The name, Farmer, says it all.
That may be why Newton County's panel of farm service representatives selected the David Farmer family of Hasty as the county's Farm Family of the Year.
For 73 years, the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year Program has honored farm families across the state. Program sponsors include: Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Services of Western Arkansas, Ag Heritage Farm Credit Services, Farm Credit Mid-South Associations and Armor Seed. Program partners are: Arkansas Agriculture Department, Arkansas Press Association, Arkansas FFA Association, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension Service, USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and USDA Rural Development.
"I have farmed my entire life. Since I was young, I have worked with my parents on our family farm. After my father’s passing in 2013 my mother and I have continued to keep the farm running at the same capacity as before," David said.
The name, Farmer, has long been associated with the headwaters of Big Creek. David, the son of Glenda and the late J.W. Farmer, said the family name reaches back generations, more than 100 years.
His earliest memories are of his grandparents, the late Sammie and Emogene Farmer. "Look up the word grandmother in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of my grandmother," David said. "She always wore a dress and had food on the table," he recalled.
The farm was small, then. His parents later bought the land around it.
David's father, J.W., was also his mentor and teacher about all things farming. He also worked off the farm as a road maintenance worker for the county for about 30 years.
David said he graduated from Mt. Judea High School in 2000. The school didn't have a vocational agriculture program at the time. He went to North Arkansas College where he earned a welding certificate. That is a skill he put to use on the farm building a corral that he and his father designed. Their's was a close relationship that ended suddenly with his father's passing in December 2013. But there is a part of the corral that will be a lifelong memory of their time together. In 2011 a tornado twisted through the farm damaging buildings and knocked down a big tree that bent some bars on the corral. J.W. insisted those pieces not be replaced or repaired to serve as a lesson about the power of Mother Nature.
David said lightning is a big danger to farmers and livestock. He remembers several electrical storms that passed through the area over the years. He is thankful to new technology that alerts him of possible lighting through an app on his cell phone.
The operation today consists of 584 acres, of which 222 acres are rented. The family grows and harvests grass and hay which is used to feed a cow and calf herd. David says the farm currently supports around 70 "momma cows." That's the optimum number the family can work efficiently though the farm could support more than 100 head. Calves are marketed at either a local stock sale or through a cattle buyer.
Farming alone won't pay all the bills, so David works off the farm at a full-time job as a delivery driver for the United Parcel Service out of Harrison. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, he has found himself to be a doubly essential worker and has put in a lot of extra hours of work away from the farm. That keeps him figuring out new ways to feed the cattle more efficiently.
The best method he found is a self-feeding regimen that utilizes 17 round bale feeders that allows the cattle to be fed a week at a time. Every cow gets the food it needs. He also supplements their diet with grain. The farm also purchased a hay tedder and a grain feeder for the farm truck to make feeding in the winter months safer.
The family fertilizes, cuts and puts up its own hay. David said, "We currently have 650 bales in the barn, but some of that is hay we did not use last year. I normally bale 400-450 round bales on the first cutting each year. He doesn't expect to use it all, but if it should be needed it will last until next year. Soil samples are taken on the hay fields. "Hay production is key," he said. "All we raise is grass and cows." He said they found using Grazon® weed killer mixed with fertilizer is a good combination to produce quality hay.
David said the family works together as a team and farming decision are also made as a team. The first question generally asked is, "What would Dad do?"
David's mother, Glenda Farmer, works at Mt. Judea School as a paraprofessional. She continues to reside at Vendor and commutes to the farm several miles away just about every day. "We worked hard to build it," she said of the farm. "Even during hard times we loved it," she said of herself and J.W. It was their dream to move on to the farm.
David's wife, Courtney, is a literacy teacher at Jasper Elementary school. Last June, she was named Arkansas Rural Educator Association's Teacher of the Year for the North part of the state. Teachers must be nominated, complete a rigorous application, and be chosen by the Educational Cooperative. Courtney was honored at the Rural Educator Association's Conference this summer.
Courtney has been an educator for 13 years with the past four of those being at Jasper Elementary. She taught fourth and fifth grade literacy during the 2019-2020 school year. She is Nationally Board Certified in Early Middle Childhood Reading: Language Arts, a Lead Teacher, a member of the School Data Team and Leadership Team.
She said she did not grow up on a farm and was rather "green" when she arrived at the farm as David's wife. They were married on June 16, 2007. She recalled her first experience trying to bottle feed a calf. That ended badly when the calf knocked her off her feet.
The most important members of the family are David's and Courtney's children, Emily, 8 and Emmett, 4. Emily will be going into third grade at Jasper Elementary in the fall. She is a member of the local 4H. Both Emily and Emmett play softball and t-ball in the summer program at Bradley Park in Jasper.
Emily said enjoys the animals while Emmett likes riding the tractors and the farm's other pieces of rolling stock. David said he remembered one time when he was around 9 or 10 years old his dad needed him to drive the farm truck. Glenda said David had to sit on a pillow and his feet barley reached the pedals.
David said his sister and her family, who live nearby, also help out at times. "We make a family thing out of it."
"We do our best to conserve when we can," David said. A good overview of the farm from below can be seen where Big Creek cuts its way through the property. "Most of our ponds are built below natural occurring springs and we use spring water for our farmhouse and barn. When clearing property, I try to leave a few trees to help with stabilizing the ground. My dad always said, 'It’s not what you make, but what you save.' With that theory in mind and being able to weld, we have repurposed several different materials and built usable farm equipment."
David said the family plans to clear more land, dig more ponds, and update fences. The overall goal is to purchase or rent more land and to clear more of the land the family owns. "I would also like to increase our cow herd to 100 or more momma cows," David said.
David credits his parents for giving him a start in farming and he wants nothing more than for his children to have the same experiences and appreciate what farming has to offer. He said they may not want to farm, but at least they will have that chance.
"It's been a good life for me," David said.