When Nathan Reed returned home to Marianna in 2005 after complet-ng undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, his father, Stanley Reed, wasted no time in delegating major responsibilities on the family farm.
“I was very fortunate that my father did that,” Reed said. “He didn’t have any qualms about giving me major responsibilities the day I set foot back on the farm. There wasn’t a ‘wresting of control’ issue, because he was ready to step back. He stayed very active, doing most of the office work and marketing of the crops. He was still out on the farm but mainly deferred to me.”
Nearly a decade later, Reed and his wife, Kristin, have been named the 2014 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year.
Reed is a third-generation cotton farmer, descended from his grandfather, Eldon Reed, who traveled to Lee County after World War II with next to nothing in his pockets.
“My grandfather moved here from Tennessee after the war,” Reed said. “He grew up dirt-poor in the Depression. All he ever wanted to do was farm. He scratched and clawed and saved up, and started farming in the early 1950s.”
Initially, Reed said, his grandfather and father hand- harvested the cotton grown on the family’s land. Although Eldon Reed leased various amounts of land from season to season, from several thousand acres to a few hundred, by the time Stanley Reed graduated from the University of Arkansas with a law degree in 1976, the farm was down to about 400 acres and had mostly gotten away from cotton.
Reed is a third-generation cotton farmer, descended from his grandfather who traveled to Lee County with next to nothing in his pockets
Today, Reed and his employees farm about 5,300 acres of land, about half of which supports cotton production.
In 2010, Nathan and Kristin married — she now manages payroll and administrative aspects of the operation. After his father died in 2011, Reed purchased the extant shares in the farm and its equipment from other family members, consolidating the operation under his and Kristin’s ownership.
Continuing the tradition
Bill Robertson, a cotton agronomist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture in Newport, said despite cotton’s foothold in eastern Arkansas, it’s unusual in the 21st century to see farms held within the same family for more than a few generations.
“Sometimes they move on, and other times there’s just not a lot of opportunity for multiple households to make a living on the family’s farm,” Robertson said.
The trend of farm families dissipating as newer generations seek their fortunes off the farm has increased steadily across the country for decades. In December, the Society for Range Management published academic research examining the demographic trends in Wyoming farms and ranches from 1920 to 2007. The research concluded, in part, that there might be no farmers under the age of 35 by 2033 — not only in Wyo- ming but in widespread areas of the United States as well.
Robertson said that the Reeds have countered that trend — not simply by continuing to farm but also by becoming heavily involved in associations that help promote the industry as a viable living.
Sometimes it’s easy to get locked into what you’re doing and just stay on the farm and not give back to agriculture like [the Reeds] have,” Robertson said. “But I think Nathan is on track to be as much or more involved in the promotion of cot- ton and agriculture as his dad was. I think that says a lot for the individual.”
Keeping up with the times
Reed credits part of the operation’s continued success to the incorporation of GPS-based technology, which he uses for variable-rate application of fertilizer and pesticide as well as land-forming.
“We apply seed and fertilizer based on soil type, so each soil has the optimal environment to produce the most yield for the most economical cost. I have some fields (where) the soil will be completely different at one end from the other. And we’re seeing some returns from that, we really are,” Reed said.
Gregg Patterson, a spokesman for the Arkansas Farm Bureau and coordinator for the Farm Family of the Year program, said overall efficiency and the use of modern technology are two of the key components judges look for when evaluating farms for the annual award.
“They’re looking at things that make that farm unique in its day-to-day operations,” Patterson said. “The efficiency of the Reed farm was pretty phenomenal. It’s a big-time cotton operation. At a time when cotton has been on a significant downward trend, Nathan’s very committed to cotton, and the family has been, for generations.”
Reed said that although his family’s farming history has created a strong tie to cotton for him, he wasn’t blind to the realities of shifting prices in the commodities market.
“I’m a cotton farmer,” Reed said. “I know my expenses. I know how to grow it. And back when cotton had a reliably substantial return over other crops — 65- or 70-cent cotton when there were $6 soybeans — it made sense to grow all the cotton you could, if you had the soil for it. But the last few years, the grain crops have really taken off.”“Don’t get me wrong — if cotton were $1 a pound, I’d be 100 percent cotton tomorrow,” Reed said. Reed said he was hopeful that at least one of his children, twins Jane-Anne and Stanley Eldon, both 3, and Katherine, 1, will express interest in continuing the family farm, but that it would ultimately be up to each of them.
Reed is hopeful that at least one of his children will continue the family farm but says it would ultimately be up to each of them
“Every farmer wants their son to come back and farm with them, but you cross those bridges when you get there. A lot of that depends on whether a child expresses interest.”
Reed said that as far as his own future, he planned to farm the rest of his working life and be involved in agriculture in some fashion even after retirement.
“The great thing about farming is that every year is a fresh start,” Reed said. “Whatever happened the year before, when you plant those seeds, you’re starting fresh — if you’re able to stay in business. You can have a horrible crop one year and have the best year of your life the next.”