Agriculture is of paramount importance in the state of Arkansas. Agriculture is the largest industry in Arkansas, adding some $16 billion to the state’s economy every year. And Arkansas’ agriculture has a major impact on a national level, too. The state is the number one producer of rice in the country, the third largest producer of cotton and the 10th largest producer of soybeans.
In order to honor the importance of Arkansas’ agricultural economy, an annual program was established to highlight the people and families that drive the state’s largest industry. Enter the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program.
Founded in 1947, the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program has been an institution for Arkansas farmers for 71 years. Given that 14.5 million acres of the state are comprised of farmland, and that 97% of Arkansas’ 49,346 farms are family-owned, it’s no wonder why the program has become a mainstay in the Arkansas agricultural world.
On Thursday, December 6, the Farm Family luncheon at the Wyndham in Little Rock will serve as the culmination of this year’s contest, as one winning family will be selected out of the eight district finalists. The process is a thorough, deliberate one, ensuring that the true Farm Family of the Year will be selected.
It begins in the summer, when each county’s Farm Family of the Year committee brings forth nominees to be considered. Each committee searches for the same criteria: a family exemplifying innovative, sustainable farming practices, while also exhibiting exceptional community involvement. These farms can be long-term fixtures in the agricultural world, or newcomers—the award does not discriminate on farm age. This allows the committees to truly nominate the best farm families in the state of Arkansas.
After a nominee is selected by a county’s committee, they are brought before a panel of 16 judges, who will survey each nominee of each county within the eight districts in Arkansas. A district winner is selected, leaving eight finalists to be selected by a statewide panel of three judges. The winner will be announced at the Thursday luncheon.
The program serves to bring awareness to Arkansas agriculture, says program coordinator Maddison Stewart Stone. “Arkansas farm families put in the effort to raise food, fiber and shelter, that we take for granted. We want to honor those families and bring attention to a group that can sometimes be overlooked.”
Stone was also quick to commend the sponsors of the event. “Without our sponsors, what we do wouldn’t be possible.” Sponsors of the event include the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Farm Credit of Western Arkansas, AgHeritage Farm Credit Services, Farm Credit Midsouth, and the Arkansas Electric Coop.
As for what the event means for Arkansas as a whole, Stone points back to the mission of the program, saying “We want to make Arkansans aware of the importance of our farm families.”
It is easy to take for granted Arkansas’ status as an agricultural titan, but it’s important to remember that the distinction was earned, not given. With the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program, the people who earned that distinction are deservedly being recognized.