Arkansas Agriculture Hall Of Fame

⋅ BY TRACY COURAGE ⋅
U OF A SYSTEM DIVISION OF AGRICULTURE

Jessie “J.D.” Vaught of Horatio, Arkansas, a pioneer in contract livestock production in the state, was thrilled to learn a few months ago that he would be inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame. He passed away in late 2022, but not without knowing that he and his life’s work would be celebrated.

On March 3, he was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Little Rock Convention Center. His daughter Carla Vaught, a longtime Extension agent with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, accepted the award on his behalf.

Inductees from left are: Ellis Bell, Chris Isbell, Dr. Bert Greenwalt, Steve Stevens, and Carla Vaught, who accepted on behalf of her late father, J.D. Vaught.
COURTESY ARKANSAS FARM BUREAU

“He was an agricultural risk taker, as all the good ones are,” Vaught said.

Four other people were inducted, including two other honorees with connections to the Division of Agriculture through the Cooperative Extension Service and Arkansas Discovery Farms.

The other inductees are:

Ellis Bell of Forrest City, a fourth-
generation farmer who owns and operates an Arkansas Century Farm.

Bert Greenwalt of Jonesboro, Arkansas State University professor of agricultural economics. He co-founded and directs the college’s Agribusiness Conference, sponsors the Agribusiness Club and manages Greenwalt Co. farm.

Rice farmer Chris Isbell of Humnoke, the first to grow Koshihikari rice outside of Japan. He sells rice to sake breweries around the world.

Steve Stevens of Tillar, a longtime cotton farmer who was an early adopter of computerized-hole selection for irrigation and the cotton management program.

The Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame began in 1987 to promote awareness of agriculture’s role in the state’s culture and economy and honor those who helped local communities and the state prosper.

An Early Celebration

When J.D. Vaught’s health began declining, the family decided to share news of his award with him at Thanksgiving.

“All of us were there — all 18 of us — and we clapped for him and told him how proud we were of him,” Vaught recalled.

She retired from the Division of Agriculture after working 33 years as an agent with the Cooperative Extension Service and accepted the award along with J.D. Vaught’s youngest grandson, Ryan Vaught.

Also present were J.D. Vaught’s three sons and their spouses: Joey Vaught and wife Lori; Jon Vaught and Rep. DeAnn Vaught; Jason and Emilee Vaught; and grandchildren and a great-grandson.

In the late 1960s, Vaught built chicken houses and secured a contract with a poultry company to raise their chickens.He also was a member of the Arkansas Farm Bureau state board of directors from 1991-99, a Sevier County Cattlemen’s Association officer and served on the Farm Credit Association board.

The 400-acre family farm that Vaught owned and operated from 1963 until his death was a family operation. Extension, too, played a role in the farm’s success by providing research-based information.

“Former Sevier County agents Thurman Ray and Ralph Tyler were very influential in helping Daddy,” Carla said.

Extension Connections 

Ellis Bell of Forrest City operates an Arkansas Century Farm established in 1878. His great-great-grandfather purchased the land after his return from the Civil War. Bell also founded Bell’s Ag Tech and Bell Community Services to advance interest in ag among minority youth.

“I’m overwhelmed to be standing here where so many people have stood before me and will stand here after me,” he said. “It’s been a long journey for me.”

He credited Extension personnel for helping him through the years.

Steve Stevens works closely with researchers from the Division of Agriculture to improve farming practices.

“My dad always said, ‘Leave the land better than when you found it’,” he said during his acceptance speech. That advice has shaped much of his work.

One of the more significant seedbed-preparation innovations was first implemented in Arkansas on Stevens’ farm in the early 1990s. He was an early adopter of computerized-hole selection for irrigation and the Cotton Management program. Arkansas Discovery Farms selected Stevens’ fields for cotton research in 2013. In 10 years, more data on water use, water quality, and nutrient loss has been collected on his farm than any other farm in America.

Stevens credited several Division of Agriculture faculty and staff who assisted with the research, including retired Extension entomologist Gus Lorenz; Mike Daniels, who oversees collection of data; and retired Extension cotton agronomist Bill Robertson, who recommended cover crops, which led to improved yield.

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