There are about 49,346 farms in Arkansas but 97 percent of them are family-owned. However, only 16 percent of the farms are responsible for 92 percent of the agricultural output of the state. The growth of agriculture which adds more than $16 billion to the state’s economy annually is facilitated by the numerous agricultural projects around the state geared towards improving yield through technology.
Today, Arkansas is the major exporter of various agricultural products including rice, poultry, soybeans, feed grain, and cotton. A list of the largest farms in this area will not only rate farms based on their sizes in acres but also by the size of their agricultural output.
The Landmark Farm is by far the largest rice farm you will find in Arkansas. The success of the farm is hinged on many generations of innovation, perseverance, and collaborations. Mark Isbell family, the owner of this prestigious farm has sustained the farming business for four generations now and within this period they have earned worldwide recognition. Although Mark Isbell is the face of the rice farm, when it is time for harvest, he makes himself available in the field like the rest of the family.
Each member of the family has a huge role to play in the success of the farm. Mark’s father, Chris is the engine room of the farm that drives most of the activities; from experimenting on new and efficient farming practices to operating certain harvesting equipment. Mark’s mother, Judy, is in charge of bookkeeping and making sure the family is well-fed. Shane, Mark’s cousin is handy in planting and harvesting and has the skills to fix machines on the farm.
Today the farm is revered for its sustainability practices including the reduction of environmental impact. However, it took the family several generations of innovation to hit the milestone. The family is also an agricultural role model to many in the state.
The Evolving Innovations Of The Landmark Farm
Mark’s great-grandfather started the farm on a subsistent level to take care of his family. Mark’s grandfather, Leroy Isbell took over the farm and improved on it after getting help from GI bill following the end of World War II. The first innovation Leroy brought to the field was zero-grade rice farming.
The practice at that time was to grow rice in terraces or contoured levees so that at varying times the land could hold a specific amount of water at various points in the field. Leroy’s innovation allowed for 30 to 50 percent less water to be used compared to the conventional practice. The most interesting part of the story was that Leroy was able to create this technique and successfully implement it without modern tools or equipment. This efficient practice earned Leroy and Chris the 1996 Farmers of the Year. Leroy was later inducted into the Arkansas Agricultural Hall of Fame.
Mark now works with University of Arkansas researchers to see how his new technique of wetting and drying of the soil helps to cut down the production of methane.