By Governor Beebe
Farming in Arkansas is as old as Arkansas itself. Agriculture remains our largest industry, and its traditions in our rural communities reach back across generations. However, today Arkansas has only a third the number of farms it did two generations ago, and five million fewer acres of Arkansas land have been cultivated over that time.
Still, family farms remain the backbone of our agricultural industries, and in Arkansas, a new program is beginning to recognize those farm families who have persevered. The Arkansas Agriculture Department will soon be accepting applications for the Arkansas Century Farm Program. This program is designed to recognize farms owned by generations of the same Arkansas families for at least 100 years.
To qualify for the program, a farm must have been family-owned for a century or more by December 31st of this year. The line of ownership from the original settler or buyer of the farm may be traced through children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews, nieces, even through marriage and adoption. At least ten acres of the original land acquisition still need to be part of the farm and make a contribution to the farm's income. Eligible families will receive a personalized metal sign and an official certificate.
To operate a farm for more than a century takes an amazing amount of work and perseverance. In the past five years, Arkansas has dealt with a struggling national economy and historic natural disasters. Add to that the regular seasonal issues of weather, crop yields, pests, changing technology and cycling commodity prices, and you can imagine the determination it takes to remain in agriculture.
Nationally, family farms still make up almost 96 percent of all agricultural operations, according to the USDA. However, this number could change dramatically in the near future. An estimated 70 percent of American farmland will change hands during the next 20 years. Previously, that has meant passing the family business on to a new generation, but more farm families no longer have that younger generation with either the skills or the desire to continue farming. The average age of an Arkansas farm's principal operator is now 56 years old.
The future of farming in Arkansas will depend on markets, demand, and the people who work to keep the business vibrant. The Arkansas Century Farm Program is designed to acknowledge the families who have contributed to our state's traditions, but also to remind us all that work is needed to ensure that those traditions continue for future generations. For more information on the Century Farm Program, you can call 501-225-1598, or go online to aad.arkansas.gov
Even with decreasing numbers, more than 49,000 farms still operate in Arkansas, and we will continue to be a leader in working to feed and clothe our state, our country and the world. Our gratitude goes out to everyone who works hard for our state's largest industry; you are helping to keep our state both productive and proud.