Lawrence “Wink” Conyer rises by 5 a.m., labors in his fields until midnight, and loves being a farmer.
Like many farmers, Conyer contends with unpredictable weather, fluctuating crop prices, hordes of insects, foraging coyotes and costly equipment. He grows crops on 900 acres in several locations, including a farm along U.S. 65 in Pine Bluff.
For his hard work, Conyer earned the Jefferson County Farm Family of the Year for 2017 and was notified Monday of this honor by Mandy Owens, event coordinator at the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County and the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I am growing soybeans this year,” Conyer, 65, said. “I had planned to grow corn and rice but the weather messed me up. We had so much rain this year. I am fortunate enough that my stuff has lights so I can see in the dark. I roll all day. You’ve got to love farming to be a farmer. Because if you don’t, you would not get up early in the morning and come back late at night.”
Conyer received congratulations from his wife Edna M. Conyer, daughter Masherrl Conyer of Arlington, Virginia; daughter Lawanna Conyer Harris of Little Rock; son Kelcey Conyer, who is a farmer in Crittenden County, Arkansas; and great-grandson Kingston Conyer, 3.
Before becoming a farmer in 1999, Conyer was a licensed certified machinist and mechanic. As the son of a share-cropper, he did not expect to work the land.
“That helped me a lot because I learned a lot that doesn’t get taught in school,” Conyer said of his earlier occupations. “And I learned how to deal with people.”
One piece of farm equipment costs at least tens of thousands of dollars. He labors in the fields by himself, although he taught his children how to operate farming equipment.
“It takes a lot of finances because everything is so high,” he said. “I started off with an older tractor, but they can’t keep up with today’s equipment. … If you don’t advance by buying some of the newer equipment, you fall behind.”
Masherrl Conyer, 31, credits her father for having an excellent work ethic. An employee of Boeing, she returns to Pine Bluff regularly to visit him and beamed while discussing his achievements.
“I am very happy, very proud, [and] very blessed that my dad has been recognized for this wonderful honor,” she said. “He has done so much for our family and I know this is his passion. When we heard this [recognition] was happening, I bee-lined home. For him, family is everything and he’s doing it for the family so I wouldn’t miss it.”
As the daughter of a farmer, she drives the combine, sprays the fields, plants soybeans, lines the rows and spends quality time with him.
“When I do come home, I am always here on the farm,” she said.
Her childhood revolved around agricultural work, yet she was still determined to do normal childhood activities and visit with friends. She would not have traded the experience because it enriched her life.
“On Saturdays, you want to go with your friends to the mall, go shopping, and do girly things,” she said with a laugh. “I was on the farm while very young. I was helping with planting seeds or baling hay.”
She learned how to drive a tractor, which prepared her to drive a car.
Lawanna Conyer Harris is a high school teacher in Little Rock and is similarly proud of her father. She made a special trip to Pine Bluff to celebrate him.
“He deserved it because there is not a farmer who works as hard every day — morning, noon and night,” Lawanna Conyer Harris, 44, said. “To know that he retired from one position and started to do another, with farming being nonstop — it’s unbelievable.”
Kelcey Conyer, 40, used to live in Detroit, Michigan, for about 20 years and moved to Crittenden County, Arkansas, almost two years ago. He is growing soybeans on about 108 acres and learning from his father.
“I am really thankful that he’s awarded with that,” he said. “After seeing him doing this, I know somebody has to take over this. One day maybe I could take over this operation as well.”
Kelcey and his father compare notes regarding what to grow, what kinds of chemicals to use, what kind of tractors to use, and when to plant.
“I watched him work my whole life, so I know exactly how it is to work hard,” he said. “I appreciate that he was given this award. I know it means a lot to him.”
Owens similarly lauded Conyer.
“I am very excited about it,” she said. “This is my first year doing this job. I did not know what to expect. He has been very easy to work with. I really fell in love with him and his family. They’re awesome.”
The Arkansas Farm Bureau has sponsored the Farm Family of the Year program since 1947. The program has served as a vehicle to recognize outstanding farm families. It recognizes and encourages farm families who are doing an outstanding job on their farm and in their community and disseminates information on improved farm practices and management.