The Ahrents • Corning, Clay County • Northeast District Farm Family
Rice and Soybeans
By Caleb Talley
Agriculture is Arkansas’ largest industry, contributing more than $21 billion to the state’s economy each year. Because of our diverse landscape and unique climate, Arkansas produces a wide array of agricultural products and is among the nation’s leaders in a number of commodities.
Arkansas leads the nation in rice production, churning out 50 percent of America’s rice. As a result, Arkansas is also home to the country’s largest rice exporter, Riceland Foods. Arkansas is second in the nation in poultry production, with more than 2,500 farms raising chickens across the state. The nation’s largest poultry processor, Tyson Foods, also calls Arkansas home.
According to Farm Bureau, Arkansas has more than 14 million acres of farmland. More than 6 million acres of that are crops, while livestock and hay production make up the remaining 8 million acres. And across all those acres, Arkansas excels in the production of the following commodities: beef cattle, cotton, dairy, aquaculture, pork, horticulture, poultry, rice, soybeans, wheat and so much more.
“Farm families are multigenerational, and that, to me, is what’s so important,” says Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “They’ve survived good times and bad times, tough economies, and they have been able to make a living for their family.
“They’re leaders,” he adds. “They’re survivors. And they’re hard workers. They’re community oriented. That’s the nature of a farm family. You help your neighbors, and that’s helping our communities.”
In honor of the state’s largest and most vibrant industry, Farm Bureau continues to highlight the people who make it all possible: the Arkansas Farm Family. Each year, Farm Bureau celebrates the men and women and their families who make up the state’s most important business sector through their Farm Family of the Year program.
Each spring, a family is chosen from each of the state’s 75 counties. Of those 75 families, eight are chosen to represent their district. Arkansas Money & Politics has joined forced with Arkansas Farm Bureau in showcasing these hardworking men and women and their families, honoring them for all they do for their state and their community.
These eight families are diverse in what they farm, how they farm and why they farm. They represent various commodities, backgrounds and trades. But they all have one thing in common. They’re all salt of the earth people who hold this state together, both economically and societally. Learn more about these families and how their farms contribute to the Arkansas ecosystem.
Brothers Martin and Michael Ahrent, along with their families, grow rice and soybeans on their farm partnership north of Corning in Clay County.
The Ahrents are third-generation farmers, having picked up the trade at a young age while working alongside their father, who learned the trade from his father.
Martin, who has worked on the farm for 40 years, joined the operation after trying his hand at college. “I went to college,” he says, “but I really had a desire to farm. And that won out. So, I went to work for my father in 1980 and soon became his partner and have farmed ever since.”
Michael, who’s been on the farm for 35 years, joined their father right after high school. “Upon graduation, I went full-time and decided to make it a career,” he says.
The Ahrents market their rice and some soybeans through Riceland Foods seasonal pool program. Roughly 40 percent of their soybean production is grown for seed production for Monsanto and marketed through the price of the Chicago Board of Trade, also known as CBOT.
Over the years, the Ahrents have increased the size of their operation and continue to do so with hopes of passing the farm on to their children. “[We] continue to purchase or rent land when available to help the future generation continue the family farm,” says Michael. They work to improve the land they operate on in order to ensure sustainability.
During that time, they have overcome a number of challenges that many farmers in the region face, including poor drainage and weed issues. The Ahrents have worked hard to control red rice, stop soil erosion and eradicate pigweed — a challenge that faces many Arkansas soybean farmers.
The Ahrents use side inlet irrigation on their rice to reduce water usage, and they continue to install drop pipes to reduce erosion. After the rice harvest, they hold water on several hundred acres to create a habitat for waterfowl.
Martin’s wife, Dee, has worked as a registered nurse in their community for 43 years. But it was her hard work at home that has led to the success of their farm, says Martin. “She raised our children, which allowed me to run the family farm… She does so much to help me be able to focus on the farm.”
Martin and Dee’s adult children, 26-year-old Marka and 18-year-old Matthew both attend college. Marka is working to earn a graduate degree as a nurse practitioner, and Matthew is working to earn a degree in ag-business.
In addition to farming full time, Martin has also spent much of his time serving his community through a number of boards and organizations. He is a past president of his Farm Bureau board, a past chairman on the Rice and Soybean Subcommittee, a board member for the Doni Martin Center for Developmental Services and a Riceland Foods, Inc. board member. He’s also volunteered in his community as an assistant pee-wee basketball coach. The Martin Ahrent and his family are members of the St. Matthew Lutheran Church, and Martin serves as an elder.
Michael and Rhonda’s son Blake, 33, and daughter-in-law Emily, 32, assist on the farm, and Blake serves on the local Farm Service board and the Corning airport board.
Michael serves on the board of the Corning Chamber of Commerce and is a Corning Zoning Committee member. Michael and his family are also members of St. Matthews Lutheran Church.