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Ag Hall inductees made their mark on state’s largest industry

25th annual luncheon set for March 8 at Little Rock Embassy Suites

2/27/2013 at 12:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK — Six individuals who spent the better part of their lives advancing agriculture in Arkansas will be recognized for their contributions to the state’s largest industry with induction into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.

They will be honored at the 25th annual induction luncheon, 11:30 a.m., March 8 in the Ambassador Ballroom of Little Rock’s Embassy Suites Hotel. Luncheon tickets are $35 each and are available by calling (501) 228-1470.

The inductees are Margaret P. Alexander of Little Rock (Pulaski County), Dr. Lanny Ashlock of Conway (Faulkner County), Jack R. England of Rison (Cleveland County), Mathew J. Post, of Altus (Franklin County), Leland Tollett of Springdale (Washington County) and Donald (Buddy) Wray of Springdale (Washington County).

Margaret Alexander’s greatest joy and contribution to agriculture was mentoring and training women and young people to become leaders and successful in their career endeavors. She spent 32 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and was the first woman to be named a district director, paving the way for other women to follow in her steps.

“I really enjoyed working with people, especially with women and 4-H youth,” Alexander recalls. “Seeing them have a better life as a result of some of the programs that were conducted by Extension for them. The ones who didn’t have the same opportunities that other people had sometimes. The whole thing is just a process of education. To me that is very, very important.”

Lanny Ashlock is known as “Mr. Soybean” by Arkansas farmers for his knowledge and work as a soybean specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. He is proud to have been part of the team that developed shorter season and early maturing Group IV and Group V varieties. Soybean yields improved significantly during this time.   

“The ‘80s were such a difficult decade for agriculture in the state. We wanted varieties that would mature quicker and escape some of the drought we were having to contend with,” Ashlock says. “Today probably 65 to 70 percent of the acres planted in Arkansas are the earlier maturing varieties and statewide average yields have increased from around 20 bushels per acre to a record 43 bushels this year. I’m very pleased to have been part of the team that helped to get that system going.”    

Jack England developed a brokerage hatching egg business in the late ‘60s. He bought, sold and transported the eggs to broiler hatcheries in the U.S. and around the world at a time when no one else was doing so. His son Jay, who is now president of England Farms, says most of the large broiler companies at that time depended on his dad to provide their eggs.

“If you ask any of the head people with Tyson’s, Pilgrim’s, O.K. Foods, Conagra, Perdue on the east coast, Foster Farms on the west coast, he was their go-to person,” says England. “They called Jack England if they were short of hatching eggs or if they became long on hatching eggs he was there for them. He moved them all.”    

 Post Familie Vineyard is a landmark in Franklin County with its 200 acres of grapes in the state’s vitacultural region. The six-generation farm family has been growing grapes and making wine there since 1872. Mathew Post has been instrumental in developing the grape and wine-making industry in Arkansas. He says discovering the profitability of muscadine grapes may have been his biggest achievement.
“The grape industry is a real competitive business,” Post says. “You can grow many varieties but you can’t make a living on them. I found out the one grape we can be profitable with is muscadines. A farmer can make a living growing them. It’s the only grape as far as I’m concerned you can compete with in America.”

Leland Tollett helped lead Tyson Foods into becoming the world’s largest poultry producer. Under his leadership the company built or integrated 23 major production facilities. At the time of his retirement from a 40-year-career, net sales for the company had reached $7.4 billion.

“The first thing we had to do was learn how to grow chickens in mass numbers,” he says. “We helped develop technology, equipment, processing techniques and certainly market penetration. I guess the thing that set us apart from most other companies was we were aggressive and growing in developing value added products. We were a leader in that area and it probably propelled us to the forefront.”  

Buddy Wray was instrumental in the company’s product development, sales and marketing that expanded Tyson Foods offerings from fresh chicken into prepared foods such as chicken nuggets and patties through the 1970s and 80s. He held a variety of management positions through the years and was named Chief Operating Officer in 1992, overseeing all operations including live poultry production, processing and sales. 

“I take no credit for that alone. Tyson was the leader in bringing those type of products to the marketplace. Per capita consumption of poultry grew over that time period because of adding value to our products,” Wray says. “I’m very happy I was at the right place at the right time and was able to help get more types of chicken products to the market so consumption would continue to grow.”

The Agriculture Hall of Fame is sponsored by Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. It honors those who have made significant contributions to Arkansas agriculture, as well as community and economic development.

Follow the links below for detailed biographies and photos of each inductee:


For more information contact:

Steve Eddington
(501) 228-1383
PO Box 31, Little Rock 72203


Ken Moore
(501) 228-1512
PO Box 31, Little Rock 72203

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