Family overcomes a rough start to build their farming operation in White County, Ark.
Larry Shook of McRae, Ark., knew he wanted to be a farmer. In 1980, with some help from his dad Stanly, Shook found 800 acres to rent and started in row crop farming with soybeans. Of course, 1980 will go down as one of the worst droughts in history and Shook harvested a whopping 2 bushels of soybeans per acre. Needless to say it was a very discouraging start, but Larry didn’t give up. He was determined to work harder to pay for the losses and used 1980 as a building block to fulfill his dream of being a farmer.
“What a year to start farming,” Larry recalled. “I was sure discouraged, but I wasn’t about to give up my first year farming. I hung in there and glad I did.”
Thirty-seven years later, that determination has paid off.
The farm family includes daughter Martie Shook Benton and her husband Rick. The Bentons live and work off the farm, but their four children love to spend time on the farm and enjoy the outdoors.
Matt Shook is the youngest of the two siblings and is very involved in the farm operation. Matt’s main focus is the family’s cattle operation and mowing duties around the farm. Matt and his wife, Lauren Kemp Shook also work with the family business, Total Erosion Control in McRae. TEC provides hay (and equipment) from the Shook farm for highway, construction and industrial sites to be used for erosion control. Lauren also handles the bookkeeping for both operations and oversees the Shook Farm social network.
Shook Farms is a diverse 1,690-acre operation with approximately half of the acres being owned and half being rented. Bermuda grass hay is the main crop for Shook farms, with 440 acres of that being irrigated. The Shooks also farm 325 acres of wheat (for straw), 80 acres of corn silage, and 80 acres of soybeans.
There is 200 acres in CRP and another 350 acres of pasture for the 160 head of cow/calf operation.
Shook Farms has built a strong reputation for quality Bermuda grass hay which is mainly square bales. The hay is sold to several local ranches, numerous feed lots, the Little Rock Zoo, landscaping businesses in the fall, Oaklawn thoroughbred farms, and even to cattle producers in the Mid-west.
“We have one producer who comes down from Iowa once a year for a large truck load of hay,” Larry explained. “He heard about us several years ago and was really needing hay. He liked our product and has been a customer ever since.”
The Shooks have a rather unique system for delivering hay to their farm supply stores. The hay is purchased in enclosed trailers and delivered to the store. When the store sells out, another trailer is delivered and swapped out. This drastically reduces labor, increases efficiency, and provides additional storage for hay and straw.
Six large storage barns are located on the farm with a total capacity of approximately 90,000 square bales, 1,000 large square bales and 400 round bales.
Irrigation has played a major part in the Shook’s success. With the drought of 1980 still etched in their minds, the Shooks have concentrated on developing sound irrigation practices to irrigate as many acres as possible.
“It is absolutely necessary to have irrigation,” Belinda said. “We currently have 600 acres of irrigated land. That takes a lot of weather variables out of the picture.”
Being content with “status quo” of the operation has never been a virtue of any of the Shook family. They are constantly working to improve the operation. Regular soil sampling helps them increase soil fertility. Increased irrigation efficiency and better water management is also a top priority.
Another major element of the farm is labor retention. Larry is a captain with the North Little Rock Fire Department and Belinda, his wife, is superintendent of the Beebe School District, so they are required to spend time away from the farm. Farm duties then fall on the other family members, Matt, Larry’s dad Stanley, two full-time farmhands and four to five part-time hands during hay season and a part-time mechanic.
Every member of the family is involved in community activities. The farm has donated hay for every occasion, including schools, churches, area parades, rodeos, and a host of festivals. Most family members have been actively involved with FFA chapters throughout the county and participate in fundraisers for the Sunshine School, a school for special needs children in Searcy, Ark.
It’s been 37 years since Larry Shook’s trial by fire when he began farming. He and Belinda have been married for 35 of those years and have seen Shook Farms through some hard times. Being selected as the 2017 Farm Family of the Year is a testament to their perseverance, love for farming and family values. Congratulations!