The Feather family in White County, Ark., manages their 1,800-acre crop operation through surface irrigation

For Shannon Feather of Higginson, Ark., farming was never a choice.

From his earliest remembrance, Shannon’s father Tom, who is still involved in the family farming operation, there was never any discussion, just “come on let’s get to the field.”

But Shannon’s grandfather did the same thing to Tom, so it’s a family tradition, a tradition that has served the Feather family well over the years and one that laid a good foundation for being successful growing the family farm.

This hard work and Feather family tradition earned them White County’s Farm Family of the Year.

Shannon and his wife, Tami, consider it part of their heritage to be farming. That is a philosophy they have tried to instill in their children. Tami works off the farm, but finds time to keep the books, provide meal deliveries for the men, and help move equipment between farms.

“I have driven a tractor before and can handle a truck pretty good,” Tami said. “The guys handle the tractors a whole lot better than I could. I don’t think Shannon would trust me in one of the new tractors.”

While not all three children are directly involved in farming, they remain part of the close-knit family and are grateful for the values family farming has provided. After graduating from Ouachita University, oldest daughter Kyla enrolled in the Harding University School of Pharmacy, where she plan to graduate in 2020.

Lucas is the middle child and has been actively involved in the farm operation since graduating Searcy High School in 2014. Lucas and his wife, Lynley, were married June 2, so there is a new member in the family.

Abby, the youngest, graduated Searcy High School this year and plans to attend Central Baptist College and major in accounting.

The Feather’s operate Conant Crops Inc., a 1,800-acre row-crop farm consisting of soybeans, corn, rice and wheat. All but 130 acres of the farm is irrigated using surface irrigation from on farm reservoirs and tail-water recovery systems. The irrigation systems allow the Feathers to eliminate the variable of weather, which allows for consistently higher yields.

Due to a dwindling water table on the Arkansas Grand Prairie, the surface water irrigations are preferred by farmers throughout the area. Reservoirs and tail-water systems are built with technical and financial assistance through the Natural Resource and Conservation Service and allow for better water management.

“We couldn’t farm in this area without irrigation,” said Shannon. “Dry land farming just doesn’t make it anymore. The assistance from NRCS is critical. The reservoirs and tail-water systems allow better water management. The only way for water to leave the farm is evaporate.”

Marketing is handled through a variety of grain outlets and on-farm storage. The Feather’s rice crop is marketed through Riceland Foods in Griffithville and Des Arc, Ark.

Soybeans are sold through Oakley Grain and Riceland Food, using a combination of forward contracts and on-farm storage. On-farm storage is also used for the corn crop and held until winter when prices are historically higher than at harvest. The recent expansion of the poultry industry in the White County has opened a new market through poultry companies such as Cal-Maine and Peco Foods.

Continually looking for ways to improve farm efficiency and increase farm quality, the Feathers have four major goals in sight. The family makes extensive use of soil samples to improve fertilizer application and increase yields; they continue to work on water conservation; utilize more technology including GPS mapping, machine monitoring, and communications; increase on-farm storage.

“The technology we have today is unbelievable” Shannon said. “You don’t really drive a tractor anymore. The tractor drives itself. You must manage all the information that comes through the tractor (or combine). It is more about information management today.”

As busy as farm life is, the Feathers find the time to include faith and community activities in their schedule. The family are members of the Higginson First Baptist Church. Shannon serves on several committees for the church. He is also member of the Little Red River Irrigation District, White County Farm Bureau and Liberty School Board. Tami is the Children’s Church Coordinator for the church, the secretary treasurer and a Budget and Finance Committee member. Three family members provide music for the church: Tami as the pianist, with Kyla and Abby as vocalist.

Farming has no doubt been rewarding for the Feather family for four generations, but it is not without its challenges. The tremendous amount of capital needed to get started farming is a major challenge, according to Shannon.

“It just takes so much money to farm,” Shannon said. “And it is almost impossible for young people to get into it. Land values are inflated. Equipment costs are high. It really is tough, and so many young people are unable to get into farming. That’s too bad.”

Considering all that, the Feathers have a plan. They are a small family farm (emphasis on family) with a plan to grow their farm “one small piece at a time.”


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