2018 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year

Chris and Judy Isbell of Humnoke (Lonoke County) are the 2018 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year. The honor was announced today at the annual luncheon honoring the county and district Farm Families of the Year.

As Arkansas Farm Family of the Year, the Isbells will compete with 10 southeastern state winners in the 2019 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year program next October in Moultrie, Ga.

The Isbells said they were humbled to receive the honor.

“I was shocked, when they called our name,” Chris said. “But we are very honored. Our farm is a group of people. It’s a family. It’s not just me. It’s not just Judy. It’s Shane and Lisa, our son Mark and our daughter Whitney and their families. Of all the people in that room, many of them I know and many I don’t, they are all worthy. It is an honor to be selected out of that group.

“People need to understand their food doesn’t just come from the grocery store. Farmers are out there working hard every day to produce it. I’m just proud to be in a business that feeds people.”

The Isbell clan on the farm

The Isbell clan on their farm.

The Isbells have cultivated rice in Lonoke County for more than 70 years and currently grow 3,000 acres of the crop. Isbell Farms is a fifth-generation family operation and partners include Chris and Judy Isbell, their son Mark and his wife Marda, their daughter Whitney and her husband Jeremy Jones and their nephew Shane Isbell and his wife Lisa.

The Isbells pioneered and employ “zero grade practices” on their farm as a means of conserving water. They also were a member of a small group of farmers who marketed and produced the world’s first carbon credits created through rice production.

Chris has been farming for 50 years and guided the farm’s shift to Japanese varieties. Of the 3,000 rice acres, approximately 100 are grown for the production of sake. They also provide specialty varieties to sake companies, boutique brewers and other businesses throughout the United States and the world.

“We congratulate Chris and Judy Isbell on being named the 2018 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year,” said Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach. “Their family legacy of producing specialty rice varieties and developing a niche that has proven to be successful for more than 50 years sets them apart and stands as a testament to their knowledge of the farming business.”

“The Isbells are also a leader in sustainable production through the reduction of water usage, methane emissions, energy usage, and the creation of carbon offsets. They are truly worthy of this recognition,” Veach said.

The Farm Family of the Year program, now in its 71st year, is the longest-running farm family recognition program of its type in the United States. It begins with selection of the top farm family in each county. Then, eight district Farm Families of the Year are selected. The competition is judged on production, efficiency and management of farm operations, family life and rural/community leadership and values.

Chris Isbell stands near his rice fields holding a bottle of sake.

Chris Isbell stands near his rice fields holding a bottle of sake.

After receiving the Farm Farmily of the Year award, they took some time to share what the honor means to them and how growing specialty rice has been a succesful marketing strategy for them.