Barge on the Mississippi River in Memphis, TN

Memphis is known for the blues, but the greens are a huge sector of the region’s economy.

In this longtime Mississippi River cotton town, agribusiness is a powerhouse. Area farmers still grow cotton, along with soybeans and corn, but high-tech research and farming methods have transformed Memphis into a hub of cutting-edge diversity that includes hardwoods, chemicals, meats, paper products and biofuels, as well as producers of packaged foods. (Related: Northwest Tennessee to open Port of Cates Landing.)

Agricenter in the City

Agricenter International, located in a park in the midst of Memphis, is one major catalyst. The non-profit industry organization started in the 1970s aiming to perfect hydroponics and grow lettuce without soil. That generation of farmers and research companies would likely not even recognize the place – or nearby farms – today, says John Charles Wilson, president of Agricenter International.

Today, more than 10,000 test plots and 30 companies are located on site, including Bayer CropScience, Case IH Agriculture and Helena Chemical Company. These companies utilize the facility to develop and showcase both the latest equipment and newest growing methods.

Tractors operated by sophisticated global positioning systems are used on the test plots, with a “driver” monitoring the onboard computer. More and more companies, many in residence at the Agricenter, are investing in research, from bioenergy production to new seed technology and plant species. Big industry names are working on everything from improved farm chemicals to growing rice with irrigation rather than field flooding. The Agricenter is also installing a solar farm.

Other Memphis Agribusinesses

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Informa Economics, a global agribusiness analysis firm, is based in Memphis. BioDimensions is based here, too. It is a global agribusiness development and consulting firm that works with farmers, seed companies, processors, manufacturers, university researchers, nonprofits and economic development agencies. The city is home to three of the world’s largest cotton dealers.

With the port and a FedEx headquarters, Memphis also has geography in its corner, allowing easy movement of raw product, processed goods and agribusiness equipment.

“Memphis has a lot of diverse businesses, with big companies, regional companies and also agricultural farm producers in this county. We have some very strong producers here. Everything is combining, and small producers are finding a niche to stay in the market,” Wilson says.

“We can ship to any place in the world. They produce food in India and Africa and Costa Rica, and we can move technology from Memphis to other parts of the world.

“We are going to continue to be important in the ag industry,” he says.

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