Arkansas Grown 2023 Edition

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A Guide to the State's Farms, Food, & Forestry 2023 | SPONSORED BY THE ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE Aww, Shucks! Corn’s Comeback to Arkansas Agriculture The Napa Valley of Sake Arkansas Brewery Leads Rediscovery of Sake in America

Building Strong Relationships Through Food

We build strong relationships through food. Making nutritious, high-quality food helps bring families together around the dinner table. Nourishing and delighting the pets we love with complete and balanced pet food.

It’s our purpose at Simmons. It’s why we do what we do. We believe good relationships are good business. Today. And every day.

The College of Agriculture (CoA) at Arkansas State University is actively implementing a new strategic plan. To achieve our goals, we are building on the investments made in faculty, staff, private gifts, grants, etc. and to be the leading CoA in the Mid-South. Our college is moving forward with added collaborative research efforts, hands-on and entrepreneurial activities to a world-class experience. To achieve our strategic goals, we have launched funding initiatives such as Invigorating the Judd Hill Farmers’ Market, Agriculture Academy, accelerating engagement,

activities at university farms, entrepreneurial activities and advanced trading techniques) that align with our new strategic plan.

I invite you to be part of this exciting time! There are opportunities for everyone from individuals to corporations to be part of our future. To discover how to be involved, please contact us using the email, phone number or website below.

Mickey A. Latour Dean, College of Agriculture

To learn more about the College of Agriculture visit
Every Generation Everyone in Agriculture Every Arkansan
to Serve.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Discovering Agriculture in Arkansas Boutique Grocery Stores Sweet Potato Spirits A Summer Tradition Continuing a Legacy Arkansas Cotton Spotlight State Farm to School: More Peas Please! The Legacy of Arkansas Rice Field Invaders Protecting Agriculture One Test at a Time Sharing the Land Grant Mission Poison Springs State Forest Digitizing the Farm Guenther Apiary Teamwork Makes the Dream Work Abandoned Pesticides Program The Miracle Bean The Mental Health Epidemic in Agriculture T he Natural State's Voice In D.C. 10 18 22 26 30 38 46 52 56 62 70 78 82 86 88 92 96 98 102 106 Local Farmers, Local Food Northwest Arkansas Organizations Join to Help Small Farmers 34 Good Neighbors Ensuring the Protection of Water Sources Across State Lines 14 42 Aww, Shucks! Corn’s Comeback to Arkansas Agriculture A Family Affair McGarrah Farms Continues Centuries-Old Family Legacy 74 The Napa Valley of Sake Arkansas Brewery Leads the Rediscovery of Sake in America 66 94 One STOP Shop Forestry Division Program Provides Shade and Education One Tree at a Time
Photo by Sarah Cato taken at Brantley Farming Company in England, Arkansas.

A guide to the state's farms, food, & forestry

Arkansas Grown is published and distributed annually by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. For questions or advertising information, please call Amy Lyman at (501) 410-4616 or email

WRITERS: Ayden Massey, Chris Colclasure, Cynthia Edwards, Erica Benoit, Karen Reynolds, Paul Seminara, Sarah Cato, Department; Becky Barnes Campbell, Arkansas Rice Federation; Carson Horn, The Communications Group; Holly Duval, The Poultry Federation

PHOTOGRAPHERS: Ayden Massey, Chandler Barton, Erica Benoit, Karen Reynolds, Lane Hancock, Paul Shell, Sarah Cato, Department; Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board; Arkansas Rice Federation; Brad Mayhugh, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Randall Lee; The Poultry Federation; Ashley Wallace, Arkansas Farm Bureau; Andrew Vogler; Lindsey Holtzclaw, Farm Credit of Western Arkansas

2251598. All rights reserved. No portion of this magazine may be reproduced in whole or in part without written consent. No state appropriated funds were used in the publishing of this magazine. ARKANSAS GROWN 3

rkansas 4-H helps youth grow and reach their full potential. We give them the skills to be our next generation of leaders. We are proudly Arkansas Grown for over 100 years.

rkansas 4-H helps youth grow and reach their full potential. We give them the skills to be our next generation of leaders. We are proudly Arkansas Grown for over 100 years.

Learn more: Donate:

Learn more: Donate:

A Message from the Governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders

I love Arkansas and have a deep appreciation for how important agriculture is to our economy and way of life.

Over the last two years, I have traveled across our state, visiting with hardworking Arkansans. You cannot go anywhere without seeing the impact of our agriculture industry and the people who make the industry so successful. I am proud that agriculture is our state’s largest industry, the backbone of our economy, and I intend on maintaining our leadership globally.

Agriculture contributes over $19 billion to our state’s economy each year and we are blessed with a broad range of agricultural production that includes livestock, poultry, aquaculture, row crops, specialty crops, and forestry. We continue to be the nation’s largest producer of rice, a leader in poultry and forestry, and we rank in the top 25 each year in over 16 different agricultural commodities. You name it and Arkansas does it and we do it well.

Although agriculture’s economic contributions are impressive, the dollar signs don’t tell the whole story. Arkansas agriculture is rich with history of family traditions, courage, and hard work. Our farm families across the state have spent centuries cultivating our state’s land and protecting our natural resources, all while providing the food, fiber, fuel, shelter, and forest products that we all depend on every single day, not only here at home but across the globe.

Key to our continued leadership is the work of our Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward, which is why I reappointed him to the same role in my administration. Secretary Ward has served admirably in this capacity for the last seven years while also wearing our nation’s uniform in the United States Marine Corps.

As governor, I am committed to keeping Arkansas agriculture strong and dynamic. I look forward to working with producers, agri-businesses, and other industry partners to build upon the industry’s successes and address challenges while keeping our time-honored traditions and way of life that makes Arkansas such a great place to work and call home.


Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders State of Arkansas

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Arkansas Grown!

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s goal with each annual edition is to honor the hard work and dedication of the 42,000 Arkansas farm families and the many related businesses that make agriculture the largest industry in Arkansas.

Arkansas’s agriculture industry is broad, diverse, and strong. Our agricultural production includes livestock, poultry, aquaculture, row crops, specialty crops, and forestry. It touches every corner of our state and impacts the lives of every citizen, every day. As our largest industry, agriculture contributes more than $19 billion to the state’s economy annually and provides one of every seven jobs. Arkansas consistently ranks in the top 25 in the nation in the production of more than 16 different agricultural commodities.

Resiliency and innovation are bedrock traits of Arkansas agriculture. We are proud to have many Arkansans serving as leaders at the local, state, and national level that are at the forefront of identifying and addressing challenges and adopting innovative strategies that move our industry and our state forward. This edition of Arkansas Grown highlights achievements, attributes, and individuals that make our state and our agriculture industry great.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve Arkansas agriculture, an industry that never stops providing the food, fiber, fuel, and shelter that we all depend on every single day. You have my assurance that the Arkansas Department of Agriculture is committed to being the strong and effective resource and partner that our agricultural producers, businesses, and rural communities deserve and expect.



The Poultry

The purpose of The Poultry Federation is to promote and protect all poultry interests relating to production, distribution, merchandising and consumption of poultry and poultry products; to disseminate information relating to the various phases of the poultry industry in order to improve and expand markets; to increase efficiency in production and marketing; to encourage and support research in production and marketing of poultry; and to encourage and support youth programs in poultry work.

Learn more about us at

Federation (TPF) is a multi-state trade organization representing the poultry and egg industry in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.


Arkansas Grown

Arkansas Grown™, administered through the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, helps promote the many agricultural products that are grown here in Arkansas. The program helps connect the growing number of consumers, who want to know where their food originates, with local producers.

Arkansas Made

Arkansas Made™, another Department program, promotes goods and products manufactured in our state by businesses and connects them to potential buyers. Since 2014, Arkansas Made has encouraged the purchase of locally made products by creating a community of suppliers and buyers that call the Natural State home.

Homegrown By Heroes

When consumers search for an Arkansas Grown™ or Arkansas Made™ item and see a Homegrown By Heroes logo, they know the item was produced in Arkansas by an Arkansas veteran. In 2015, the Department adopted the national Homegrown By Heroes branding program that enables farmer veterans to market their agricultural products by labeling them as veteran-produced.

more at

Discovering Agriculture in Arkansas

Opening the Door for Future Agriculturalists

The importance of a comprehensive, hands-on approach to agricultural education is crucial to the future of the industry. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) AgDiscovery Program offers just that to high school students across the country.

This outreach program is a free summer program that provides teenagers the opportunity to live and learn on college campuses across the country. The program exists to allow high school students to explore careers and introduce them to the multi-faceted agricultural workforce.

The program is funded by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and was first established in 2008. In 2022, 21 colleges and universities participated in the program, including the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).

Each school has varied areas of focus consisting of agricultural business, animal sciences, or a combination of the two. Like the diversity in the agriculture industry in Arkansas, the program at UAPB offers a wide range of disciplines including regulatory science, environmental biology, industrial health and safety, plant science, animal science, aquaculture, and human services.

UAPB hosted 20 students on its campus for two weeks in the summer of 2022. These students applied for

the program and were accepted based on their interest in agriculture and recommendations from their high school teachers and counselors. Undergraduate students studying agriculture at UAPB served as camp counselors for the program. The program benefits both the applicants, who are gaining a basic understanding of the industry, and the undergraduate counselors preparing for life after graduation.

The program aims to give unique opportunities to students with an interest in agriculture sciences to gain a deeper understanding of a vast and changing industry.

“It is important for us to show the students that agriculture is more than what they thought, and you can relate it to everything,” said Dr. Christopher Mathis Jr., AgDiscovery Program director.

Dr. Mathis works closely alongside Dameion White, camp director, to ensure that students enrolled in the program are making the most of their two weeks in Arkansas. While agricultural education is the focal point, White and Dr. Mathis incorporate activities and field trips across the state to highlight the opportunities available in the industry. One day students are learning from the staff at UAPB in a lab, the next they are touring the Little Rock Airforce Base to learn about the importance of wildlife management near airports. The students took a trip to a waterpark, to relax, of course, but

“It is important for us to show the students that agriculture is more than what they thought...”

they also learned about water regulation in cities, bringing the excursion full circle.

“Everything comes back to agriculture,” said Dr. Mathis. “That’s the part we are teaching through this program. Things you never thought would relate to agriculture, relate to agriculture.”

Additionally, the group toured farms around Arkansas that range in production from fish farms to operations incorporating climate-smart technology. A trip to the Arkansas State Capitol showed the students that agriculture is the largest industry in the state with the highest gross domestic product (GDP).

At the end of each day, students came together in teams to summarize their experiences and share photos to create their AgDiscovery journal. The journal acts as a form of team building, but also as a tool that allows the students to reflect on the invaluable learning that took place. Dr. Mathis said the journaling allows students to solidify their interests in agriculture through these experiences.

Blake LaPean, a junior from Garner, Kansas and an AgDiscovery participant, found the program while doing research for summer programs related to agriculture.

“I love agriculture, so AgDiscovery seemed like an ideal fit,” said LaPean. “I saw I had the option to attend in Kansas, but I chose to come to Pine Bluff to learn and experience something new and different. I wanted to get a feel for what people do in Arkansas since it is in the heart of agriculture.”

Over the next decade, agricultural employment opportunities are projected at over 140,000 openings each year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, these openings are expected because of the need to replace workers who are changing occupations or retiring. While this may seem like a daunting statistic, programs like the USDA AgDiscovery Program are opening the door for a new generation of agriculturalists.

“Everything comes back to agriculture...”

Local Farmers, Local Food

Northwest Arkansas Organizations Join to Help Small Farmers

“Our farmers need help, and we have an idea” was the statement made in yet another Zoom meeting.

After several more meetings, countless emails, and a few random “got-a-minute?” phone calls, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture (Department) and the Walton Family Foundation announced the Arkansas Grown Grant for Northwest Arkansas Farmers pilot program. Administered by the Arkansas Grown program within the Department, the pilot program awarded grants of up to $15,000 to 25 farms in the four counties of Benton, Carroll, Madison, and Washington to increase capacity to sell fruit and vegetables wholesale.

Grant requests for the pilot program were as diverse as the farms themselves and addressed needs for irrigation, tractors, coolers, wash stations, caterpillar tunnels, and electricity. Applicants were offered guidance and assistance with the application process through the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center in Fayetteville.

The Arkansas Grown Grant for Northwest Arkansas Farmers pilot program is one of several programs funded by the Walton Family Foundation as part of the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems Initiative. One of the primary objectives of the initiative is to build capacity and provide access to more locally grown food on Northwest Arkansas tables, with an intention of serving as a national model. Starting in a smaller region enables the program to address

unforeseen issues and maximize successes before sharing lessons learned with a larger audience.

The other entities within the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems Initiative are the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food (CAFF), NWA Farmlink, Northwest Arkansas Specialty Crop Soil Health Program, and the Market Center of the Ozarks. These entities offer education and assistance to improve the many layers in the agriculture business.

CAFF offers a farm school for individuals passionate about growing food and making a difference in their communities. These students are in various stages of experience, some moving from corporate careers or the military to start a new career in agriculture. Graduates of the farm school can take advantage of another step offered by CAFF, the apprenticeship program. The program matches apprentices with mentor farms specializing in their area of interest and provides hands-on experience they can incorporate into their own farming operation. In addition, CAFF partners with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service to offer continuing education for farmers interested in learning more about growing specialty crops.

NWA FarmLink, supported by the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, connects farmers with landowners who are in search of new opportunities for their land. FarmLink offers access to local support, guidance, resources, and tools for farmers

“Our farmers need help...”

navigating their journey to a life in farming. The Northwest Arkansas Specialty Crop Soil Health Program, led by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, is working to better understand sustainable soil health management strategies and provides education and training to improve the health of the soil, leading to more efficient specialty crop production.

And bringing it all together is the Market Center of the Ozarks, a space for local farmers and food entrepreneurs to thrive. The Market Center is a $31 million, 45,000-square-foot facility under construction in downtown Springdale that will provide a food hub for aggregation, distribution, and processing, cold and dry storage, commercial kitchen space for farmers and food entrepreneurs, and spaces for farmers and food entrepreneurs to network, conduct business, and learn. The facility will include equipment for value-added processing where farmers can extend their harvest with fresh cut, thermal-processing, and freezing options. Commercial kitchen spaces and coworking spaces will be available along with technical assistance and culinary education for entrepreneurs in the food business. The central location will enable farmers from around the region to connect with buyers. Located along the Razorback Regional Greenway and near The Jones Center, the Market Center of the Ozarks will provide a community hub for all to gather.

By coming together through the Northwest Arkansas Food Systems Initiative, these organizations are providing resources to farmers and increasing access to locally grown food for members of the community.


About the Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a familyled foundation. Three generations of the descendants of the founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. They work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in their home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. To learn more, visit and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Boutique Grocery Stores

The Revival of the Corner

Demand for local food has a long history in Arkansas and increased significantly during the COVID- 19 pandemic. Supply chain disruptions drove many consumers to visit their local farmers markets looking for items they could not find at commercial grocery stores. This introduced new customers to the benefits of buying fresh food from local farmers and convinced many to change their buying habits and return to these markets regularly.

Traditional farm stands and community farmers markets are tried-andtrue venues where customers find farmfresh food. But Arkansas has seen an increase in permanent, brick-and-mortar markets selling locally grown food that are open multiple days a week – much like the corner grocery stores of long ago. Many of these markets are family-owned and operated, where generations work together and inspire the next generation of children who can sometimes be seen playing nearby.

These “boutique grocery stores” offer an unrivaled customer experience. They specialize in personal attention and enhance the experience with options such as food trucks, local musicians, farm-to-table dinners, workshops, goat yoga, and products created by local artisans. These unique markets share a festive atmosphere where neighbors can gather, visit, and relax.

“We offer a community space where folks will be able to participate in festivals, workshops, and classes from yoga to canning to home beer making,” said David Rice of The Bramble Market in West Little Rock. “Beyond a great


selection of local, naturally raised and produced foods and goods, we are convenient for the nearby communities, often sparing folks the chaos of a supermarket.”

In Conway, Kim and Zack McCannon launched a fundraiser to build a year-round farm stand, Bell Urban Farm, right before the pandemic hit.

“Right after we launched our fundraiser, the pandemic hit. We were concerned it was going to harm our fundraising, but actually, it did just the opposite,” said McCannon. “People were at home and began to question the supply chain. They realized they could find products from local farmers that were hard to find at big box stores because of the supply chain disruption. The community rallied around us and continues to support our efforts to source items from local farmers that are found in traditional grocery stores.”

Holland Bottom Farms in Cabot has been a local treasure since 1982. Starting as a U-pick farm, the outdoor produce stand has recently been replaced with a new state-of-the-art facility where the produce harvested from the farm is cleaned, packaged, and placed straight into the store coolers for customers to buy. They offer baked goods made onsite featuring fruits from the farm and are well-known for their scrumptious strawberry shortcake. The Nurserie Farm & Garden Market in Southwest Little Rock is a working aquaponics urban farm as well as a garden center and market that sources from local farmers. This new market quickly made an impact in the community and was named a 2022 Sustain the Rock award winner.

“...a great selection of local, naturally raised and produced foods and goods...”

Each market has its own unique personality, showcasing the local flavor of its community. In the Park Hill area of North Little Rock, the Filling Station is a vintage gas station converted into a farmers market and food truck court. They support the local community with a place where everyone can gather with friends, family, and pets. The fun and funky vibe serves as a colorful experience where shoppers can “Eat. Shop. Chill.” The Grange at Wilson Gardens in the enchanting Eastern Arkansas town of Wilson offers a marketplace where shoppers can find flowers and produce grown on-site, join a garden club, and attend events and art exhibits.

The Eureka Market in Eureka Springs nurtures a highly energetic, enthusiastic atmosphere where “Your Neighborhood Natural Food Store” is not just a slogan, but their approach to business. The Farm Stand at St. Joseph Center of Arkansas is on the National Register of Historic Places and was once an orphanage. St. Joseph Center, a Century Farm established in 1907, is surrounded by 63 acres just minutes from downtown North Little Rock. The tranquil and peaceful farm is a respite for local artists, urban gardeners, families, and guests who enjoy the community gardens, goat yoga, workshops, and events in addition to the fresh, locally grown food. The personal attention these markets provide focuses on customer well-being. Offering healthy and nutritious products is a priority for Me & McGee Market in North Little Rock, a popular family-owned spot that started as a side-of-the-road pecan stand. Logan Duvall and his family at Me & McGee Market in North Little Rock exemplify the famous quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”

“Our priority is for customers to have a good experience,” said Duvall. “We want people to come out here and just take a breath and forget how crazy life can be.”

Find a market near you at


Arkansas Farmers Market Week 2022 Proclamation Presentation

National Farmers Market Week is held in August of each year. Traditionally, Arkansas coordinated at the state level with the national campaign. In 2022 , the Arkansas Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Farmers Market Association decided to break from this routine and establish Arkansas Farmers Market Week at a time of year more suitable for our state’s farmers and markets.

Arkansas Farmers Market Week 2022 launched the new campaign the week of June 12 - 18 with Governor Asa Hutchinson’s proclamation delivered by Secretary Wes Ward at a celebration hosted by St. Joseph Center of Arkansas. Secretary Ward presented the proclamation to Jeremy Adams, executive director of the Arkansas Farmers Market Association, as farmers and market managers looked on.

“Agriculture is so incredibly important in the state of Arkansas,” Ward said. “It’s the state’s largest industry, with over $19 billion in economic impact every year. It’s certainly an honor for us and for the Department to represent Governor Hutchinson and declare Farmers Market Week in the state of Arkansas.”

There are more than 112 farmers markets in almost all of the state’s 75 counties.


Delta Dirt Distillery Puts a Twist on Vodka Sweet Potato Spirits

A rare combination of innovation, courage, perseverance, resilience, and old-school hard work is a Williams family legacy.

Four generations of Williams have farmed in the Arkansas Delta near Helena. Papa Joe Williams created the legacy as a sharecropper on the 86-acre farm, followed by his son, ‘Daddy D,’ who made the challenging leap to landowner in 1949. In a daring move of innovation and courage, Daddy D sold his cotton to an independent ginner, risky in those years following the massacre in nearby Elaine, and started a side business making moonshine just long enough to save the money needed to buy the farm.

The farm has remained in the family, but the direction of the operation has changed due to the drought of the 1980s. At a time when many farmers had to get out of the business, Harvey Williams Sr. turned to innovation. Instead of planting the cotton, soybeans, and wheat his family had traditionally grown, he grew vegetables, including sweet potatoes - a lot of sweet potatoes.

Harvey Sr. was the first black farmer in Arkansas to receive certification for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

"My first USDA GAP inspection was with Mr. Williams, and I started with the program in the beginning,” said David Fort, inspection service manager at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industries Division. “Mr. Williams had a good understanding of the requirements and passed his audit on the first try, which is difficult. I know he worked hard and had the vision to market

his sweet potatoes at the Produce Marketing Association show in California several years ago, expanding his market to global buyers.”

The Williams brothers, Harvey Jr., Andre, and Kennard, are an integral part of the operation, with Andre and Kennard farming the same land their grandfather bought in 1949. Harvey Jr. founded Delta Dirt Distillery, a unique operation that uses sweet potatoes and corn from the farm to make award-winning spirits, including the 86-proof Sweet Blend Vodka that represents the 86-acre farm where it all began.

Harvey Jr. graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in agricultural engineering and launched a career in food manufacturing with heavy hitters such as Cargill, Sara Lee, and Tyson. Harvey married his high school sweetheart, Donna, also a graduate of the University of Arkansas and a co-founder of the distillery.

The family legacy of innovation and hard work continues with the newest generation - TaHara, Donovan, and Thomas. TaHara has served in the Navy for over a decade, Donovan brings international experience, and Thomas has rerouted his journey to medical school to become a master distiller. Thomas incorporates the chemistry he learned in pre-med classes to create the spirits that have earned a long list of awards, including the Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition with 5,000 entrants, the largest spirits competition in the world.

Earning such impressive recognition has been a “pleasant surprise” for this young company, according to Donna Williams.

“We didn’t think we had a story, but it turns out, we do.”

“We had no family recipe like many of the competitors, no long-time history in the business, and we are not big drinkers. It is completely opposite of our boring lives to open a bar and to make spirits,” said Williams. “We didn’t think we had a story, but it turns out, we do. Just not the traditional story.”

Resilience is a distinct trait in the Williams family and one they inspire in others. “Raising Spirits in the Delta” is their family mission with a subtle nod to the bottled spirits they create, raising the spirits of those who consume them, and lifting the spirits of Delta residents by investing in the community. One of the only black-owned farm to bottle distilleries in the United States, Delta Dirt Distillery proudly supports reverse migration, job creation, increased tourism, new business interests, and historic building restoration demonstrated by their distillery and tasting room.

The distillery’s location was an easy decision to make for the Williams family. Harvey and Donna grew up in neighboring communities and remembered Cherry Street in Helena as a busy shopping district. They started their search there and discovered an abandoned building on the National Register of Historic Places in need of renovation. The Williams family's perseverance and work ethic paid off, as it has for decades, with much of the renovation being completed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the land that Papa Joe Williams farmed nearly a century ago has been passed down through the family, perhaps the most valuable legacy is the example set by generations before of innovation, courage, perseverance, resilience, and old-school hard work. From the first leap of courage to purchase the land in 1949 with the proceeds from a short-lived moonshine business to founding a first-of-its-kind distillery that uses crops from the farm, the Williams legacy is apparent.


Showcasing Arkansas

With products as diverse as the geography of the state, Arkansas offers a delightful collection of unique food and beverage choices. Arkansas Grown and Arkansas Made represent this wide range of dedicated farmers and producers who put their heart into every product they sell.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture invited Arkansas Grown and Arkansas Made members to participate in the Department’s booth at the National Restaurant Association Show at Chicago’s McCormick Place, May 21-24 . Eight Arkansas Made members took advantage of this exciting opportunity to participate in ‘The Show’, the largest of its kind in North America with more than 65,000 attendees over the course of four days. Attendees sampled Arkansas Made products in dishes prepared during cooking demonstrations performed by renowned chefs.

The Department’s booth was sponsored by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture in the American Food Fair pavilion. The Department collected information for possible sales leads for each company represented.

Arkansas Grown and Arkansas Made companies represented at the American Food Fair

included: ● Coy’s Southern Eats ● Delta Dirt Distillery ● Diamond Bear Beer ● Dogwood Hills Guest Farm/ Dew Line Dairy ● Garden Girl Farm ● Kyya Chocolate ● Ralston Family Farms ● Serenity Farm Bread

A Summer Tradition

The Poultry Federation Continues Support for Arkansas 4-H

The Poultry Federation (Federation) is on a mission to support youth programs across the state. Every summer the Federation hosts the annual poultry festival, a tradition that spans more than six decades. The festival takes place over two days and is an event that brings together upwards of 5,000 industry partners, families, and friends. Festival events include a golf tournament, trap shoot, bass tournament, women in poultry brunch, barbecue cooking competition, a concert, and the state 4-H cooking competition.

For over 20 years the Federation has hosted the state 4-H cooking competition to support Arkansas 4-H. This opportunity gives 4-H students exposure to the poultry industry in Arkansas and the chance to network with leadership. The Arkansas 4-H State Champion Broiler and Turkey Competition is organized by Scharidi Barber with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. Barber has worked hard to ensure the Arkansas 4-H youth are given the opportunity to participate in the annual competition. Barber has a deep passion to inspire future leaders fueled by her own experiences growing up in the industry.

To be eligible to participate in the state 4-H cooking competition, students compete at the county level. Only 16 students are part of the state 4-H cooking competition. Students have the choice to cook turkey or chicken and are judged on a specific set of criteria. Awards are given to first, second,

and third place participants. The State Champion Broiler and State Champion Turkey award winners then go on to compete at the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference in Louisville, Kentucky in November. Other 4-H contestants at the conference will compete in poultry judging, egg preparation, and the Avian Bowl. The poultry judging contest teaches participants to make decisions in an orderly manner, use reasoning skills, and communicate decisions. Students also learn to use United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grading criteria to determine quality of ready-to-cook poultry and eggs.

Through a $10,000 donation received from Federation allied member, Van der Graaf (VDG), Arkansas 4-H was able to provide lodging, grills, aprons, and awards for participants of the 2022 state champion cooking competition and travel funds to attend the National 4-H Conference.

“Our experience with The Poultry Federation and 4-H BBQ contest sponsorship was nothing short of spectacular. The competition was not just cooking and creating a masterpiece of flavors, it was also a written and creative assignment,” said Rick Zander of VDG. “It was heartwarming knowing that some of the young participants had never traveled, nor stayed in a hotel, and this was their first opportunity to experience a poultry industry-related event.

“Our experience with The Poultry Federation and 4-H BBQ contest sponsorship was nothing short of spectacular.”

“Something as simple as food and BBQ can bring people from different parts of the country together. It is why events like the Poultry Festival and 4-H BBQ competitions are so important for the youth of tomorrow and industry success moving forward,” said Zander.

The Federation does not stop short in their support of Arkansas 4-H. Marvin Childers serves as president of The Poultry Federation and a member of the Arkansas 4-H Foundation board of directors.

“As a current member of the Arkansas 4-H Foundation Board, I am proud of our alliance with the Arkansas 4-H and the long-standing tradition of hosting the 4-H State Champion Broiler and Turkey Competition,” said Childers. “We are thankful for the support received from Van der Graaf. Without their partnership we would not be able to provide these kids the chance to be exposed to a large portion of the industry.”

Arkansas ranks third in the nation for both broiler and turkey production, with the top producing counties being Benton and Washington. The summer tradition of hosting the 4-H State Broiler and Turkey Competition during the Federation’s annual festival will continue to be a custom for years to come.

“To host this competition shows the commitment The Poultry Federation’s board of directors has when it comes to working with Arkansas youth. There are hundreds of jobs in the poultry and egg industry, and we need these students to be exposed to and interested in agriculture,” said Childers.

To learn more about The Poultry Federation’s annual festival, please visit


Protecting Arkansas Farmland for Five Generations Continuing a Legacy

For centuries, the practice of family farming has been the foundation of the agricultural industry in the United States. Still today, these operations prove to be a cornerstone of American agriculture, making up 98% of all farms and with small family farms utilizing nearly half of U.S. farmland. Family farming began out of necessity, but today, many farmers combine farm and off-farm jobs to make a living while maintaining the agricultural way of life.

The maintenance of a farm is a task in and of itself, but to pass the farm’s land and traditions through multiple generations of a family is quite the accomplishment. The hardships of farming coupled with an increasingly rapid retirement rate raises the question of how it is possible to establish this type of legacy.

The Arkansas Century Farm Program, established by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, offers a way to recognize families around the state who have owned the same land for at least 100 years.

In October 2022, the program honored 37 families, including the Blalock Family of Bay, Arkansas. Since its establishment in 1882, Blalock Farm has been family owned.

As is the case with most family farms, crops and livestock were raised to support the family originally. When larger crops were planted to be sold, cotton was the primary crop grown on Blalock Farm. George W. Blalock, the original owner, built a sawmill to harvest timber from the land, ran a local cotton gin, and even operated a grocery store for a period.

After George’s death, his son Jim A. Blalock began farming the land, and then Herbert H. Blalock, Jim’s son, took over the farm in 1978. Herbert farmed the land with his wife, Clara, until he passed away in 2008. Since then, the land has been proudly owned by Clara and their children.

“The family tradition and this land means so much to our family,” said Blalock. “To the Blalocks, family is the most important thing in the world and this land serves as a symbol of the family.”

The newest generation of the Blalock family owns 223 acres, over 97 of which their great-grandfather established all those years ago. According to Herbert and Clara’s daughter, Joan McGill, the process of becoming an Arkansas Century Farm has allowed the family to learn more about their history to pass on to the next generation.

“Knowing that five generations of Blalocks have walked this land is powerful,” said McGill. “This is a legacy we are proud of and makes us take our responsibility to protect the farm even more seriously.”

Since its inception in 2012, the Arkansas Century Farm Program has recognized over 560 family farms. Each farm receives a personalized certificate and a metal sign to identify their achievement. The next time you are driving through the state’s rural farmland, keep an eye out for these signs, and remember the multigenerational dedication that each of these families have given to the preservation of the agriculture industry in Arkansas.

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The Arkansas Century Farm Program recognizes Arkansas farm families who have owned and operated a farm of 10 acres or more for a least 100 years. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture began the Century Farm program in 2012 as a way to highlight the impact of these families on the agriculture industry as well as their overall contributions to our state.

Number of Century Farms by Region

Since the program began, 568 farms have been inducted. In 2022, 37 additional farms were inducted.

568 FARMS 37 IN 2022

The Arkansas Century Farm program is open for applications each year from February until May. To get more information about applying, visit:

Congratulations 2022 Century Farm inductees!

Marshall Farm

McCauley Family Farms

Sunset Farms Hayes Farm Douglas Farm

Triple A Farms

Hopkins Family Farm

Juathina Walden Claspill Farm

Roger and Vickie Walden Farm

Smead and Mabel Walden Farm

Bell Farm Bell Family Farm

The Pruett Farm

Trafford Farm Blalock Family Farm JC Farms Massery Farm

Shaw’s Family Farms

Lucky W. Farm

Brown-Harber-Bales Farms

Lassiter-Vest Farm

Cunningham Legacy Farm

Leslie Rutledge Farms

Earl Travis Smith Family, LLC Farms

Cummins Farm

Garringer Farm

Lager/Lackey Farm

Our Green Acre at Steel Creek Farm

Myers Farm

Circle S Farms

Prislovsky Brothers Inc.

Joseph W. Vestal & Son

Halstead Homestead

Younger Farm

Gillam-Burt Farm JC Lankford Farm Weatherford Farms

Information provided by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Century Farm Program 2022

The drought of 2022 left its impact on Arkansas and served as a reminder of just how precious water is in preserving life and sustaining agricultural production across the globe. We often forget that water is viewed as a regional resource provided by local bodies of water, many of which are shared between neighboring states. These shared waters are commonly regulated by interstate stream compacts.

Compacts are written agreements between states that allocate the waters in major streams and their tributaries to ensure that each state receives its share of water. Compacts, approved by the United States Congress (Congress), are authorized by both state and federal statutes.

Compacts are administered regionally by compact commissions consisting of members from each participating state, as well as a federally appointed member. These commissions meet periodically to ensure compliance and have established committees that meet regularly to discuss various topics including budgetary, legal, engineering, and environmental needs.

Arkansas is fortunate to have an abundance of rivers, lakes, and streams flowing through the state, many of which provide the need for interstate stream compacts. Two compacts that Arkansas participates in are the Red River Compact and the Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River

Good Neighbors

Compact. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division provides oversight of these compacts and ensures that the Natural State is receiving its share of quality water, meeting its obligations, and above all, being a good neighbor.

Red River Compact

The Red River flows through parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, discharging into the Mississippi River. Negotiations on the Red River Compact were started by an authorization from Congress in 1955 to solve and prevent future water disputes. The compact became official in 1978 when it was signed by member states, ratified by Congress, and signed by the United States president (president).

The compact aims to promote interstate collaboration while providing an equitable distribution of the waters of the Red River among the states, controlling and alleviating natural deterioration and pollution of the waters, and encouraging active programs for conservation and water quality improvement.

The Red River Compact Commission consists of nine members, two from each participating state. The state commissioners consist of one state agency lead, typically the state water agency, and one basin resident appointed by the governor. One federal commissioner is appointed by the

Ensuring the Protection of Water Sources Across State Lines ARKANSAS GROWN 35

president and serves as the commission chairman, a non-voting member.

The commission meets annually and each of the participating states rotate as the host state, a role that Arkansas will hold in 2023

Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact

The Arkansas River flows through Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Oklahoma has water compacts with both Kansas and Arkansas to apportion water from the river, oversee water resources, and regulate pollution.

The Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact, specific to the Arkansas River and its tributaries in Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas, was established in 1971 and revised in 1972.

Like the Red River Compact, the Arkansas River Compact exists to promote interstate collaboration and provide equitable access to the waters, but it also encourages the maintenance of an active pollution abatement program in both states and facilitates the cooperation of the state water administration agencies in development and management of resources.

The Arkansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Compact Commission consists of three representatives from each state, one representing the director of the state water agency and the other two are appointed by the governor. A chairman is appointed by the president. Established committees work throughout the year to provide water quantity and quality reports at the annual commission meeting and provide data for an annual report.

The purpose of the Red River Compact and Arkansas River Compact vary by needs of the specific waters, but the ultimate commitment of each state is to work harmoniously with participating states to protect these shared resources. Simply put, the success of these interstate stream compacts is driven by one concept – being good neighbors.


Compact Areas

Arkansas River ( AR - OK )

Arkansas River ( KS - OK )

Canadian River ( NM - OK - TX )

Red River ( AR - LA - OK - TX )

Louisiana Kansas Kansas
Oklahoma Oklahoma
Missouri Arkansas Arkansas New Mexico
Mexico Colorado Colorado
0 100 Miles ARKANSAS GROWN 37
Oklahoma's Interstate Stream Compact Areas

Showing Strength and Durability Arkansas Cotton

Cotton’s presence in Arkansas has been consistent since the 1800s. As with any commodity, the cotton market has ebbed and flowed over the course of those 200 some years, and with it, so has cotton’s popularity with growers as a cash crop from one decade to another. Cotton seems to be gaining popularity in Arkansas and well beyond, thanks to a recent favorable upturn in the market and growing consumer demand for sustainably produced fiber.

“Futures prices for cotton had a remarkable run last summer, which should prove beneficial to most cotton farmers,” said Andrew Grobmyer, executive vice president of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas. “In fact, while prices have since contracted, we did see an 11-year high for cotton prices during that time, and we hope farmers were able to take advantage of that run-up for the 2022 and 2023 crop years.”

When it comes to farming, timing is everything. And frankly, the timing couldn’t be better for cotton growers to take advantage of the lucrative opportunity the market recently presented. Over the last century, the cotton industry in Arkansas has seen periods of extreme volatility. Apart from the Great Depression, growers faced one of the most challenging of times in 2004, when pressure from competing crops brought the state’s

reported cotton acres to a low point of just 200,000 acres. The situation was amplified by the presence of boll weevils, a highly destructive pest that at one point threatened to decimate the entire United States Cotton Belt.

However, the tables started to turn in 1997 after the U.S. cotton industry came together to take a stand against boll weevils. It was during that year that the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation (ABWEF) was formally established to combat the invasive species. In a unified effort, cotton growers worked to push weevil populations from the east side of the state to the west, working in concert with neighboring cotton producing states in a coordinated effort. ABWEF declared the boll weevil fully eradicated in 2008 and has maintained a weevil-free environment in the state ever since. Regarding this monumental achievement, Farm Progress Magazine wrote, “The concept, organization, and implementation of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program is without question one of the most important achievements in the history of U.S. cotton.”

Now in the wake of the eradication of the boll weevil in Arkansas and most of the U.S., the industry has been able to focus on improving the sustainability of cotton production with an emphasis on responsible environmental stewardship. The

“Futures prices for cotton had a remarkable run last summer...”

recent emergence of genetically modified pestresistant cotton varieties has helped to reduce the necessity of pesticides. At the same time, the economic limitations of producing cotton have started to alleviate while growing demand for fiber has supported the return of profitability in the market. In response, the state’s infrastructure is again showing positive signs of development with 29 active gins currently operating. In the meantime, Grobmyer is now helping to champion the implementation of a relatively new initiative being spearheaded by the U.S. cotton industry called the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. The initiative promotes growers’ dedication to producing high-quality cotton and creating more positive environmental impacts in a collaborative effort to align with retail brands that value sustainability.

“U.S. cotton farmers are producing high quality cotton, a natural fiber, in the most environmentally sustainable manner. And when compared to manmade petroleum-based fibers, which pose significant health and environmental risks, cotton has even more advantages,” said Grobmyer. “U.S. cotton has a great story to tell, and it’s really a winwin for growers and consumers who are looking to source sustainable supply for products of quality, comfort, and functionality.”

The Arkansas cotton industry has influenced the state’s economy for generations. Because of the recent rebound in production and the progressive advancements in technology, Grobmyer is confident that cotton will continue to play a significant role in Arkansas agriculture for years to come.

Photography credit to Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program.

“U.S. cotton has a great story to tell...”

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Corn’s Comeback to Arkansas Agriculture Aww, Shucks!

Like most farmers, the average corn producer in Arkansas is unassuming, mild mannered – modest to say the least. But given the incredible strides growers have made in recent years to vastly expand the corn industry’s footprint in the state, not even the humblest of producers can convincingly feign humility enough to hide the welldeserved pride in their achievements.

“As recently as 30 years ago, corn had taken a back seat in Arkansas compared to other crops,” said Tommy Young, a local corn grower and chairman of the Arkansas Corn & Grain Sorghum Board. “That’s not the case anymore. Today, producer preference for corn is steadily growing and at the same time is proving to be a shot in the arm for the state’s lucrative poultry industry as a popular and locally sourced feedstuff.”

By 1951, the Arkansas corn industry had reached its height with planted acres topping just over the 1 million mark. Over the next 50 years however, the acreage committed to corn would continue to dwindle as farmers turned away from the cereal in favor of other crops such as rice that were less challenging and more profitable to produce.

Within the last two decades, the tables have turned. Corn’s profit potential eventually returned on the coattails of shifting markets. The Arkansas Corn & Grain Sorghum Board, administered by seven Arkansas producers appointed

by the governor and charged with providing growers with the tools and resources necessary to improve profitability and sustainability, leveraged this opportunity by investing checkoff dollars into agronomic research with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture to help growers be more successful during growing season. Thanks to this checkoff-funded research, growers have been able to incrementally increase their yields year after year by implementing proper management practices that adhere to Arkansas’s unique environment. This has ultimately resulted in approximately 90% of the corn grown in Arkansas being irrigated.

In recent years since farmers started to cohesively implement these practices, the Arkansas corn industry is once again standing tall. Arkansas corn growers reached a major milestone in their rebound during the 2013 crop year, planting 1 million acres for the first time in more than 60 years. That same year, growers harvested 855,000 acres and set a new record state average yield of 187 bushels per acre, overcoming the previous record of 178 bushels per acre set in 2012. The total number of planted acres has since fluctuated from one crop season to the next between approximately 600,000 and 900,000 acres as growers have attempted to stay ahead of the market. Most recently, the Arkansas corn industry generated just under $825,000,000 in 2021 with

“Today, producer preference for corn is steadily growing...”

a respectable crop of 850,000 planted acres strong. The steady supply of grain that has resulted from this increase in production over the years has helped to underwrite the Arkansas poultry industry with 70% of the state’s annual production going to feed mills, while more and more corn is being consumed in this manner each year. The remaining 30% is exported via the Mississippi River.

“Considering the progress growers have managed to achieve in a relatively brief period of time, I would expect the corn industry will continue to thrive in Arkansas,” said Young. “Although the markets will undoubtedly fluctuate from year to year, it is safe to say that the collective efforts of our growers have ensured corn’s place as a staple of Arkansas agriculture.”

The Arkansas Corn & Grain Sorghum Board continues to invest in research to help growers in Arkansas enhance their corn production and sustainability. In 2021, the board invested nearly $1 million in research. Learn more about the corn industry in Arkansas and its investment in research by visiting

“I would expect the corn industry will continue to thrive in Arkansas...”

Spotlight State

Arkansas Agriculture Featured at America’s Largest Farm Show

Each year, thousands of exhibitors and agriculturalists, from farmers to policymakers, join to witness the latest technological advances in the agriculture industry at the Sunbelt Ag Expo. The Expo is an agriculturalbased trade show held annually in Moultrie, Georgia, and it’s the largest farm show in America, with education being its main component. Seminars and demonstration topics range from beef production to pond management and everything in between.

During the 44th Annual Sunbelt Ag Expo, held in October of 2022, Arkansas was featured as the Spotlight State. In an exhibit named “Experience Arkansas,” attendees from across the nation had the opportunity to learn about Arkansas and its largest industry, agriculture.

The exhibit consisted of six themes: production agriculture, value-added agriculture, agritourism, economic development, education, and tourism. These themes introduced the Natural State and educational experiences highlighting the state’s diverse agricultural production to attendees. Members of Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Farm Credit Associations of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Arkansas Agritourism Association, Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism, and the Arkansas Department of Economic Development were onsite to greet visitors and answer questions.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Spotlight State exhibit, Arkansas Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Cynthia Edwards addressed the crowd and invited attendees to “Experience Arkansas.”

Arkansas had two ambassadors of the state’s agriculture industry speak at the Willie B. Withers/Sunbelt Ag Expo Luncheon. The 2016 Southeast Farmer of the Year, David Wildly, introduced Deputy Secretary Edwards, who highlighted the state's many unique qualities on behalf of the Arkansas Spotlight State Committee.

“The way that agriculture looks varies across the United States, and the Sunbelt Ag Expo provides an opportunity to connect with and learn from other states about the industry as a whole,” said Deputy Secretary Edwards.

“... the Sunbelt Ag Expo provides an opportunity to connect with and learn from other states...”

As Arkansas is home to one of the only places in the world where the public can search for real diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, an Arkansas diamond was given away during the luncheon.

During this year’s Expo, Robert E. Saunders, a multigenerational farmer from Virginia was awarded the title of Swisher Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year. The judges selected Saunders from among 10 Southeastern state winners participating in the program, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Chris Sweat of Hempstead County represented Arkansas. In 2020, Chris and Denise Sweat, and daughters Sara and Anna, were selected as Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year.

“The sense of pride that the Arkansas Spotlight State Committee exhibited throughout the planning process and the show itself shined through,” said Chris Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo. “In addition to the exhibits being interactive and informative, they were an excellent showcase of Arkansas agriculture.”

“Arkansas was fortunate to be given this platform to share our story of agriculture with a new audience.”
“... an excellent showcase of Arkansas agriculture...”

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Farm to School: More Peas Please!

Purple Hull Peas Connect Farms, School Districts, and Students

The Arkansas Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture provides the perfect opportunity to enrich the connection that communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by initiating changes in food purchasing and education practices within schools.

Farm to school programs may consist of one or more of the following pillars: school gardens, education, and local procurement. School gardens allow students the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning through gardening and farming. While education is a common thread amongst all three farm to school pillars, farm to school education is usually focused on activities related to agriculture, food, health, or nutrition. Lastly, procurement involves the purchasing, promotion, and consumption of local food in schools, which may be served in the cafeteria, as a snack, or as a taste test.

A recent partnership between Healthy Flavors Arkansas, the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), and three Central Arkansas school districts is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration that leads to successful farm to school programming.

Healthy Flavors Arkansas, an agricultural enterprise located on Dan-Harton Farms in Conway, Arkansas, was awarded a grant through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Program to expose students to locally grown purple hull peas and farm to school curriculum. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture supported this initiative by providing a letter of support and committing to providing essential

resources through their Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program.

After receiving the grant, Dan Spatz of DanHarton Farms was able to purchase necessary equipment, like a shiny, new yellow pea picker, and hire essential staff, like Maddie Fortune and Dr. Joe Black, to support the farm to school initiative. With the necessary resources in hand, the team planted four acres of purple hull peas, a Southern classic. This project signifies an important shift to more sustainable agricultural practices for Dan-Harton Farms, which has historically grown commodity crops on their 260 acres of cultivable land. More recently, Spatz has recognized the need to diversify their food products to include more specialty crops, like vegetables and, of course, purple hull peas.

While some might be accustomed to the taste of their favorite purple hull pea recipe, this species of cowpea or field pea may be entirely new to students. This exemplifies the importance of opportunities to learn about and taste new foods within schools. To bridge this gap, Dan-Harton Farms partnered with UCA’s Department of Nutrition and Family Science.

Dr. Nina Roofe, department chair and associate professor of nutrition at UCA, along with her graduate assistant, Mary Beth McKay, worked to develop both farm to school curriculum and purple hull pea recipes to be prepared by school cafeterias. In addition to comprehensive farm to school lesson plans, a total of seven recipes were developed and piloted with child nutrition directors from three partnering school districts: Mayflower, Vilonia, and Greenbrier.


In November 2021, representatives from the school districts came together to test the recipes. Some recipes were considered infeasible to prepare in schools due to a lack of readily available ingredients and/or equipment as well as lengthier preparation time. Two of the recipes were clear winners: chili con carne with purple hull peas and Hoppin’ John, a Southern peas and rice dish.

Child nutrition staff returned to their schools with lessons plans, informational posters, and recipes to engage students in trying purple hull peas. Teachers implemented the curriculum with students, while the school cafeterias purchased and prepared purple hull peas for participation in a plate waste study organized by UCA faculty and students.

Using a developed protocol, UCA measured the elementary and middle school students’ consumption of the recipes to analyze their food waste before and after implementation of the curriculum. For at least two of the three school districts, results showed an increase in consumption of purple hull peas, but it was the smile on the students’ faces that truly illustrated the impact of the project.

After seeing initial success through this initiative, Dan-Harton Farms is eager to continue building on these efforts to grow the farm to school mission in the state of Arkansas. They have plans to increase purple hull pea production to include 28 acres, add an on-site processing facility with a pea shelling machine, and explore new products to market to schools.

Dan-Harton Farms has also received two additional USDA Farm to School grants that have the potential to greatly influence the farm to school landscape in the state. First, Healthy Flavors Arkansas will launch a high school internship program to give students the opportunity to learn more about agriculture through hands-on experiences on the farm growing winter greens that will eventually be back in school cafeterias on students’ trays. Additionally, Healthy Flavors collaborated with Communities Unlimited and Eat Real, two nonprofit organizations working to promote local food in schools, to develop a blueprint that points to the essential aspects of successful and sustainable farm to school programs across the mid-South (Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi).

Thanks to the proven success of these fruitful partnerships, the future of the Arkansas Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program looks bright!



2022 Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year Contest Winners

Best Start-Up School Garden Proposal: Lee Senior High School, Marianna (Lee County), $500 Award Wonderview Elementary School, Hattieville (Conway County), $500 Award

Best Education-Based School Garden: Nettleton STEAM, Jonesboro (Craighead County), $500 Award Conway High School, Conway (Faulkner County), $500 Award

Best Harvest Partnership School Garden: Crestwood Elementary, North Little Rock (Pulaski County), $500 Award Chicot Elementary & Early Childhood Center, Mabelvale (Pulaski County), $500 Award

Best Community Collaboration School Garden: Arch Ford/Synergy ALE, Hot Springs Village (Garland and Saline Counties), $500 Award Ward Central Elementary, Ward (Lonoke County), $500 Award

Best Overall School Garden: Pinnacle View Middle School, Little Rock (Pulaski County), $1,000 Award

Champion of School Garden Sustainability: Sheridan Elementary School, Sheridan (Grant County), $1,000 Award

Applications by category entered: 12 start-ups, 20 established, 5 champion. Total Applications: 37

The annual Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year Contest is sponsored by Farm Credit Associations of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. The contest started in 2014 to promote the importance of involving young people in the process of fresh food production and cultivation. The contest was available to public and private K-12 schools, early care and education facilities, and alternative learning environments. Awardees were schools that had a school garden during the 2021-2022 school year or planned to start a garden in 2022-2023 school year. Program details are available at:

The Legacy of Arkansas Rice

Agriculture Will Remain Arkansas’s Number One Industry if We Plan for Tomorrow

Rice has been grown in Arkansas since 1901. Today, more than 2,200 family farms grow medium and long grain rice in over 40 counties in our state. Arkansas remains the number one rice producer in the country, growing more than one million acres each year. According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS), there are about 14 million acres of farmland in Arkansas and 5.84 million of those acres are dedicated to row crops. Agriculture is not for the faint of heart. President John F. Kennedy once described farmers as "the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways." The truth is, there is limited control in row crop farming. With rising input costs, an ever-changing climate, and unpredictable markets, this industry seems to be as tumultuous as ever.

Arkansas Rice is made up of the Arkansas Rice Federation, Arkansas Rice Council, and Arkansas Rice Farmers boards, along with representatives from Arkansas millers and merchants. Many of the producers that serve on these boards are third and fourth generation farmers. The legacy that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents left is still making an impact today. Often, the same piece of land is passed down through multiple generations, though the farming practices tend to change with each generation.

Sustainability has been a prominent buzz word in agriculture in recent years. Tools have been put in place to track the decreases in energy and water usage by rice farmers in order to maintain and protect our state’s natural resources. Today’s producers know that significant foresight and action is the only way to ensure the next generation and generations beyond will be able to continue farming in Arkansas.

Fortunately, there are a multitude of organizations who offer resources to farmers. The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture provides and conducts research for best practices. Much of the research is funded by the Arkansas rice checkoff program. Currently, our state’s checkoff program is evenly divided to support research and promotional efforts. This program was put in place in 1985 because farmers realized the need to invest in today, tomorrow, and for years to come. To date, the research has resulted in enhanced yields as well as better soil, water, and pest control practices.

Nationally, there are new conservation programs being put in place. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made a trip to Arkansas in September of


2022 to announce awards to their new program, Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. This historic investment by the USDA is intended to fund pilot projects that reward farmers who utilize environmentally friendly practices. USA Rice, Rural Investment to Protect our Environment (RIPE), Riceland Foods, and a handful of other organizations with Arkansas roots were awarded substantial funding to administer projects that will motivate growers to adopt additional practices in an effort to preserve the rice farmland that has served us so well for more than 120 years.

What we do today will have a direct impact on the future generations of rice farmers. The world’s population continues to expand at a rapid rate and if we do not plan for innovation and advancement, the legacy that has been part of our state’s top industry will suffer. Today’s producers continue to be conservationists as they preserve the land and resources that generations before them tended with care. This is a pivotal time where sustainability programs are so accessible. The emphasis and effort being put into these plans is necessary in order to make real change so that future generations will be able to continue the legacy of rice farming in Arkansas.



More than 70% of the CORN grown in the state of Arkansas is used to feed the local poultry market.

SORGHUM offers a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.

The Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Board was established to provide Arkansas's growers with the tools and resources necessary to improve profitability and sustainability. Arkansas farmers grew 850,000 acres of corn with production of 153,000,000 bushels. Approximately, 70% of Arkansas corn is used in state for feed grain purposes primarily for poultry.

The Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Board was established to provide Arkansas’s growers with the tools and resources necessary to improve profitability and sustainability. Arkansas farmers grew 605,000 acres of corn with production of 111,000,000 bushels. Approximately, 70% of Arkansas corn is used in state for feed grain purposes primarily for poultry.


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Field Invaders

Preventing and Managing Invasive Species

Whether they’re overtaking a garden, decimating crops, or suffocating bodies of water, invasive species can have a detrimental impact to local ecosystems and agriculture operations. Because these organisms are non-native, they have no natural predators or diseases, making it easy for them to spread rapidly and often completely unchecked. This, paired with the potential damage certain pests can cause, is why the Arkansas Department of Agriculture (Department) takes a no-nonsense approach to invasive species.

Invasive species can take many forms. Whether it’s an insect, plant, disease, or animal, all invasive species share a few key characteristics according to Paul Shell, plant inspection program manager for the Department’s Plant Industries Division.

“All invasive species are non-native by definition,” said Shell. “They spread quickly, reach reproductive stages early, and can negatively impact the environment.”

Because these organisms pose such a threat, the Department utilizes prevention and management measures to monitor, control, and exterminate potential populations. However, step one is always prevention.

The Department’s Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey (CAPS) program surveys specifically for invasive species that are not yet established in Arkansas and pose a significant threat to agriculture production. The CAPS program is funded by and works in cooperation with the United States

Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS).

“The CAPS program conducts science-based national and state surveys targeted at specific invasive species that have been identified as threats to U.S. agriculture,” said Baylee Downey, Arkansas CAPS program coordinator. “With our program, prevention is key.”

The CAPS program targets a different group of pests every three years. For 2023-2026, CAPS will target potential pests of cotton and pine.

“Over this three-year period, we will be surveying for false codling moth, cotton seed bug, cotton cutworm, and old-world bollworm,” said Downey. “Old-world bollworm is a very serious pest of a wide range of economically important crops including cotton, wheat, tobacco, soybeans, and more. The cotton seed bug is a very serious pest of cotton specifically and an infestation has been found in southern California.”

For pine, Downey's program will be setting traps in pine stands for Siberian silk moth, large pine weevil, brown spruce long-horned beetle, and pine tree lappet.

“Early detection of these pine pests will allow for eradication and regulatory action necessary to protect susceptible trees and forests in the state,” said Downey.

In addition to the CAPS program, the Plant Industries Division’s Plant Inspection and Quarantine Program, spearheaded by Shell, surveys for spotted lantern fly and utilizes highly specialized traps for the spongey moth.

“They spread quickly, reach reproductive stages early, and can negatively impact the environment....”

The spongey moth, native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, an invasive species that has been established in the Northeastern United States for over 100 years, is a pest of hardwood forests.

“Spongey moth caterpillars feed on and defoliate the leaves of hardwood trees,” said Shell. “Once established, a population can decimate a hardwood forest.”

In Arkansas, there is a coordinated effort between the Department, the USDA-APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) Program, and several other state and federal agencies on targeted trapping for this pest specifically.

“We have about 5,000 traps in targeted areas across the state,” said Shell. “They’re sticky traps with female spongey moth pheromones. If we catch a moth, we do extensive trapping in that area for two years to see if it was just one moth, or if eggs have been laid and a reproductive population has been established.”

Although preventative measures are being taken for species not yet established in Arkansas, there are species that are here and causing damage. Two invasive species that Shell’s program is currently working to manage in Arkansas are imported fire ants and cogongrass.

Cogongrass is a perennial grass native to Southeast Asia and is highly invasive in the United States. Established populations can be found primarily in the Gulf Coast and South

Atlantic states, and a small population is currently being treated and controlled in the Southeast region of Arkansas.

Imported fire ants are native to South America and populations have been established in the United States for decades. Their arrival in Arkansas, however, is relatively recent and populations have not yet been established in northern Arkansas counties.

Fire ants in Arkansas are controlled through an Imported Fire Ant Compliance Agreement between USDA-APHIS and the Arkansas State Plant Board. This agreement regulates the movement of certain products outside of quarantine areas. Nurseries, sod farms, and landscape contractors that are under a compliance agreement treat their plants with an insecticide labeled for imported fire ants before they ship their plants or sod, or they agree to certify that their business and stock are free of fire ants. Hay and straw can be transported from the quarantine area into other areas if the hay or straw has been stored in a manner that prevents fire ants from gaining access to the hay or straw.

Invasive species, from grasses to insects, can cause significant damage to Arkansas agriculture and ecosystems. With preventative measures and strategic management practices, the Department is working to protect our state’s resources. Learn more at


A Family Affair

The McGarrah family settled in Northwest Arkansas in 1824 and there has been a McGarrah farming in Washington and Benton counties ever since. Now, almost two centuries later, Dennis McGarrah Sr. and his son, Dennis McGarrah Jr., farm close to 100 acres of specialty crops in Fayetteville, Pea Ridge, and Lowell.

“We’re very proud of our heritage,” said McGarrah Sr. “My dad once had 20 acres of strawberries, I could never imagine 20 acres of strawberries myself.”

McGarrah Sr. grew up working on his dad’s farm. As an adult he juggled a full-time job and a side operation farming strawberries and tomatoes. In 2009, McGarrah Sr. lost his job and started farming full-time.

“I started farming on the side and the side became my passion. Instead of bass fishing, I was farming,” he said. “When I lost my job, I already had what I wanted to do but someone finally made me do what I wanted to do.”

Now he owns farms in Lowell and Pea Ridge where he grows blackberries, strawberries, apples, sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupes, tomatoes, squash, blueberries, peppers, cucumbers, and pumpkins.

Similar to his dad, McGarrah Jr. grew up working on the family farm, sparking his passion. McGarrah Jr. said he always figured he’d end up farming.

“He could pick 50 quarts of strawberries by the time he was five years old,” said McGarrah Sr. “That’s how he bought his first bike.”

As he got older, McGarrah Jr. realized he’d like to expand on his family’s existing land to sustain his own family. In 2016, he got his first leased ground, separate from his father. Here, he and his wife, Timothea, ran a pumpkin patch and corn maze while at the same time running a tree farm of 20,000 nursery trees and working full time as a fencing contractor.

In 2019, McGarrah Jr. and Timothea moved on from the leased ground, sold the tree farm, and bought land in Fayetteville to start McGarrah Farms Rivercrest Orchard. Here, they grow blackberries, strawberries, apples, sweet corn, pumpkins, watermelons, and cantaloupe, with agritourism additions including a corn maze, a watermelon cannon, a pumpkin patch, and more.

“We bought this place in 2019, and it’s been hammer down ever since,” he said. “We do a lot of agritourism, but one of our biggest goals is to be a farm first. We don’t want to be a circus with a farm around it, we want to be a farm with a circus around it.”

Both McGarrah Sr. and McGarrah Jr. sang the praises of the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, saying both groups work together to provide them with networking opportunities, research updates, and more.

“I started farming on the side and the side became my passion...”
McGarrah Farms Continues Centuries-Old Family Legacy ARKANSAS GROWN 67

“The Blackberry Growers Association is great for our business, especially for getting the word out about Arkansas blackberries,” said McGarrah Jr. “So much of the research that we’ve heard about has been instrumental in improving our operation.”

“I can’t say enough how much we appreciate the extension service, especially the horticulture specialists,” said McGarrah Sr. “With farming, you get one shot at it each year and if you can get some help with it, it’s invaluable.”

McGarrah Jr. hammers on the fact that their operation is a farm “365 days of the year.” With seven different specialty crops, their main objective is to keep their operation centered around the farm and it’s evident their customer base appreciates that.

“In 2021, we had our best opening weekend ever and we anticipated a slowdown,” said McGarrah Jr. “But the next weekend was the best weekend we’d ever had in September, and it just snowballed from there.”

With their current operation, McGarrah Jr. and Timothea are keeping the McGarrah family tradition alive by involving their two daughters on the farm. Their oldest daughter has especially taken to interacting with customers.

“She’s really good with people,” said McGarrah Jr. “She’s 8 and she’s a talker. She can hardly wait for people to get up to the stand before she’s leading them out to the field and giving them instructions.”

As for the future of the family farm, McGarrah Jr. said although he wants his daughters to do what makes them happy, he does hope they take over one day.

“I would like to see my girls take over,” he said. “The dream is always to build a sustainable business, not just for me and my family, but for my kids and their families.”

The McGarrah family has been farming in Northwest Arkansas since 1824. Now, between McGarrah Sr. and McGarrah Jr., the family currently has close to 100 acres in production in Northwest Arkansas. Find out more about their operations at and


Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association: Improving One of Arkansas's Favorite Specialty Crops

In 2018, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture noticed a lack of specialty crop growers associations in the state. This led to funding through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant to create the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association.

Dr. Amanda McWhirt, horticulture production specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, and Mike McClintock, county extension agent for the Division of Agriculture, were awarded the grant in 2018 and began listening sessions with growers across the state.

“We held six listening sessions through the spring and early summer of 2018,” said Dr. McWhirt. “We invited blackberry growers to tell us about their interest in an association and what they’d want to get out of being a member of an association. We also identified key growers who could help us form it.”

In the fall of 2018, Dr. McWhirt met with those key growers and started developing the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association. At the start of the following year, the Growers Association had their first winter conference and the ball has been rolling ever since with annual summer field days, winter meetings, and a seasonal newsletter.

“The Blackberry Growers Association has done a really good job of developing an impactful organization in a really short period of time,” said Dr. McWhirt. “They get national industry sponsorships each year to support their meetings, and they’ve done exceptional outreach to raise awareness of blackberry production in Arkansas.”

In 2021, the Growers Association partnered with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture to establish Arkansas Blackberry Month in June. This consisted of a proclamation from the governor, special promotions at various farmers market locations, and educational materials on blackberry health benefits.

Dennis McGarrah Jr., a farmer in Northwest Arkansas and Growers Association board member, said the Association has been great for not only educating the public, but also for educating each other.

“I always enjoy the networking,” said McGarrah. “You can talk to other farmers about issues you’re having, and maybe they’ve also had that issue and know how to correct it.”

McGarrah said the presentations at annual meetings have helped them modify and improve their production methods.

“The Growers Association, especially Amanda McWhirt, has been really instrumental in our adoption of the trellising method we use on our Rotating Cross Arm trellis, which has decreased labor, increased quality, and heightened the experience for our U-pick customers.”

Learn more about the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association, their mission, and how to become a member at


Protecting Agriculture One Test at a Time

National Lab Network Grows in Arkansas

The entry and spread of animal diseases can have detrimental effects to our nation’s economy, food supply, and overall health. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), national cash receipts for animals and animal products totaled more than $ 195 billion in 2021 . In Arkansas, animal and animal products combined provide more than $ 5.8 billion in revenue each year.

The protection of our state’s livestock and poultry industry is essential, and one of the assets used to accomplish this is the Arkansas Department of Agriculture (Department)’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL). The VDL, located in Little Rock, provides the diagnosis of livestock, poultry, and aquatic farm animal diseases to support those industries, but also supports practicing veterinarians in the success of disease control programs.

The VDL is the only laboratory in the state certified by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), with a branch lab being recently approved in Northwest Arkansas.

NAHLN was established in 2002 as a response to the 2001 foot-andmouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom and the terroristic attacks in the United States by foreign entities. These events highlighted the nation’s need to protect the agriculture and livestock industries, food supply, and public health interests. The network started with 12 core laboratories but has grown to include 60 across 42 states.

“NAHLN represents a highly successful federal and state partnership that provides the first line of defense in the U.S. against diseases that can significantly affect our animal agriculture, and therefore, the livelihood of many and food supply for all,” said Dr. Christie Loiacono, NAHLN national coordinator.

NAHLN-certified laboratories can test the following 14 animal diseases: African Swine Fever, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, Chronic Wasting Disease, Classical Swine Fever, Newcastle Disease (ND), Foot and Mouth Disease, Infectious Salmon Anemia, Influenza A Virus in Avian (IAV-A), Influenza A Virus in Swine, Pseudorabies Virus, Scrapie, Spring Viremia of Carp, Vesicular Stomatitis Virus, and Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia.


While the NAHLN network primarily focuses on animal health, when the need arises, certified laboratories aid in all threats to public health.

“The NAHLN laboratories have supported the response to the COVID- 19 pandemic when called upon by testing both animal samples as well as approximately six million human samples for the SARS-CoV- 2 virus,” said Dr. Loiacono.

As exemplified by the COVID- 19 pandemic and previous outbreaks, diseases are not confined to a specific state or country. Animal diseases can spread rapidly and by many modes of transmission such as direct contact and indirect contact by fomites, like vehicles and footwear.

NAHLN-certified laboratories are designed to address two components: access to trained, experienced scientists across the country and the use of the same equipment in each location. This provides the network with a wide range of benefits including the ability to send scientists across state lines in the event of an outbreak, resulting in faster response times and efficiency in containment, and increased precision in testing.

“We agree to keep NAHLN aware of our staffing and abilities so that if we are overtasked by an outbreak, they would send people our way,” said Director of Lab Services Dr. Russ Summers. “The fact that you are using the exact same equipment and the same procedures enables you to hit the ground running.”

Laboratories certified by NAHLN must also complete periodic proficiency testing for each of the scope diseases. Each scientist working in these facilities must make a passing grade to continue running the procedures.

In January of 2022 , the Department began discussing with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture the possibility of acquiring NAHLN branch status for the Tollett Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fayetteville. Recently, this acquisition was approved and will focus on an ongoing scope of testing that includes IAV-A and ND. Bringing the Tollett Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory under the Department’s participation agreement with NAHLN will increase disease response

preparedness for producers in Northwest Arkansas by allowing testing of select diseases of concern to the poultry industry.

“The extension of the NAHLN network to Northwest Arkansas, a focal point of poultry production, will allow us to enhance the robustness of testing during a possible outbreak,” said Dr. Summers.

The three methods of accreditation through NAHLN are administrative oversight, financial oversight, and a formal quality management system. The Tollett Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fayetteville will be under the VDL’s quality management system cultivating a close working relationship between the two laboratories.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture is committed to the protection of the state’s top industry through the work of the VDL and its connection to NAHLN. While animal disease outbreaks can cause significant damage to the agriculture industry and economy, the effectiveness of a national collaborative laboratory network puts Arkansans in good hands.

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The Napa Valley of Sake

Arkansas Brewery Leads the Rediscovery of Sake in America

Water, rice, and skill: these three ingredients combine to produce a delicious Japanese beverage known as sake. Arkansas native Ben Bell has spent 15 years working to perfect the beverage, leading to the creation of Arkansas’s first sake brewery, Origami Sake.

“I was working as a wine specialist at a retail shop in Little Rock and we had one good sake come in that looked unusual. I took it home to try it and I was pretty intrigued by it,” said Ben Bell. “But it was in my mind that since Arkansas is the rice state, maybe something could be done here. That’s really what kept me hooked on the production aspect.”

Several years after that first sake experience, Ben traveled to Hanamaki, Japan, the sister city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. There, he worked as a sake brewer for two years and was one of very few Americans to do so in Japan. After he returned to the United States, Ben was focused on using his newly honed skills to open a sake brewery in his home state. He eventually connected with Matt Bell, who would soon become the president of Origami Sake. The two discussed Arkansas’s potential to lead the rediscovery of sake in America for one major reason: rice.

“Ben and I met after he got back from Japan. During our conversation, I’ll never forget, Ben told me that

Arkansas should be the Napa Valley of sake,” said Matt Bell. “That idea really resonated with me.”

Though traditional sake rice differs from the long grain rice that accounts for most Arkansas rice production, it’s no secret that the state’s farmers definitely have a knack for growing the crop. Not only does the Natural State produce more rice than any other state, Arkansas rice accounts for 48% of all rice grown in the nation.

It was for this reason that Ben and Matt decided to keep their sake brewery in Arkansas, setting up shop in Hot Springs. All Ben and Matt needed was a grower willing to specialize in sake rice – though they didn’t need to look far. Isbell Farms near England, Arkansas has been growing Japanese rice varieties for decades.

“We started growing koshihikari rice in 1989, and it was the first time Japanese rice was grown outside of Japan,” said Chris Isbell of Isbell Farms. “This got us a lot of attention from Japanese media. We had magazines, newspapers, and TV stations from Japan come visit our farm.”

After their success with koshihikari rice, they branched out to other forms of Japanese rice.

“We figured if we could grow this rice, we could grow other Japanese

“...maybe something could be done here...”

varieties,” said Isbell. “So we grew some Yamada Nishiki which is often called the king of sake rice, but we didn’t really have a market for it. So, we froze the bag of seed and 10 years later we got interest from a sake brewery in San Francisco.”

Since then, Isbell Farms’ success with sake rice grew. They soon began sourcing rice to sake breweries across the United States. With that type of success, it was no wonder Ben found him through a simple Google search.

“I met Chris Isbell in 2008 when my homebrewing partner just found him through a Google search,” said Ben Bell. “We reached out and he invited us to lunch. We sat and talked to him and really got to know him. Even though we didn’t do anything with Isbell Farms immediately, we had established that connection.”

Years later, Ben reached out to Isbell again, but this time with a plan. With that, Origami Sake had their rice secured, and it’s been hammer down ever since. With their first test batch made in October 2022, they’re planning to begin sales in early 2023

The overarching goal for the founders of Origami Sake is simple: for The Natural State to lead the rediscovery of sake in America. Although this may sound like a daunting task, they firmly believe that their ability to brew a 100% Arkansas-made product is a compelling selling point.

“Being in a small state does not hinder us...”

“Being in a small state does not hinder us. We have a good story, Arkansas has a good story,” said Ben Bell. “Breweries in New York and San Francisco, they may be where the consumers are, but we are where the resources are.”

Learn more about Origami Sake at Learn more about Isbell Farms at


Sharing the Land Grant Mission

Welcoming the New University of Arkansas System Vice President of Agriculture

On July 1, 2022, the University of Arkansas System welcomed a new vice president for agriculture, Dr. Deacue Fields. Dr. Fields comes to the Division of Agriculture after serving as dean of the University of Arkansas Dale Bumpers College of Agriculture, Food, and Life Sciences since 2018

As vice president for agriculture, Dr. Fields oversees the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service; two units that he says are vital to the overall land grant mission of the university.

“The land grant mission includes research, extension, and teaching. For the land-grant system to function properly, these three functions must be well integrated and support one another,” said Dr. Fields. “But the main part is serving every citizen of the state.”

His largest goal as vice president is to tell the Division of Agriculture’s story and spread the word of the land grant mission.

“I want everybody to know what a land grant is,” he said. “I want them to understand that there’s an outstanding land grant right here in Arkansas and to capitalize on the benefits the land grant system offers.”

Dr. Fields first worked in extension as the director of small farm outreach at Florida A&M University and then as a professor and chair of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at Auburn University. Dr. Fields described a common theme across states in extension work: building relationships.

“The small farm outreach program showed me how to take things from a traditional campus and transfer it out to producers and then see how technical assistance could actually impact the producer,” he said. “My first role at Auburn was also in extension, and one of the things that extension at Auburn, and here, does well is build relationships. That’s an important part of what I’ll be working on here and one of the investments that I’ll make in my first year.”

In addition to connecting with citizens of Arkansas and spreading the land grant mission, Dr. Fields is committed to building relationships within the Division of Agriculture.

“When I have a meeting in a county, I’m making sure I stop by that county office before I leave,” he said. “That’s probably the best hour, 45 minutes that I can spend, just stopping by and hearing what’s on their mind.”

Learn more about the Division of Agriculture and its work at



Fiscal managed a combined operating budget of more than $209 MILLION

Poison Springs State Forest

Balancing Preservation, Conservation, and Utilization

Equine trails, research plots, campgrounds, and demonstration forests are just some of the components of Poison Springs State Forest. Nestled off Highway 76, Poison Springs State Forest aims to demonstrate how climate-smart forest management can serve multiple purposes.

In 1957, the Arkansas Forestry Commission purchased approximately 19,400 acres of abandoned farmland from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which would soon become Poison Springs State Forest. Today, the state forest includes 24,220 acres in western Ouachita and eastern Nevada counties and is managed by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division.

“Poison Springs is used to demonstrate that a forest can have multiple purposes,” said Arkansas State Forester Joe Fox. “Forests can be a ‘both and’ place, not an ‘either or,’ meaning that any one 40-acre forest can serve for recreation, wildlife habitats, and timber production.”

To showcase this balance, Poison Springs State Forest Manager Aaron Williams and his team utilize an array of management practices and techniques to promote timber growth. The land itself is unique, making it ideal for trees, but not much else.

“Before we had the land, it was farmland,” said Williams. “The USDA had a big land buyback program during the Great Depression. Much of the land was not great for farming; the soil is very sandy, likely up to 40 feet deep, making it unsuitable for growing anything but trees.”

Today, the management of stands for timber production encompasses a large portion of the staff’s time. The team strives to demonstrate that managing for productive timber growth can go hand in hand with recreation, habitat conservation, and more. This is seen through the forest’s wildlife habitats and onsite research plots, which are managed through long-time partnerships with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Nature Conservancy, and Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

“Currently, we have established pollinator plots for butterfly and native grass habitats,” said Williams. “We also have areas where undergrowth has been mulched, functioning as quail habitat.”


CLEAN AND CHECK YOUR VEHICLE for potential hitchhikers. Some invasive insects will lay their eggs on any flat surface! Decontaminate boats before moving to a new waterway to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic plants.

REPORT SUSPECT INVASIVES to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture or the USDA. If you think you recognize these pests, email a photo to or call
DON’T MOVE FIREWOOD! Tree-killing insects and diseases can live in logs for months after they’re cut down. Collect or buy firewood on-site whenever possible and burn completely before you leave.
Moth Spotted Lanternfly Emerald Ash Borer
Asian LongHorned Beetle Thousand Cankers Disease

While these sites provide a habitat for native Arkansas species, they also serve as a medium for furthering forest health education in Arkansas. Today, as in the past, the Poison Springs team uses these sites for conservation research and to showcase various forest management techniques for landowners.

“What we like to focus on are designated demonstration areas. This allows the public to come in and witness different forestry practices in action,” said Williams.

While the managers of Poison Springs devote much of their time to the research and sustainability side of the forest, the leisure and tourism layer of the forest is just as essential. Poison Springs is home to numerous hiking trails, places to hunt and fish, ATV trails, and camping sites managed in partnership with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism. Some of the most popular landmarks of Poison Springs are the Civil War battleground sites and the Little Grand Canyon situated adjacent to White Oak Lake.

“I’d say forest health comes first, but after that we take into consideration the public use,” said Williams. “We have generations of hunters and families that come each year. Starting July 15th, we take campsite reservations, and they'll come from all areas of the state. We’ll get to work on that first morning and they’ll be out in our parking lot waiting.”

Sites do not necessarily have to be designated for public use in order for the public to take advantage of them. While the aforementioned quail and butterfly habitats serve the purpose of conservation and preservation within Poison Springs, the public is still allowed to use these areas.

Although balancing timber management, research plots, and public use can be complicated, the staff at Poison Springs State Forest wouldn't have it any other way.

“I like the path I chose,” said Williams. “I've been here nearly 22 years, and I’ll stay with what I am doing. I like the people and I like what we do.”

Learn more about Poison Springs State Forest and its many offerings at poison-springs-state-forest.


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Digitizing the Farm

In livestock production, traceability plays a vital role in the response and recovery from a disease outbreak. Knowing when and where a disease is detected and which animals were exposed can have a drastic impact on how damaging an outbreak can be. To increase animal disease traceability and lower the economic impact of disease outbreaks, many industry professionals are advising the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

RFID tags are tamper-proof tags that attach to the ear of an animal and serve as a replacement to the traditional metal ID tags. Information specific to each animal such as weight, age, and essential health data, can be added completely electronically. This means that, in the event of an outbreak, essential health information on each animal can be easily accessed and shared. Arkansas State Veterinarian Dr. John Nilz said the use of RFID tags will improve response times to potential disease outbreaks.

“The purpose of these tags is speed of traceability, forward and backwards,” said Dr. Nilz. “When a disease is found in the United States, time is of the essence. This technology provides us with instantaneous data on animals in our state, making it easier for others to quickly institute necessary quarantines across the nation and minimize the spread.”

Because speed and efficiency are so important in disease outbreak response, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is advocating for the use of RFID tags. In 2018, USDA established four goals to increase animal disease traceability, many of which include the use of RFID tags to implement a modern system that tracks animals from birth to slaughter. However, disease traceability isn’t the only draw for this technology. Many livestock producers are switching to RFID tags because of their simplicity and efficiency. The traditional metal ID tags had

Tagging Technology Gives Producers a Competitive Edge ARKANSAS GROWN 86

to be read visually, and information was recorded manually. With the RFID tags, it’s as simple as the wave of a wand.

“One of the best features of these tags is how easy it is to read,” said Dr. Nilz. “Tags are scanned by a handheld wand, and information is available immediately. You don’t have to catch an animal and check their tag, you just have to be close enough to scan the RFID tag.”

Because of this, RFID tags lead to more accurate and consistent record keeping. Which, according to Loren Teague, an agri inspector for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Livestock and Poultry Division, can make a big difference.

“It’s tough out here for producers,” said Teague. “Keeping good records gives you an edge, and any little edge you can get helps.”

Simplifying the record keeping process gives producers a better idea of their individual and overall herd health. This allows for more deliberate management practices.

“With this technology you can sit at your table, look at your herd's performance data, and assess animal productivity and health,” said Dr. Nilz. “Having this at your fingertips gives producers the ability to switch to data-driven management that provides a competitive edge in today's global market.”

“I’ve been recommending these RFID tags to every producer I work with,” said Teague. “They get herd health information with the touch of a button, and we get a more efficient way to manage potential disease outbreaks. It’s a win-win.”

The Livestock and Poultry Division offers RFID tags to producers, free of charge. Learn more about RFID tags and how to acquire them at agriculture.

“Keeping good records gives you an edge, and any little edge you can get helps...”

Guenther Apiary

After 20 years in the Air Force, Danny Brewer finds working with bees therapeutic. Retired after serving our country as a Loadmaster on a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane based at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Brewer began his new career as an apiarist with encouragement from his father-in-law, a retired Fort Smith fireman, who had 80 hives. Brewer and his business partners, Mark and Trisha Guenther, now own 1,100 colonies in 36 bee yards and sell their Local Arkansas Honey in Harps, Kroger, and Whole Foods.

When he retired from the military in 2008, Brewer started gardening heavily but with little success. His father-in-law suggested adding a beehive on his property. Honeybees provide 80% of pollination for fruit, vegetables, flowers, and seed crops, as well as forage crops such as alfalfa and clover. Brewer witnessed this positive impact first-hand when he experienced a significant increase in his garden’s production after adding the hive to his property.

Brewer learned to work with bees through mentors from the local bee club and watching YouTube videos. He began his unconventional career path “catching swarms.” Soon Brewer went from one hive to 65 hives and was the go-to for 911 bee removal calls. On one emergency, Brewer was called to remove a swarm of bees that had made their home under the floor of an upstairs bedroom of a two-story house. Brewer removed a piece of the floor in the bedroom and found two more hives. Brewer says it is very common for bees to enter the flooring of a house through holes drilled in the home’s exterior for television cables or other services and build their hives in the cavities between the joists of two-story homes.

For disease prevention purposes, every bee yard in the state has its latitude, longitude, and GPS location registered with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture (Department) and hives must be inspected before they can be sold or relocated. These inspections are necessary to contain American Foulbrood disease. Bees

Finding Success With Beekeeping in Arkansas ARKANSAS GROWN 88

can fly three miles and infect other bees, resulting in an epidemic.

Brewer learned of an opening for a bee inspector at the Department during one of his inspections and another new career began. As a retired military serviceman who is 50% disabled, Brewer found the “perfect job” and worked as an inspector for four years before joining Guenther Apiary.

Guenther Apiary ships over 400 beehives to California each January to pollinate almond trees. During this time, the bees make only enough honey to feed themselves before the hives are then shipped back to Arkansas. Once the bees return, they work to make honey from Arkansas flowers, producing Guenther Apiary’s Local Arkansas Honey, a Homegrown by Heroes Arkansas Grown product, that can be found in grocery stores around the state.

Brewer has learned a great deal about bees on his career journey.

“Bees will fly themselves to death. They simply wear out their wings. Bees are clean animals and will not die in their hive. The term ‘busy as a bee’ is a perfect description as bees never stop,” said Brewer. “They are constantly defending, building, making wax and honey, and will work themselves to death.”

Brewer has no idea how many bee stings he has experienced. But, even with the stings, Brewer said working with bees makes him feel good. He finds it enjoyable when the honey flows and all is well. He said he is happy when his bees are happy. Studies indicate that beekeeping helps veterans overcome depression and post-traumatic stress. There are several programs for veterans interested in beekeeping, including Beekeeping for Veterans, Hives for Heroes, and programs through the American Beekeeping Federation.

For more information on these programs for veterans with an interest in beekeeping, visit,, or To learn more about Guenther Apiary, visit For more information on Arkansas Grown Homegrown by Heroes, visit


Cultivating leadership in public policy since 1939.


Agriculture is more than land and crops; it is Arkansas's economic foundation. We promote this industry and advocate for its future and our state's prosperity.


Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

For years, the success of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division has been largely due to its partnership with Arkansas fire departments. Working with and for fire departments is what keeps Arkansas safe, according to Arkansas State Forester and Forestry Division Director Joe Fox.

“Our partnerships with rural and urban fire departments are very important to our success in wildfire response,” said Fox. “For every wildfire we work there are at least five more that local fire departments control that we never even hear about.”

The Rural Fire Protection (RFP) office was established by Arkansas Act 36 of 1979 to aid communities and fire departments with establishment, development, and operation of fire protection districts. Today, that includes assisting with organization, training, and equipment needs.

“We can’t help our fire departments without the Forest Service as a partner....”

One of the main functions of the RFP office is helping fire departments across the state open, combine, or close. Kathryn Mahan-Hooten, RFP administrator, often guides community and county officials through the process and any existing laws. Unfortunately, Mahan-Hooten's most recent work in this area has been helping volunteer fire departments either combine or close altogether. For many of these underfunded fire departments, the RFP office is a lifeline.

“Historically there has always been very little funding for volunteer and rural fire departments,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of fire departments who have gotten most, if not all of their equipment, from the Forestry Division.”

The RFP office currently has five programs that help Arkansas fire departments acquire funding, equipment, or training. Many of these programs are made possible by the United States Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

“The USFS is instrumental in how we help rural fire departments in Arkansas,” said Fox. “We can’t help our fire departments without the Forest Service as a partner.”

Rural Fire Protection Program Aids Local Fire Departments ARKANSAS GROWN 92

One of these programs is the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant provided to the Forestry Division by the USFS which provides equipment and training for wildland fire suppression. However, the RFP office’s best-known programs are the Fire Fighter Property (FFP) and the Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP) programs. Both are provided through a cooperative agreement with the USFS and provide fire departments with excess equipment from the Department of Defense that can be converted to firefighting equipment either free of charge or through an interest free loan program.

The office’s auto/diesel mechanic shop plays an integral part in providing affordable or free equipment to Arkansas fire departments. These mechanics not only repair and maintain the Forestry Division’s equipment, but repair and refurbish FFP and FEPP property destined for fire departments. The labor is provided free of charge, greatly reducing the cost.

Gary Martin, fire chief for two volunteer fire departments in Madison County, said with little funding for their departments, the RFP office has been a godsend.

“It’s very simple,” said Martin. “We’re dependent on fees, donations, and grants. The Forestry Division has supplied us with thousands of dollars of equipment. Everything from boots to tools, suits, and trucks. They have been a blessing.”

Because volunteer and rural fire departments are such a vital partner to the Forestry Division, the RFP office hosts an annual Rural Fire Show, a free appreciation event for firefighters and their families. This gives firefighters from across the state an opportunity to visit with vendors, learn about new products, attend special training opportunities, visit with other firefighters, have a free lunch, and win door prizes.

The Forestry Division also runs the Firewise USA Program for the state of Arkansas. Firewise USA

is a national wildfire safety initiative that works through fire departments to educate and protect communities from wildfires. Arkansas Firewise Coordinator Travis Haile said this program serves a dual purpose of educating communities and funding fire departments, primarily volunteer fire departments (VFDs).

“In this program, VFDs are often our liaison to the communities,” said Haile. “We talk to the fire department and explain to them how to make homes safer. The VFDs then go out and spread that message into the communities through projects and educational outreach. Once they complete those requirements set up by the Firewise USA program, we give them grant money.”

Both Haile and MahanHooten echo Fox when it comes to the safety of rural Arkansas: rural fire departments are vital to the suppression of wildfires across the state.

“I love working with the Arkansas Firewise program,” said Haile. “There’s a lot of emergency calls and wildfires these VFDs have to respond to, so that extra, small amount of grant money and that extra training goes a long way for these rural departments.”

“I get to see the importance of these programs from a different perspective,” said MahanHooten. “My family are firefighters and I’ve been a firefighter for 14 years now. I understand their needs and their importance to those local communities. What if you dialed 911 and nobody came? That’s what a lot of communities are facing these days with so many VFDs closing or combining.”

Learn more about the RFP program and what they do for rural fire departments at agriculture. Learn more about the Arkansas Firewise program at agriculture.arkansas. govforestry/arkansas-firewise


One STOP Shop

When you think about the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division, you may think of wildfire response and multi-acre forests. However, the Division’s Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) Program works on a much smaller scale.

“Our Urban and Community Forestry Program does amazing work at the county, city, and community levels,” said Arkansas State Forester and Forestry Division Director Joe Fox. “One tree at a time, our team is teaching the importance and value of trees to each community in our great state.”

One way the UCF program spreads this message is through its annual Shade Trees on Playgrounds (STOP) program, which aims to help lower adult skin cancer risk by reducing childhood exposure to direct sunlight on playgrounds. The program targets schools with little to no shade on their playgrounds and provides five native shade trees, mulch, watering supplies, and planting guidelines to selected schools. Funding for the program comes from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry grant.

In 2022, the STOP program celebrated its 20-year anniversary by expanding its number of selected schools from 10 schools to 20. This was made possible by additional funding from the Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives campaign, a regional grant-funded campaign that promotes prioritizing healthy tree canopy cover in communities and the health benefits it provides.

“One tree at a time, our team is teaching the importance and value of trees to each community...”

In addition to providing trees, the STOP program loops in curriculum for schools to teach students the dangers of UV rays and the benefits of trees.

“This program not only provides much needed protection from UV rays, but it also teaches kids to appreciate trees for that protection,” said UCF Coordinator Kristine Kimbro.

Selected schools must involve students in tree-related projects that culminate with a school-wide tree planting ceremony. However, she said the education reaches beyond the classroom.

Forestry Division Program Provides Shade and Education One Tree at a Time ARKANSAS GROWN 94

“Giving these trees to kids and having them help plant and maintain them gives them a sense of ownership,” said Kimbro. “It helps them grow into environmentally conscious adults and cultivates a love for trees.”

Kimbro said each year she’s surprised at the new ways students connect to their trees and the STOP program.

“The kids always find a way to make the trees their own and have fun at the planting ceremony,” she said. “I’ve seen a boys versus girls planting competition and classes voting on names for the trees. If it’s a kindergarten through 5th grade school, each grade typically gets their own tree. Or, if it’s a small school, each classroom gets their own tree, and that’s just another way we try to encourage that sense of ownership for them.”

Although the program’s overarching goal is teaching the benefits and importance of trees to community health, there are some unexpected advantages as well. Kimbro said it gives them a chance to teach kids about forestry as a career.

“A lot of these kids have never met a forester before,” she said. “Helping these kids plant trees and showing them that they can do this for a living can also serve as a recruitment tool for us and for the forestry community as a whole.”

Applications for the STOP program open each fall to any public or private Arkansas school serving kindergarten through 12th grade, or non-traditional educational facilities such as juvenile detention centers, residential childcare institutions, or longterm care facilities that have a playground in need of more shaded areas. Learn more at agriculture.


Abandoned Pesticides Program

Safely Disposing of Pesticides Since 2005

For agricultural producers, properly disposing of old, outdated, or unwanted pesticides can be costly. To help ease that financial burden and keep pesticides out of groundwater, Act 1174 of 1999 created the Agricultural Abandoned Pesticide Program. Since then, the program has overseen the collection of 5.4 million pounds of unwanted pesticides in counties across Arkansas.

“There was a need for producers and applicators to dispose of pesticides safely,” said Brandi Reynolds, program manager for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Plant Industries Division. “It’s a very costly process and a lot of people in the state did not have the capacity or the means to do it properly.”

The Abandoned Pesticides Program works in conjunction with the Abandoned Pesticide Advisory Board, which includes representatives from the Arkansas State Plant Board, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division, and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

Each year, the board selects ten counties across the state to hold collection events. Although the board targets high agricultural areas, the overarching goal was to hold a collection event in every county, according to Reynolds.

“We can say now that every county has had access to a pesticide collection,” said Reynolds. “Staff looks for a central location in the county, and in areas with not as much agricultural production, we coordinate what we call joint collections. We host them in a centralized area that allows multiple counties to participate.”

To properly dispose of the collected pesticides, the Plant Industries Division hires an agricultural waste contractor. Most of the collected pesticides are incinerated according to federal regulation and what cannot be incinerated, such as heavy metals, is disposed of in a hazardous waste facility approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These services are paid for by fees charged to pesticide manufacturers through the pesticide registration program.

“It’s a very costly process and a lot of people in the state did not have the capacity or the means to do it properly...”

Since its inception, the Cooperative Extension Service and Arkansas Farm Bureau have been vital to the success of the Abandoned Pesticides Program among agricultural producers in the state.

“The extension service and Farm Bureau have always been extremely helpful in getting the word out about our collection events,” said Reynolds. “In the beginning, many were skeptical and hesitant to bring their outdated pesticides to an event overseen by a regulatory agency, so we leaned on county extension agents and local Farm Bureau agents and their positive relationships with producers.”

The skepticism didn’t last long. Once producers saw that the program was truly anonymous, interest and trust started to grow, according to Ples Spradley, a pesticide assessment specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“When people went, they saw that it really was anonymous,” he said. “You just pulled up, you didn’t have to get out of your vehicle or answer any questions. If anyone asked you anything, they asked how you were doing. After one tour of the state, people saw how great the program was.”

Now, after almost 10 years, the program and collection events are a success twice a year.

“It’s a well-oiled machine at this point,” said Spradley. “It’s such a good program that it just takes care of itself.”

Learn more about the Abandoned Pesticide Program at

“When people went, they saw that it really was anonymous...”

The Miracle Bean

For nearly a century, soybeans have played a pivotal role in Arkansas agriculture, serving as the complete nutritional package for livestock and poultry. Packed with protein, high in energy, and rich with amino acids, the state’s top row crop provides a plentiful and locally sourced feedstuff that has helped underpin the proliferation of the Arkansas poultry industry. In an exciting new development, research scientists at the University of Arkansas are beginning to understand the unique healing and restorative properties of soybeans that could potentially help to holistically improve herd health and add yet another reason for cattle producers to consider supplementing their feed rations with soybeans.

“Soy products have been used in cattle diets for decades...”

“Soy products have been used in cattle diets for decades,” said Dr. Beth Kegley, professor of animal science with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture (UADA). “If soybean meal or soy oil is giving this additional benefit that we haven’t detected, that could make it more valuable to use in these diets when the cattle are stressed.”

Dr. Kegley is leading this project investigating the impact of soy products in cattle nutrition. Preliminary research by her team suggests that the use of soybean meal or soy oil in mixing cattle feed can potentially have positive effects in the health and performance of cattle by benefitting their growth and improving their inflammatory response as well as their ability to deal with environmental stresses. If her team’s hypothesis is correct, this study could benefit both the cattle and the soybean industries by reducing the impact of bovine respiratory disease in the beef supply chain and by adding new value to soybeans.

Research like this is one of the primary reasons the soybean industry in Arkansas has been so successful. It is a prime example of how producers’ checkoff investments support the industry and create new value through research funding. Research has remained a top priority for the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board since it was formally established in 1971. Fifty years later, that legacy continues to benefit the producers who support the Arkansas Soybean Checkoff in a variety of ways. In addition to improving production practices, market opportunities, and producers’ bottom lines, the checkoff’s support for soybean research is also helping develop the industry’s next generation of leaders who will ensure the

Checkoff’s Legacy of Research Creates New Value for Soybean Producers ARKANSAS GROWN 98

success of the industry in the future. The checkoff is accomplishing this by funding a program administered by UADA called the Soybean Science Challenge which encourages junior and high school students in Arkansas to learn about soybeans as well as current soil, water, seed, disease, and insect issues that impact production outcomes and agricultural sustainability.

“This is an opportunity for students to not only win some money but to view agriculture as a science they can be interested in,” said Julie Robinson, administer of the Soybean Science Challenge and UADA associate professor. “They discover that you don’t have to be a farmer in order to work in agriculture. There are tons of research opportunities available to them.”

Thirteen students were named Soybean Scholars in 2022 after their projects won the Soybean Science Challenge at district and state science fairs. The projects covered plant science, earth and environmental science, energy and transportation, and plant systems.

By funding these and other research projects, the checkoff brings new discoveries and continued relevancy to the soybean industry. Therefore, the industry is able to expand and benefit more people and more agricultural sectors, demonstrating its value to producers and consumers. This work could not be done without the support of soybean producers who understand the industry’s importance to Arkansas.

Photography credit Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.
“... you don’t have to be a farmer in order to work in agriculture...”
For more information, go to
Arkansas Grown Conference & Expo January 25-28, 2023 Embassy Suites by Hilton in West Little Rock

The Mental Health Epidemic in Agriculture

Speech Prepared by

Southside Bee Branch FFA First Place Winner in Arkansas FFA Prepared Public Speaking and Top 16 in National FFA Prepared Public Speaking

Mental health issues are becoming more prominent in the world that we know today. With one in every five individuals suffering from mental illnesses, society as a whole is struggling to end this epidemic. Comparatively, the rate of mental illnesses in farmers is “3.5 times that of the general population,” according to USA Today News. So with an increasing rate of mental illnesses and suicide rates within agriculture, why is no one speaking up and ending the strident stigma on mental health? Our friends, family, and the future of agriculture as a whole are suffering in silence and struggling to keep fighting for their life; therefore, it is our job as the leaders of FFA to normalize reaching out for help. This fight for our nation, our friends, and our future needs to start here, today, at our Leadership Development Competition.

Picture this: we are in the year 2030, and we are struggling to find food. Why? Because all of our farmers are too depressed to get out of bed, suffering from suicidal thoughts, and ultimately taking their own lives. So now what do we do? Farmers provide America with food which in turn provides for hundreds of lives. This is not just a picture from my imagination, but rather a real

struggle we will have to face if we do not get this mental health epidemic under control. In the 1980s, farmland value dropped dangerously due to policies put in place by the Federal Reserve, causing “the suicide rate among farmers and ranchers to increase dramatically," according to Rural Health. Farm Progress reported that several individuals state they remembered “farmers taking their own lives, even taking the lives of bankers.” While that was in the 1980s, the same concept still applies today. We do not want to see the same ripple effects because no one stepped up to help the very same farmers that provide for us every day. The American Psychological Association states that the “fear of losing farm and financial issues cause 88 percent of farmers to struggle with mental health.” Now you may be asking why this affects me, or how do random farmers and their feelings concern me? But the real answer to that question is that, honestly, it should affect you in every single way humanly possible. At the end of the day, farmers are human, and every single human being deserves basic respect. As an individual, we should feel morally obligated to want to save our fellow human beings. Equally important, farmers provide food and basic necessities

“...the rate of mental illnesses in farmers is 3.5 times that of the general population...”

to citizens all over the world; therefore, if mental health causes a shortage of farmers sequentially, we will have a shortage in all basic human necessities. Mental health is physical health, emotional health, and overall health. If farmers and agriculturalists are sick due to mental illness, they will not be able to physically do their jobs. Trying to cope and struggling to find the motivation to do basic human functions, farmers are self-medicating resulting in addiction. Grinnell Mutual states, “the strong link between excessive alcohol consumption and depression is well documented, and self-medication- whether with alcohol or drugs can be coping for struggling farmers.” This reiterates the basic need for awareness when it comes to farmers' mental health.

The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network

Although the need to end this epidemic is apparent, the solution can be approached in many different ways. With mental illnesses varying and not every individual has the same symptoms, eliminating mental illnesses completely is nearly impossible; however, ending the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses is a step in the right direction. Reaching out for help can seem almost impossible when you are stuck in the middle of the ongoing cycle related to mental health issues. Two years ago, I entered high school as a ninth-grade student who had absolutely no idea why she was still living, consumed by a world that so desperately seemed better off without me. Reaching out for help seemed impossible. When I entered my 10th-grade year, I fully believed I would not live to see my junior year. That is what makes mental health so incredibly gut-wrenching; when you are stuck in the middle of it, there seems like there is absolutely no way out. This makes the need for outreach so important. So what can we do as an FFA organization? We can reach out to our friends, our families, and especially our farmers. Did you know that according to the American Psychological Association “87% of farmers agree the cost of treatment (for mental illnesses) would be an obstacle to receiving help?” So why does a big organization like FFA not create a fund where we can

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture currently administers funds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network – State Departments of Agriculture Program (FRSAN-SDA). Funding from this program has been used to initiate, expand, and sustain programs in Arkansas that address mental and behavioral health in rural and agricultural families and communities.

The three Arkansas FRSAN-SDA grantees are the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, the Agri Health Network, and Arkansas PBS. The Division of Agriculture offers a face-to-face training by local county agents that increases awareness of rural stress, explores key issues, and identifies coping mechanisms. The Agri Health Network encourages and provides resources for groups to create a network within agricultural communities to handle stress. Arkansas PBS has launched The Growing Season, a monthly agricultural podcast that focuses on the stressors and struggles that come with each season.

Learn more about the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s efforts and find resources at agriculture.arkansas. gov/farm-stress-mental-health-inagriculture

“...the strong link between excessive alcohol consumption and depression is well documented, and self-medication, whether with alcohol or drugs, can be coping for struggling farmers...”

help farmers who are in dire need of assistance? We need to raise awareness for these farmers. We need to show them resources that are available for them and encourage them to reach out when they are hurting. We need to educate ourselves to be aware of the signs and to approach situations involving mental health in a delicate way. FFA as a whole can use our platform to speak up because although this is a national fight, it’s also a fight for our farmers, our students, and our agriculture family. It is a fight for our future. FFA can set up local support groups where our farmers can speak about their struggles openly with friendly and familiar faces. We can utilize places like Pruitt’s Mid-State stockyards, a place that these farmers trust and feel comfortable, to show them that they are not alone in their fight to better their mental health. Allowing FFA, such a large organization, to speak openly about mental illnesses and show that struggling with mental health is actually very common helps end the stigma around mental health.

To conclude, the stigma that surrounds mental health within agriculture should be torn down and rebuilt as a platform that reaches out to individuals who are hurting. My local FFA chapter has allowed me to be able to advocate for others who might feel how I was during my 9th-grade year. My advisors have constantly pushed me to be the best version of myself that I could possibly be, and my fellow FFA members have stood by my side and inspired me through all of my hard journeys. If my small 120-member chapter helped cause this much change within one person, imagine what a whole community of FFA members and alumni could do. Today, I chose to use my voice within my chapter to uplift my fellow members and encourage them to always fight for their mental health. Thank you for your time, and never forget that even on the days you feel you are at your weakest you are strong, you are loved, and you are valued!

Resources cited are available upon request.

While some individuals feel that mental health concerns are irrelevant to agriculture and should not be addressed due to the persona that farmers are supposed to put on, it does not change the fact that mental health should be one of the most pressing concerns within this industry. So many people view farmers as men and women who are supposed to be “tough” and never speak about emotions; however, this could not be further from the truth. The persona with which individuals view farmers and agriculturalists is one of the many reasons our agricultural family is suffering in silence. Speaking up about your feelings and expressing when you need help is an attribute that should be seen as something that makes you stronger. If farmers do not feel comfortable speaking on concerns that are weighing them down, then they will continue to struggle with mental illnesses; therefore, this reveals, again, the dire need for a platform for mental illnesses within agriculture.

“...87% of farmers agree the cost of treatment (for mental illnesses) would be an obstacle to receiving help...”

The Natural State’s Voice in D.C.

Arkansas Legislators Impacting 2023 Farm Bill

Since the first farm bill was enacted in the 1930s, the bipartisan package of legislation has stayed true to its original goals: ensuring an adequate and affordable food supply and protecting and sustaining the country’s vital natural resources.

The farm bill expires every five years, with the most recent farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, set to expire September 2023. The U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees have begun the research and outreach needed to sculpt the 2023 farm bill, and the story of Arkansas agriculture is being heard.

One of Arkansas’s largest advocates for agriculture in Washington, D.C. is Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Senator Boozman said that aiding rural America in the face of recent hardships is among his top priorities for this farm bill.

“Americans have been through a lot since we drafted the last farm bill. The pandemic, record-high inflation, breakdowns in the supply chain, the war in Ukraine, droughts, tornados, hurricanes, and wildfires tested all of us,” said Senator Boozman. “Rural Arkansas was not shielded from any of these challenges. In fact, in many ways, the impact in our rural communities was greater.”

To address concerns from his home state, Senator Boozman and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, held a field hearing in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Senator Boozman described the field hearing as a chance for Arkansans to discuss

topics ranging from safety nets to the needs of rural communities and families.

“The Jonesboro hearing offered a unique opportunity to share the story of agriculture in the Natural State – what it means to us, what its future holds, and how Washington can help,” said Senator Boozman. “The insights shared, and the concerns voiced, at our Jonesboro hearing will heavily inform the committee’s efforts to improve existing farm bill programs and fill gaps in the safety net.”

One topic that weighed heavy on many Arkansans who testified was the lack of broadband access in rural communities. Representative Rick Crawford (R-AR), a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, said he anticipates the expansion of rural broadband will continue with the 2023 Farm Bill.

“During the pandemic we saw large gaps in broadband access for rural areas and how it left these communities behind as everything moved online,” said Representative Crawford. “Rural broadband development is critical for the economic viability and future of rural towns.”

While passing a vital piece of legislation like the farm bill is an extensive process, after working on several farm bills over the years, Senator Boozman explained the key to success: teamwork.

“We all have to work together to arrive at a final product that puts producers first and is fair to the needs of each region and each commodity,” said Senator Boozman. “The good news is that the Senate agriculture committee has a long and storied history of doing just that.”

“Americans have been through a lot since we drafted the last farm bill. ...”

AGRICU LTURE STRESS RELIEF A Partnership For Farmers, About Farmers

Arkansas PBS has teamed up with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture and the USDA to bring attention to the mental health needs of farmers and farm families across the state. As a part of this partnership, Arkansas PBS is working with farmers, mental healthcare professionals, financial experts and many others to highlight the overlooked stressors and struggles of modern farm life.

The Growing Season

“The Growing Season” is a monthly podcast featuring interviews with a handful of Arkansas farmers as they work through a year in their operations. From largescale, row cropping to cattle ranches and two-acre vegetable farms, “The Growing Season” takes a long, honest look at the many things “farming” means to Arkansans, and the many hurdles that come with that way of life. Available wherever podcasts are found.

Growing Hope: Combating Stress in Agriculture

The deterioration of the mental health of the American farmer is a silent and overlooked crisis. Most rural communities view farming as a fact of life, while most urbanites never give it a second thought. However, with skyrocketing suicide rates, the way of life is dying at its own hand. Arkansas isn’t immune. “Growing Hope: Combating Stress in Agriculture” looks at both sides of the mental health crisis facing famers.

Scan to check out our Agriculture in Arkansas playlist, including extras from “The Growing Season” and our special “Growing Hope: Combating Stress in Agriculture.”

Never miss an update. Scan to sign up.

Good Roots

“Good Roots” seeks to shine a light on Arkansas’s rich rural culture and communities. Segments focus on the real stories of rural life, while addressing relevant topics like agriculture, health care, the economy, technology, policy and more. Recent segments have focused on the stresses hanging over farmers. The segment airs the second Friday of each month during “Arkansas Week.”

“The Growing Season” podcast, “Growing Hope: Combating Stress in Agriculture” and upcoming “Good Roots” episodes are funded through a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Grant provided by the United States Department of Agriculture and administered by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.


Advertising Directory

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Simmons Bank Farmers & Merchants Bank

Arkansas Forestry Association

Arkansas Cattlemen's Association

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Arkansas FFA Foundation

Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C.

Agri Health Network

Arkansas CAPS/Don't Move Firewood

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Natural Resources Division

Arkansas Grown Conference

Arkansas PBS

Southern United States Trade Association

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