Arkansas Week: Assessment of Flood Damage, Tourism Industry Update and Agritourism with Good Roots
Second, support for Arkansas Week provided by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The Arkansas Times and KUARFM 89. Hello again everyone. Thanks very much for being with us.
It's a vital component of the Arkansas economy travel. Tourism and hospitality vacations conventions, food and beverage. It's a third of our gross state product and after suffering through the pandemic year, it is making a comeback. We'll assess that in a moment first. Arkansas agriculture damaged not so much by a virus as adverse weather in some parts of the state. Too much water has done serious damage.
Enormous damage in other fields. There's not enough water, so we begin this edition with West Ward Governor Hutchinson, Secretary of Agriculture, miss towards Mr Secretary. Thanks very much for being with us, Sir.
Great to be with you. Why the water has begun to subside in Southeast Arkansas, so you have been able to get to do an assessment of it. At least a surface assessment, no pun intended. What do you see? Yeah, so certainly a whole lot of damage and us and all of our partners are down there continuously help trying to help out as much as we can, but also getting estimates of what the damage looks like and I know as of earlier this week that the estimates were about over $200 million worth of worth of losses to the agriculture within that five county area where the flooding with the words is that reasonable to you is that that's a I think that's a good estimate and that will continue to fluctuate. That that's based on a couple of different factors, but. I think that 200,000,000 / 200,000,000 is a good good solid.
That's fixed. It's not going to go much either in either direction, depending on. I think as far as just the direct impact of the flooding, I think that's a good number.
Then you have secondary tertiary effects of that flooding that will bump that number up even more. Right then we're talking about ancillary businesses. Absolutely. Yep, so so you look at that 200,000,000.
That's that's almost just directly to the producers. And their crop losses. But then you have everyone else who's impacted the businesses in that area.
Diesel seed dealers? Absolutely, Yep, all of those factors that come into account as well the banking side of it. You're a broad range of factors, with, with agriculture being our largest industry across the state as a whole. But especially in that area, agriculture is predominant when you have a a big a big event like that over a short period of time. It it not only affects the producers, but effects everyone involved in the in the industry and.
In the area as a whole, under the state circumstance under the circumstance, what is the state's role here? And is it more federal than state? It really is more federal than state, and so so certainly you know. A couple weeks ago, right right when it was happening, we were down there while it was still raining. The governor was down there that next day, meeting with producers, and so certainly the governor will play a row and in helping to request and ask for that federal assistance. And we're in the process of doing that.
But but through the United States Department of Agriculture. That's where the disaster declaration will come from. You know we play a row and agreeing and requesting that the governor will also request that, but really more so on the federal level with USDA. And that's where our congressional members are so important, and they've all been down there. Congressman Westerman, Congressman Crawford, senator Bozeman.
Senator Cotton has had his team down there and plan to continue to be engaged in it. Which crops are taking the biggest hit, really? It's the it's the row crop industry as a whole. So in that area, you know you've got rice. Soybeans, cotton, corn. Those are probably the predominant when some wheat as well, but we was, you know.
Depending on if they were able to harvest or not by then but but those are predominantly the row crop industry. Yeah, last week in June now, So what is their time to recover? So that's what everybody's trying to figure out right now. So certainly you know there are areas where you can replant, but when you get past you know it's about June 15th. You get past that date your. Your yields continued decline every every day.
Beyond that, your yields are lower. We know that there's been some folks that had a lower amount of flooding. Water came off. They were able to get back out there and replant and have done so.
There's there's some that were underwater, and the and the the waters come off and and the the crops look like they're going to recover, so it's a it's. It's still a little bit of wait and see and looking to see what's going to happen. Where do you need water? That's yeah well and that's and that's a good point. You know, certainly we were down there earlier this week, and you know you've got and we were actually at the Cummins farm, which you got a good amount of rain there with the Department of Corrections. You know there's has has recovered from where the flooding was, but they're already need more water back. You know, back in that same area, so it's a it's a constant game.
Almost of you know water too much water. Move, get water, I get water off. It's a farmer.
Farmers deal with a lot of uncertainty, a lot of difficulties, and they. Mayweather it as best as they can. Agricultural Secretary westward. Thanks very much for being with us. Thank you for your time and come back soon. Absolutely thank you.
This month's edition of Good Roots has a foot in two pillars of Arkansas's economy, tourism, and agriculture. I'm Lauren McCullough and this is good roots. Agritourism is a field that is growing in popularity as producers tried to diversify and increase profits. Simply stated, agritourism connects agricultural production with tourism to attract visitors onto a farm or ranch or any other business for the purposes of entertaining and educating those visitors.
In this episode, we'll visit two locations here in Arkansas and find out what makes them unique and how they plan to keep visitors coming back. Our first stop, Subiaco Abbey. Monks have long been responsible for making and keeping alive some of the world's most exciting food traditions and the ones here at Subiaco are no exception. Subiaco Abbey has existed since 1878, relatively young compared to the medieval monasteries of Europe, but no less traditional. It's a Benedictine monastery, a sect known for its traditions of growing.
Cooking and eating. My name is Father Richard Walz. I am a monk of Subiaco Abbey. We have a combination between the solitary life and the active Apostolic life. We are open to the community. We have high School for Boys.
We also have a retreat center so a good number of people come here for retreats. We like to have people come here and visit. It gives them an opportunity to see what our life is like and also to give them a chance to slow down to get out of their lives and to just kind of relax a little bit. About three years ago we started brewing beer here and we sell our beer in a taproom which is located on the property.
Kind of at the edge of the farm. In the United States, all but three states have actually visited our tap room, but it's more than just our beer. People come in and they have the opportunity to buy Monk made products like woodworking or hot sauce. We've have Peterborough down there brewery has ever possibility of being something that will actually help to support the monastery.
I'm very much in favor of trying to do things that will help support us. Brother Sebastian, we are at the very first stage of brewing some beer. So what do we what is going on right now? So we're getting ready to grind the grains that we're going to use to make our amber beer. This is a caramel 100 grain, so we're going to grind it. We're going to break it apart so that when we put it in the pot to seep, it'll have an opportunity to convert the starches into sugars. It's going to be loud, isn't it? It's going to be a little bit loud.
And here we go. What we've got here now are all those grains that have been ground together and you can see how the holes have just opened up and that'll help it. Convert that to sugar a lot faster. How often do you guys brew? We try to brood three to four times a week.
Last year sales kind of help us drive that number. Everybody knows. Last year in March when Kovid really kind of hit its first peak, we decided as a monastery talking with our Abbott that it would probably be best for us to shut down the brewery for a little while, and. To kind of see what was happening in the community.
So we decided to do that and we actually stayed completely shut down until mid June and then this past weekend we opened back up so we were completely open inside seating. Being able to drink pints on the property, not just outside, and it was a really good response. So I'm out in the garden and I'm surrounded by these beautiful pepper plants right now.
It's still a little early in the season, but in just a few days these will all be full of fabulous habanero Peppers. Since 2003, the monks here have created a flaming hot sauce called moxos. Father Richard Walz is love for habanero.
Peppers began in South America and followed him to Arkansas. These are smoked and frozen from last season, right? We grow the Peppers here from seed that I brought from Belize 18 years ago. I did spend a good number of years in the country of Belize because Subiaco was trying to start a monastery. These things in vinegar tend to blow up like little balloons and so I like to just cut them in half and put them in the pot to get ready to make some monks us 'cause we want to try to make a little bit here, right? Sure all right absolutely. So we cut everything up, boil it and then and then blend it. It is a monk holding 2 bottles with three.
X is on them and fire coming out of his ears. So that makes me feel very confident, right? You want to try it on a cracker and I'm trying the smoked smoked right. I'm already crying. Oh, maybe you want more than you think. Wow. That's good, but the heat good.
I think you've got a good thing here it is. You've got a good thing here that's right. Well, I think that Arkansas is lucky and happy that you came back and brought your hobby of Peppers. I'm happy to write brought the Peppers with me. Ah. Oh, you don't necessarily need to have hundreds of acres to provide an Arkansas agricultural experience.
I'm at Urbana Farmstead, just outside of Little Rock where Margie Ramondo has created a true urban Oasis. I am Margie raimondo. I'm the chef and the farmer here at Urbana Farmstead. This farmstead has a market, a farm and a kitchen. While they're in the market we sell not only the produce that we grow here and a few other local farmers, but we also do some of the value. Add things like Cam things, pickled things, preserves, an apothecary, products equity.
Tourism is an opportunity for me to share my farm and also all the experiences around the farm. You like to literally cut herbs? Yep, for someone when they come out here, if that's what they want, it wants an herb. I'll just figure out how much they want and that will literally cut it for them when it's time. What I like about this little area is it's got a little bit of everything, so I've got the herbs I have. The person one thing the pandemic did is it brought us all back to the memories of how it used to be when we all had gardens or when your grandparents had guards or when your grandparents had chickens run around and so people wanted to get close to that life again.
That brought back memories. But what it did is it helped me shape the what I was doing here because I realized, well, geez, I've lived that life partly out of necessity as a child when we were very poor as an immigrant family and partly when I trained as a chef on farms doing preservation. And I'm like, well, here it is. This is the voice of Urbana Farmstead and the best part is it's less than an acre.
It's urban. It's very urban. It's used to be a junkyard that we converted into a farm. And I tell people all the time. You don't need 12 acres of rolling hills. You don't need that.
So here is where you put your own spin on the three sisters. That's right, tell me about that. Well, the three sisters is typically squash and then a bean and also some kind of corn.
But I decided that I was going to add sunflowers. Sunflowers are such happy plants, and so I thought, why not? The sisters are happy. Let's throw a cousin in there so, but I just love to combine things that are number one or companion plants so they help each other grow. They may nurture each other with nutrition or they may help with pest management. You have put your fingerprint.
On a lot of things out here, it's a. It's a really neat space. You have a lot of visitors year round.
Yeah, they come out here for your market, but then also to learn from you and to purchase some of your goods. It's just a big circle. You're using everything and you're not wasting anything and you're sharing it with everybody. It's all about building community. It's not just my community of plants, but it's also sharing my knowledge and my the things that I've learned along the way with other people.
Most of our families have farmed in some fashion, whether it's. Your parents or grandparents just go back. I mean, that was a way of life, right? So I'm lucky because my family in Sicily still farms.
We come from a farming family. We grow grapes and we make wine, were Rimando is a family winery in Sicily, but we also grow vegetables and fruits. Every time I go back and I try to spend about a month a year there.
Of course my family packs food and seeds, so it's great when you can preserve the seeds as a generation to generation. And then see them flourish. It's like this place is my all my little passions all in one little compound.
Arkansas agritourism comes in many shapes and forms, whether it's having a cold brew with country mocks or learning how to live a healthy and happier life, you're sure to find an Arkansas farmer to glean from for good roots. I'm Lauren McCullough. Major funding for good roots is provided by Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Farm Bureau advocating the interests of Arkansas's largest industry for more than 80 years. Arkansas counts on agriculture, agriculture counts on Farm Bureau. Good roots by any index. The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a devastating year for the tourism and hospitality industry, not just in Arkansas but perhaps especially Arkansas, which relies on business and recreational travel for an enormous share of its gross state product.
Thousands of jobs, millions in tax revenue, are involved. The situation began to improve, of course, with the arrival of coronavirus vaccines and businesses on the upswing. But there are new challenges, staff shortages, chief among them. An assessment of the tourism and hospitality business.
Now from some experts, Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism and Montine McNulty, is CEO of the Arkansas Hospitality Association. Ladies, thanks for coming in. Secretary Hurst will begin.
With you it was not a good previous 1617 months. Now it was really catastrophic for the hospitality and travel industry. I don't think there was any sector of the economy that was harder hit. We have do have collections though. Now for the 2% tourism tax that reflect a rebound and we're very excited about it.
We have March collections now and that represents a 78% increase. For that month, over 20 collections. But remarkably, it represents a 15% increase over the 19 collections, so that was pre pandemic so that month isolated just demonstrates that people are eager to travel again. The lids come off, so to speak. Teague is yes, there's a lot of pent up demand. A lot of energy, a lot of interest in traveling, and I think we see that in those March numbers OK.
And in the hospitality aspect of their leisure travel is is robust and coming back restaurants are really full and and doing great, especially on weekends. Hotels are having good success with leisure travel. What's not coming back right now is the business travel. Convention travel, but we hope that will soon start.
That is a conventions or ALOT business travel, but particularly convention aspects of it is a long term truth. 23456 year planning cycle. The how disruptive was the pandemic in to that dynamic, that aspect of it was very disruptive.
They cancelled and then they would move their dates out further again and again. But and they're seeing bookings now. But it'll be 2024 before. Maybe we see robust convention business.
Can we calculate Secretary Hurst the dollar loss to the Arkansas economy? Well, the the tourism sector represents a $7.5 billion impact to the state of Arkansas and I would say we are down or right now we're we're still down about 15% over previous year. So while March has shown.
Much improvement, we've still got a long way to go to recover the convention business particularly hard hit. And in those cities, Hot Springs, Little Rock, even Rogers, the larger cities that have convention facilities, I think they saw hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Thankfully, through the CARES Act, we were able to fund some of those convention bureaus with some of that Cares Act money to help them get through the year now, I think. We'll see some improvement and hopefully travel and convention travel, especially will return to these communities.
What what does the industry need now? Is it public confidence? Is it more government assistance? What? I think there is a need for a little more assistance and we'll have that through the American recovery plan. The American rescue plan. We are working right now on a proposal that will put before the governor to assist the travel and hospitality industry, but I think it is just confidence. It's a keeping the COVID virus at Bay. We have seen some spread in Arkansas of late and hopefully we can.
Increased vaccination rates and and tamp that back down because travelers do want to know they're safe. We're we're going to do well with the leisure travel. One of our biggest challenges is worth workforce and having enough people to serve people in the restaurants and in the hotels. That's the huge issue.
Well, the issue it has been argued by many in the industry and not just in hospitality, leisure and travel. But that the government was 22 general. Its intentions were super but that in it the extra unemployment benefits made returning to work a losing proposition financially for so many workers. End of the month there will be some changes in that and I think everyone seeing more applications now, but it's a variety of reasons why workforce is not coming back. Everything from child care to businesses, letting or wanting their employees to work from home. Now they're they're just changes in the workforce that are happening that will influence that for a while.
But we hope there will be changes. We need the workforce, but from the best of intentions, Secretary Hurst was the government too generous. Oh, I think it. It was definitely a deterrent. It made it more difficult to hire entry level workers. We saw that have seen it at our state parks facilities where we operate, lodges and basically hospitality businesses restaurants. We've posted job openings for wait staff or.
Our housekeepers and we have gotten no response at all. As Montyne mentioned, understanding that that is about to change. We have seen some improvement in that and we have seen more applications so I think it is a combination of factors. It is that the federal assistance, but it's also increased wages from Amazon from the large retailers have increased their wages and I think hospitality outlets even like state parks are going to have to get more creative. The economy, of course, is constantly shape shifting more so with every passing year, but.
Do concert well. Is the industry resigned to having to pay more or to do more to attract qualified help? A&B. Should consumers be prepared to expect the the natural result of that food prices have gone up and you'll see increases our menus because of that, but also. But employers are giving incentives to get employees in there.
You know we have the highest minimum wage of all the surrounding states, so we're at a higher wage anyway. But I think that there's there's some wage increases coming along with this and incentives to bring other people back and price increases to consumer price increases. It's going. It's going to happen gasolines.
Going up through costs have gone up tremendously. Beef prices, so you're going to see that on the menus. And in the in the hotel industry there they can't turn over the rooms, and that's a that's a hard thing, even if they've got a great group leisure travel coming in, they've got to turn rooms and get those rooms cleaned, and that's an issue.
Gasoline prices secretary hers going up anyway to quantify or to project how that could impact this summer's tour is, well, we haven't seen an impact yet at our state parks facilities. We have seen robust visitation and I haven't heard of. Depression and leisure travel business due to gas prices. Yet I anticipate that this summer will continue to be strong for us.
We saw we have seen since March. Many travelers coming from our abutting states were an easy state to drive to and people are still eager far access to the outdoors and the amenities that we offer in Arkansas, including our beautiful lakes and our wonderful hiking facilities. We've got a lot of great product, so I anticipate we'll have a really strong summer.
We've got about a minute remaining and the administration just announced a new outdoor initiative just a few days ago. Well I do. I'm very excited. There's been a lot of great buzz about it since the governor made the announcement yesterday and he has announced the creation of an office of Outdoor recreation for the state of Arkansas. So we will join 16 other States and have an office within government that is devoted to building collaborations and growing the outdoor recreation industry in the state. This is kind of a cross pollination if you want to put it that way or cross plug cross endorsement it is.
I mean we will. Yes we will. Work with other states on great ideas that they're doing will also work within the various levels of government with nonprofit organizations. Really any stakeholder that is interested in growing the outdoor recreation industry, we are looking also to increase entrepreneurship within the outdoor industry. We think we have a great opportunity to do that here in Arkansas.
Secretary Hurst, Montine McNulty, the hospitality association thanks to both of you for coming in. Thank you. Thanks as always to you for watching. See you next week. Second, support for Arkansas Week provided by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The Arkansas Times and KAR FM 89.