The ingredients of successful farming can include nutrients, rain and plenty of sunshine. And for many farmers in Arkansas, the recipe has to have one more component – family.
That partially explains why the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year program has been so popular and respected since it began in 1947. It’s a way to acknowledge farm families in the state and show appreciation for what they’re doing to showcase the importance of agriculture in Arkansas.
“This program gives us the opportunity to bring honor and recognition to the farm families who are providing us with food, fiber and shelter,” says Mollie Dykes, director of the program at Farm Bureau. “Farm families don’t always get the recognition that they deserve. Because of its long history, it has really built up its name across the state. It is looked upon as a very high honor to be even named a county or district winner, and then the state winner. “We’re not just honoring one person but the whole family, because we know it takes the entire family to make that farm successful.”
Judging begins taking place in February and March of each year, resulting in 76 county farm families being named and placed into eight different districts for the next round of judging in June and July. The winning family is selected from among the eight district winners and is recognized at a luncheon in December.
“It’s always a big celebration that focuses completely on the families and their contributions to Arkansas agriculture,” Dykes says.
The winner then goes on to represent Arkansas in the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year program.
Keeping The Family Together
Wildy Family Farms, a fifth-generation farm in Manila, was selected as Arkansas Farm Family of the Year for 2015 and then named the 2016 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year during the Sunbelt Ag Expo in October 2016.
David Wildy is now running the 12,200-acre operation that grows soybeans, cotton, wheat, milo and peanuts, following his father and grandfather. Wildy’s farm family includes his wife, Patty, two sons and their spouses, and daughter and son-in-law.
“People keep saying we won the farm family of the year, but no, we didn’t win anything,” Wildy insists. “We were just selected to represent agriculture for this year. There are so many other farms just as deserving as we are. We’re certainly very humbled by this experience.”
While many farm families might diversify and form new subsidiaries or even new business ventures from the main operation, Wildy says, “We’re kind of taking a different approach. Instead of splitting up and taking all these families off in a different direction, our strategy is to try to keep the farm intact and grow the farm as one instead of splitting off. I feel like if we structure ourselves correctly, we can have better success as a larger operation.”
Farming’s a Lifestyle
Like many farmers from close-knit families, Nathan Reed had the opportunity to grow up with on-the-job training from his father and grandfather. His family, which includes his wife, Kristin, and four small children, was named Farm Family of the Year for 2014.
“I’ve enjoyed farming and agriculture, the same as my father and grandfather before me,” says Reed, who runs a 6,000-acre corn, cotton, rice and soybean operation in Marianna. “I feel not many people get to know their father and grandfather the way I did mine, and a lot of that was because of agriculture.
“You need an understanding spouse and a family-support system,” he adds. “It’s a different occupation than most. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. I’d say it’s a lifestyle as much as it is a job.”