LITTLE ROCK – The eight district winners in the 71st annual Arkansas Farm Family of the Year Program have been selected, representing the diversity of Arkansas agriculture, the state’s largest industry, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
The district winners will now be judged to determine a state winner to be announced Dec. 6 at the Farm Family of the Year luncheon at the Wyndham Hotel in North Little Rock, according to the release.
The district winners are:
• Chris and Judy Isbell of England (Lonoke County) in the East Central District. The family grows rice on 3,000 acres. The Isbell’s production focuses on a variety of rice grown specifically for the making of sake. They have two children, Whitney and Mark.
• Jared and Lacey Standridge of Dennard (Van Buren County) in the North Central District. The Standridges operate Hartsugg Cattle Company where they raise longhorn cattle for lease, beef cattle and show cattle. They have three children, Sydney, Sam and Shelby.
• Michael and Rhonda Ahrent of Corning (Clay County) in the Northeast District. The Ahrents have been farming for 35 years and grow rice and soybeans on 4,800 acres. Michael and Rhonda have one son, Blake, and daughter-in-law, Emily.
• Carl and Christie Campbell of Harrison (Boone County) in the Northwest District. They run a custom hay baling and livestock operation on 4,600 acres. The family also owns and operates Cattlemen’s Livestock Auction of Harrison. The Campbells have one daughter, Melinda Logan, son-in-law Landon, and two grandchildren, Ladd and Larson.
• Dean and Tawana Watson of St. Charles (South Arkansas County) in the Southeast District. The Watsons grow rice, soybeans and corn on 2,450 acres. They also own a duck hunting lodge where they provide housing, meals and guided hunts during duck season. Dean and Tawana have one daughter, Ava Bliss.
• Jimmy and Crystal Hewitt of Fouke (Miller County) in the Southwest District. Jimmy and Crystal raise registered Simbrah and commercial cattle. Their operation also includes hay production. The Hewitts have two children, Kyleen and Colton.
• Travis and Valerie Sims of Center Ridge (Conway County) in the Western District. Travis and Valerie have four broiler houses and raise an average of 594,000 birds per year for Tyson. They also raise cattle. The Sims have two children, Will and Cordell.
• Damon and Jana Helton of Lonsdale (Saline County) in the West Central District. The Heltons raise grass-fed beef, forested hogs and pastured broilers. Damon and Jana also have a small market, Olde Crow General Store, where they sell food they produced. They have four children, Luke, Olivia, Violet and Elena.
“The contributions made by our state’s farm families are beyond measure,” Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said. “It is almost impossible to fully understand the impact our family farms have on the economy, our rural communities and to the character of our great state.”
The program begins each year with selection of top the farm families in each county and culminates with the selection of the state Farm Family of the Year. They then represent Arkansas at the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition in Georgia. Arkansas has had two Southeastern Farmers of the Year, Brian Kirksey of Clark County in 2008 and Wildy Family Farms of Mississippi County in 2016. All winners are judged on their farm production, efficiency, management, family life and rural/community leadership.
“No other business sector has a larger economic impact in Arkansas than agriculture,” Veach said. “The men and women of agriculture, and their families, work diligently every day to maintain a business and a lifestyle that represents the very best our state has to offer.”
Sponsors of the Farm Family of the Year program are Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas and the three Farm Credit agencies that serve Arkansas: AgHeritage Farm Credit Services, Farm Credit of Western Arkansas and Midsouth Farm Credit. Additionally, support for the program is provided by the Arkansas Agriculture Department, Arkansas Department of Career Education, Arkansas Press Association, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development.
Arkansas Farm Bureau is a nonprofit, private advocacy organization of more than 190,000 families throughout the state working to improve farm and rural life, according to the release.