The Sims • Center Ridge, Conway County • Western District Farm Family
Cattle and Broilers
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.
Valerie and Travis Sims and their sons, 16-year-old Will and 14-year-old Cordell, raise broilers and commercial cattle on their family farm just outside of Center Ridge. The hundreds of thousands of birds raised on the Sims’ farm are sold each year to Tyson Foods, the largest chicken processor in the country.
The son of a cattle farmer, Travis has spent the majority of his life farming. In 1996, his father, Sammy Sims, built two poultry houses on their family farm. Travis began his own farming operation the same year, purchasing the 90 acres of property he still farms today. In 2000, he built his own poultry houses where he continues to raise nearly 600,000 birds a year.
Though Arkansas is among the nation’s leaders in poultry production, finding success in raising broilers can be challenging. After building their first poultry houses in 2000, the Sims received a contract to raise chickens for ConAgra, a company that was later purchased by Pilgrim’s Pride in 2005. After raising broilers for Pilgrim’s Pride for another three years, the family received a letter notifying them that their plant would be shutting down and they would no longer have a need for their services.
No stranger to hard work, Travis took a job with Costner Excavating Company to provide for his family. But in 2010, they were back in the business of birds when Tyson Foods extended them a contract to once again raise broilers.
According to Travis, their broilers are raised to a target weight of 3.7 pounds over an average of 33 days. They are then transported to the Dardanelle processing facility, where they will become part of the 5.7 billion pounds of broiler meat produced in Arkansas each year, the second highest in the nation.
In addition to broilers, the Sims also raise commercial cattle, having grown their herd by more than 800 percent over the years. Their calves are marketed at 550 to 600 pounds and sold at Pruitt’s Mid-State Stockyards in Damascus. All hay grown on their farm is used exclusively to feed their cattle.
For the Sims, farming is a family affair, with hopes that the next generation will carry on that legacy. “Valerie and I hope to be able pass our farm down to our boys, Will and Cordell,” says Travis.
In addition to helping out on the farm, the Sims boys spend much of their time participating in various school and agricultural organizations. Both are actively involved in the Conway County 4-H and have regularly shown beef cattle. Both are also active in their local Future Farmers of America (FFA). Cordell plays for the Nemo Vista High School basketball team and the Center Ridge Baseball Association baseball team. Will is an active member of the local chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Both are active in their church youth group, as well.
Travis and Valerie are also involved in their community through the Conway County Cattlemen’s Association (Travis) and Arkansas Women in Agriculture (Valerie). The Sims are members of the Pleasant Springs Missionary Baptist Church.