On Wednesday, January 4th, the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame announced its 35th Class of Inductees. The individuals will be formally recognized at an induction cermony luncheon in Little Rock on Friday, March 3rd at 11:30am. Tickets and sponsorships are available online at https://www.arkansasaghalloffame.org/pages/induction-luncheon/.
Included in Class XXXV are Arkansas Century Farm owner/operator and philanthropist Ellis Bell of Forrest City; Arkansas State University professor of agricultural economics Bert Greenwalt of Jonesboro; innovative rice farmer Chris Isbell of Humnoke; veteran cotton farmer and industry leader Steve Stevens of Tillar; and the late Jessie (J.D.) Vaught of Horatio, a pioneer in contract livestock production.
The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame was established in 1987 to build public awareness of agriculture; and to honor/recognize past and current leaders who have given selflessly to the farm industry, their communities and to economic development in the state. The Ag Council of Arkansas maintains a position on the Hall of Fame board of directors and serves on the selection committee for the Hall of Fame. Nominations for future classes can be submitted online: https://www.arkansasaghalloffame.org/pages/member-nomination-form/
A fourth-generation minority farmer who spent decades overcoming obstacles, Ellis Bell now operates an Arkansas Century Farm established in 1878. After graduating in 1956 from Lincoln High in Forrest City, Bell worked 13 years as an aircraft mechanic and an insurance industry broker in St. Louis before returning to the farm in 1971 when his father retired. Bell earned a pilot’s license so he could fly back and forth to St. Louis, allowing him to maintain his work there and at the farm. He has been dually driven to successfully farm and advance agriculture among minority youth. Bell’s determination led him to found Bell’s Ag Tech and Bell Community Services (formerly known as Future Agriculture Resources for Minority Youth).
A professor of Agricultural Economics at Arkansas State University since 1991, Bert Greenwalt co-founded and directs the college’s annual Agribusiness Conference and sponsors the Agribusiness Club, including trips to the Chicago Board of Trade and Federal Reserve Bank locations. Greenwalt’s friends say he teaches Agribusiness, Ag Policy and Ag Finance with a passion at A-State. He and his brother, Eric, nephew, Chad and mother, Idena, manage the Greenwalt Company farm in Hazen, striving to conserve natural resources, especially water. During 1999-2013, Greenwalt served six years as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis followed by seven years on the St. Louis Fed Agribusiness Council.
Innovative Chris Isbell was the first farmer to grow prized Koshihikari rice outside of Japan, and the thrill of doing it spurred him on to develop and grow a premium variety of Yamanda Nishki rice used to make Japanese sake. When covid shut down Japan exports in 2020, Isbell had Japanese sake rice ready and waiting, and he now sells rice to sake breweries around the world. His product and Hot Springs’ sparkling spring water are now being used to create a new Origami Sake in Arkansas. Isbell’s motto of “never says no” to research has led to meaningful partnerships with the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University. His sustainability efforts include water-saving methods, solar fields helping power the farm and flooded fields for waterfowl in the offseason. Isbell was USA Rice Farmer of the Year in 1996 and Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year in 2019.
Steve Stevens has a long history of learning from and working with researchers to make farming better. One of the more significant cotton seedbed-preparation innovations was first implemented in Arkansas on Stevens’ farm in the early 1990s. He was an early adopter of computerized-hole selection for irrigation and COTMAN (Cotton Management program), improving soil, water and insecticide use. Arkansas Discovery Farms selected Stevens’ fields for cotton research in 2013, and it has had more water-quality, water-use and nutrient-loss data collected on it than on any other farm in America. His contributions and commitment to improving farming have helped Arkansas generate millions of dollars using practices and technology developed on his farm. He served on the National Cotton Council Board and in leadership positions on the Cotton Inc. Board. In 2020, he was inducted into the Arkansas Conservation Hall of Fame.
Jesse “J.D” Vaught (Posthumous)
A pioneer in contract livestock production, Vaught adapted early in both chicken and swine production and used technology like performance records and artificial insemination to improve purebred Charolais (early 1970s) and Angus cattle (1980s). He built chicken houses in the early 1960s and a contract hog facility in the mid 1970s, produced poultry from 1964-1999 and was a partner in Poultry House Cleanout Service from 1968-74. Vaught was a member of the Arkansas Farm Bureau state board of directors from 1991-99, a Sevier County Cattlemen’s Association officer and was instrumental in founding regional pork producer associations and the Grannis Trail Riders. He owned and operated a 400-acre family farm from 1963 until his death at age 82 on Dec. 26, 2022. In early November 2022, Vaught had 150 cattle and 520 swine sows. He served on the Horatio School Board for more than 20 years and was a founding member of the school’s Ag Booster Club. He and his late wife of 50-plus years, Linda, loved the life of agriculture and raised four children.