Growing the Regional Agriculture and Food Innovation System of the Mid-South Delta Region
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4 October 2017

Late last year, Karen Karp & Partners was retained by the Memphis-based AgLaunch to develop an innovation strategy to grow the regional agriculture system of the Mid-South Delta Region. Consisting of 98 counties in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee, the Mid-South Delta is home to remarkable assets that support a multi-billion-dollar agriculture and food economy. AgLaunch attracts and grows ag-tech startups, creates value-chain companies, and builds collaborative farmer networks in the Mid-South Delta, with an intentional commitment to inclusion. AgLaunch is supported by a steering committee of farmers, businesses, investors, and nonprofit organizations all focused on changing the region through agriculture.

Ariel view of Mid-South Mississippi Delta Region
Ariel view of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers

While historically robust with many natural resources and critical infrastructure in place, the agriculture industry in the Mid-South Delta nevertheless faces a crisis brought on by falling commodity prices, increasing global production, a lack of crop diversity, and a system that is generally designed to export unprocessed commodities rather than capture value within the region itself. The desire to create a new agriculture economy was instigated by a motivation to not just head off this crisis but to also envision and create a new, healthy, durable strategy for the future of the region that is diverse and inclusive. To accomplish this, KK&P, in partnership with Mass Economics, have just completed Phase One, which involved extensive research to understand the unique dynamics across the region, and the barriers standing in the way of progress and growth.

Specifically, we: 

  • Conducted more than 50 interviews with regional stakeholders and innovators
  • Amassed and analyzed extensive agriculture, economic, demographic, and industry data
  • Developed a bespoke analysis that builds a picture of current conditions
  • Benchmarked the Mid-South Delta to other regions across the US to understand performance and opportunities
President Karen Karp on site at the AgriCenter in Memphis

Phase One resulted in an innovation road map, a comprehensive report, an innovation framework, maps public presentations and fundraising tools that AgLaunch and its partners are now using to build momentum to progress into Phase Two. To that end, the project team was just invited to submit a full proposal to FFAR (Foundation for Food and Agriculture) for up to $1 million through their new Tipping Points program. If awarded, these resources will allow for deeper quantitative analysis of entry points that will help shift the agriculture sector to meet the needs of the future as well as identify and launch pilot projects that align with our innovation platform recommendations.

According to President Karen Karp, We are ultimately looking to deliver a strategic plan for agriculture and food that is respectful of the bounty of the region’s natural resources, honors the region’s culture, and seeks ways for it to flourish. Our idea of innovation improves livelihoods, values ecosystem services, and identifies areas for agriculture sector growth that includes but is not exclusive of high tech, attracts corporate investment, and advances a food-focused approach to agriculture.”

“Karen and her team have helped deliver a sophisticated approach to moving a multi-billion dollar local agriculture economy into being a truly food and agriculture-centered economy. Their recommendations are helping lay the groundwork for the AgLaunch initiative which is catalyzing positive change in our region.” – Pete Nelson, President and CEO, AgLaunch.