms, LLC, a grain farming business, which produces rice, corn, wheat, soybeans and canola throughout all four counties of the northern neck of Virginia. Haynie is co-owner of Arkansas River Rice, the only Black owned rice mill in the U.S. He also serves as chairman of the National Black Grower’s Council.

Haynie was featured in the documentary “Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land,” produced by Al Roker. The documentary discusses Black land loss resulting from heirs’ property laws. Haynie is a life-long advocate for increased awareness about the importance of diversity in the agricultural industry. The film will be screened a day before the conference, Thursday, March 14, at 4:45 p.m. in the S.J. Parker 1890 Extension Complex auditorium located at 2300 L.A. “Prexy” Davis Drive.

Conference Details

Sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, the Rural Life Conference will feature several workshops, a poster session highlighting research projects and exhibits by governmental and community agencies. This year’s conference theme is “Legacy Opportunities for Community Service and Outreach – Connecting, Collaboration and Commitment.”

The conference begins with registration at 7:30 a.m. and the opening session at 8:30 a.m. The program concludes at 4 p.m. Breakfast and lunch will be provided, and door prizes will be awarded.

Those who are not able to attend the conference in-person can take part in some of the planned activities virtually. The workshop sessions will be available via the Zoom video-conferencing platform.

The conference is free to producers, students, veterans, homemakers and retirees. For registration rates for professionals and agency personnel, contact Karen Lee at (870) 575-7225 or [email protected]. Professionals and agency personnel can register and pay for their entry via credit card by contacting the the UAPB Cashier’s Office at (870) 575-8279.

Early registration is strongly recommended for accurate breakfast and lunch counts. To preregister, contact Tamera Ford at (870) 575-8806 or [email protected]. The registration form for the conference is also accessible online. Email [email protected] to have the link to the form sent to you. Alternatively, you can use the following link to register: https://shop.uapb.edu/.