Simply put, agriculture is vital to The Natural State. As Arkansas’s No. 1 industry, farm income alone contributes $8 billion on average to the state’s economy. When combined with agricultural and food processing industries, agriculture is responsible for close to 25 percent of Arkansas’s economy. It’s also responsible for employing one out of every six Arkansans.
The state boasts 45,071 farms, averaging about 306 acres each, spreading across 13.8 million acres of land. In fact, about one-half of Arkansas’s total land area is devoted to agriculture.
The hardworking farmers operating the land are busy growing and raising the state’s top commodities, including rice, soybeans, broilers, cotton, turkeys, catfish, grain sorghum, timber and more. The state takes the top spot nationally for rice production, and consistently ranks No. 3 for catfish and turkey production. Plus, it consistently ranks in the top three for number of broilers. In 2015 alone, soybeans and rice brought in a combined production value of $2.56 billion.
These crops and more represent an important export industry for Arkansas agriculture, with the state’s farmers exporting cotton, poultry, feed grains, rice and soybeans.
Arkansas provides the right climate for growing specialty crops as well, including fresh-market tomatoes, melons, peaches, blueberries, pecans and grapes.
Although these commodities are important, Arkansas agriculture goes far beyond the field. Educating the next generation of farmers, implementing innovative ideas and sustainability management practices, research and development, exports and international trade, connecting consumers to local products and growers, and much more are all encompassed by Arkansas agriculture.
Working to keep agriculture in the forefront, the Arkansas Agriculture Department, colleges and universities, Arkansas Farm Bureau, and many other organizations across the state make sure this integral industry continues to thrive.
A Century of Service
As a way to honor Arkansas farm families who have owned and farmed the same land for at least 100 years, the Arkansas Agriculture Department established the Arkansas Century Farm program in 2012.
Each century farm family receives a personalized sign to display on their farm and receives honors during a special inductee ceremony at the state Capitol. The program aims to recognize those who have contributed to the tradition of agriculture for a significant amount of time, keeping the vital industry successful.
Since 2012, almost 350 families have been inducted into the program. For more information, visit aad.arkansas.gov.
Veggies For a Cause
Colbe Cortez uses gardening to give back to his community. The 14-year-old, who has been gardening for three years, saw the opportunity to give back after attending a confirmation class at his church. Colbe wanted to donate his Christmas money to charity. However, after some discussion with a family friend, he determined that he could do even more with it.
He used this as “seed” money to start a garden and then donate the vegetables or offer them for donations at church, on Facebook, and to friends and neighbors. He gave the donations to Our House, a local charity empowering the homeless to succeed in society.
“I have helped serve meals at Our House as part of our youth group. I thought it was good they try to help homeless people,” Colbe says.
The garden provided a significant contribution, with the first year yielding $586. The second year, Colbe aimed to double that amount, passing his goal with $1,788 raised. He most recently planted a fall garden and is on target to surpass the amount he raised the year before.
Arkansas is a major player in the poultry and cattle and calves industries, but the state is also home to sheep and meat goats. In 2015, the state had 38,000 head of meat goats.
Both sheep and goats are easier to manage than larger livestock, and they require similar feeds, fencing, facilities and health care. Both of these animals are great for small-space farmers, since they are small, relatively inexpensive and can be raised on little grain.
Find more information on the state’s sheep and meat goat industries at uaex.edu.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
Next time you stock up on starter plants for your garden, thank Cathy and Tom Ellis of Lonoke County. The couple oversees the only Bonnie Plants farm in Arkansas, managing 122,000 square feet of greenhouse during the growing season, along with eight full-time salesmen and 30 growers. They’ve been doing so for the past 18 years.