My great grandfather, William Stiles, settled the family here in Lee County, Arkansas, and started acquiring land in the community where we live and work today. My grandfather, Earl Wayne Stiles, and my dad, Earl Ramey Stiles, worked some of the same land in the 1940s.
On my mother’s side, my grandfather, Claude Smith, and his son, Kirby Smith, lived in a community about 5 miles north of he
My dad was really a cotton farmer at heart. That was the main crop he focused on and loved to grow. Dad started farming with his partner, Jimmy Manley, in 1965. They farmed cotton together for 15 years and also bought and operated the Aubrey Co-op Gin in the early ’70s. It closed in the 1980s during the farm crisis.
Cotton got in my blood and is my favorite crop, too. I had the opportunity to grow up on the farm and around the cotton gin as well. When I was a young boy, I would meet my grandfather Smith at the gin to help hook up the tractor to the cotton trailers to carry back and forth to the fields.
One of my favorite jobs at the gin when I got a little older was to pull all the trailers under a shed with a tractor when we thought a rain was coming. It taught me a lot about hard work and long hours, but days like that made me feel like I was part of the operation.
I also fondly remember having lunch in the field with the hands when we would stop the pickers to eat a bite. Everybody pulled their bread out of the same loaf and ate sandwiches on the tailgate of the truck before we started back running. I also remember a lot of cold days. Harvest was a little bit later then, and we always picked the cotton twice.
My dad taught me how to drive all the equipment on the farm. He promoted me to a planter driver when I was 15 because I had a knack for being able to plant a straight row before we had GPS. It was a big deal for me to be considered good enough to be a planter driver at such an early age.
One of the main things that helped us increase our cotton yields and get a good return was putting in irrigation. We added a few hundred new acres of irrigation each year from about 1987 on. Now our entire farm is 95 percent irrigated.
Today, I am passing on my knowledge about growing cotton to my son-in-law, Payton Stegall, and daughter Sarah. They are farming with me now and live in the house my parents built here on the home place. Our daughter, Rebecca, and her husband, David Bagwell, live in Madison, Mississippi. We all get together during the holidays, and we especially take pleasure in being with our five grandchildren.
Our family has always been big on upholding traditions, whether related to growing cotton or cooking with recipes we have enjoyed for years or going to church together on Sundays. My dad was known for his pecan pie. It’s always listed on the church bake sale sheet as “Earl’s Pecan Pie.” My wife, Kerry, still makes it today and uses the same recipe.
My mom, Claudine, was known for her caramel cake. We were always amazed how she could get the timing just right on the icing. Kerry and I make it together for Christmas and always try to take our neighbor, Larry McClendon, a piece since caramel cake is his favorite.
This has been a tough fall for a lot of farmers, but we have so much to be thankful for. We have a lot of good people in this community, and that’s what makes farming so special.
— Ramey Stiles