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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Watkins named Polk County’s Farm Family

James and Janet Watkins, of Vandervoort, were selected as Polk County’s Farm Family of the Year. They have three children, Jessica Salley, 33, Morgan Looney, 24, and Garrett Watkins 20. 

Their farm is located 12 miles east of Vandervoort on Hwy 246. The family owns and operates 917 acres and began the venture 29 years ago with 137 acres

The Watkins have four swine finishing barns, with a 700 head capacity; four pullet houses, with 16,000 head capacity, and 160 head of beef cattle.

Their bulls and open/bred heifers are marketed by word of mouth, local paper, social media, and Internet ads. Steers are shipped to Oklahoma City to the stockyards or sold through the local livestock auction. 

In October 2020, they bought 27 acres on the Cossatot River with two rented cabins, with hopes to build others in the future. 

In 1999, they became involved in the Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers program and set the goal to win the Achievement Award, and did so in 2001.

“We developed a registered Angus herd, and over half of the beef herd is now registered Angus ” James said.

As with any farm, James has overcome problems over the years.

“The pastures when I started were mostly unimproved. I have gone to great length to control weeds, brush and briars,” he said. “Cross fencing has been a major undertaking through the years as well. Clearing new pastures from timber land has also been a large part of the operation as well.”

With their son Garett pursing a agriculture business degree from SAU, plans to continue to improve the family farm are a much discussed topic.

“I plan to continue making pasture improvements and hay fields improvements through weed control, establishing grass stands, cleaning and smoothing grounds and fertilizing and liming,” James said. “I plan to expand the beef herd to 200 plus head. I possibly would contract more pullet houses if the opportunity presented itself.”

Several years ago James got involved in EQIP.

“Over the years I have used the program to implement a lot of project such as : fencing, cattle from a creek cross fences, ponds, water troughs (12) & pipe lines , under ground pipe lines for hog manure (15,000 + feet) and a forest road with water bars & culverts.”

James’ love of farming has roots in the area that span generations. 

“While growing up on my father’s farm, I always helped whenever possible. While attending Southern Arkansas University, I came home on weekends and breaks to work on the farm. I have always known I wanted to farm, but I decided to get a degree in Agr/Business to better prepare myself for farming and to have if I ever needed it,” 

James said. “For my work over the many years, I received zero acres as a gift from my father when I began plans to build my hog houses. I then acquired a loan to build the hog houses. I also inherited 40 acres of timber land from my grandmother. In 2001, I bought my Mother’s interest in 590 acres. In 2005 , I inherited my Father’s interest in 590 acres. In 2016, I took out a loan to build the chicken houses. 

Family Life

James and Janet’s daughter, Jessica, is married to Josh Salley. They live near Converse, La. And have three girls, ages 7,2, and 1. They raise beef cattle, hay, and sell packaged beef under their own label, Salley Beef. 

The farm family’s second daughter, Morgan, is married to Nate Looney. They live in Monticello; Ar. Morgan is a process engineer for Clearwater Paper Co. and Nate, of Acorn, works in assembly for Atwoods. They hope to make a move back to a farm in the future. 

Garrett is a junior at Southern Arkansas University. He is pursuing a degree in Agriculture/Business. He works on the SAU farm and the family farm. 

Community Life

James has served on the Polk County Farm Bureau Board from 1999 to present and held an officers position at various times during those years.

He also serves on Rich Mountain Conservation District Board, from 2006 to present, as well as being the treasurer at First Baptist Church in Vandervoort from 2007 to present. He served on the Polk County Fair Board from 1999 to 2005.

Janet has served at First Baptist Church in Vandervoort through various commitments including Vacation Bible School Director, secretary and teacher from 1993 to present. She also serves on the Veterans Day Committee at Van-Cove Elementary from 1997 to present. Janet has been a teacher for 26 years and currently is the Dyslexia Coordinator.

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