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, Vaught was posthumously inducted into the 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.
“He was an agricultural risk taker, as all the good ones are,” Carla Vaught said of her father.
Four 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, an Arkansas State University professor of agricultural economics. He co-founded and directs the college’s Agribusiness Conference, sponsors the Agribusiness Club and manages the 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 communities and the state prosper. This year’s five inductees increase the organization’s number of honorees to 181.
“Our state wouldn’t be as great and our agricultural industry wouldn’t be as successful without these individuals,” Arkansas Secretary of State Wes Ward said.
Gov. Sarah Sanders couldn’t attend but delivered comments via recorded video played for the group of more than 350.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our state’s economy and the largest industry,” she said. “You can’t go anywhere without seeing the impact of agriculture in our state. I’m committed to keeping it strong and dynamic.”
When J.D. Vaught’s health began declining, the family decided to share news of his award with him at Thanksgiving last year.
“All of us were there – all 18 of us – and we clapped for him and told him how proud we were of him,” Carla Vaught recalled. “He was really, really tickled. He wanted to make it here. That was his goal.”
In the late 1960s, Vaught built chicken houses and secured a contract with a poultry company to raise their chickens. The style of operation would become the standard that continues today.
“He was one of the first to do integrated poultry,” Carla Vaught said. “Then he saw an opportunity to do the same thing with hogs with the Cargill Co., so we raised hogs from 1974 until early 2022. That was our livelihood. My father never worked at an hourly wage job. It was always farming.”
Vaught used innovations such as performance records and artificial insemination for purebred Charolais in the early 1970s and Angus cattle in the 1980s.
Vaught 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 for many years.
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 to the Vaught family.
“Former Sevier County agents Thurman Ray and Ralph Tyler were very influential in helping Daddy,” Carla Vaught said.
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. He also founded Bell’s Ag Tech and Bell Community Services to advance interest in agriculture among minority youth. He developed programs to teach young people about where food comes from and who grows it.
“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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