Conway County farm family receives state honor

Carol Rolf Originally Published December 16, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 14, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.
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Gov. Mike Beebe, second from left, congratulates the DeSalvo family of the Catholic Point community on being named the 2012 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year. Members of the family include, front row, from the left, Isabella and Benjamin DeSalvo; and back row, from the left, Beth DeSalvo, Phillip DeSalvo and Tony DeSalvo.

Beth DeSalvo said her family is “still up in the air” about the recent honor bestowed upon them.

The DeSalvos — Tony, 63, and his son and daughter-in-law, Phillip, 33, and, Beth, 38, and their children, Benjamin, 8, and Isabella, 7 — have been named the 2012 Arkansas Farm Family of the Year.

“It’s been very exciting,” Beth said, noting that her husband, Phillip, had taken some time off for deer hunting and was not available for comment.

“It’s a big honor for us,” Tony DeSalvo said. “A big surprise, too.”

The DeSalvos were named the Conway County Farm Family of the Year in June, then the District Farm Family of the Year in July. They were among eight district winners considered for the state honor. All county and district farm families were honored Dec. 6 at the annual Farm Family Day luncheon at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock.

Beth DeSalvo said they had a hard time deciding what family members to invite to the luncheon.

“We didn’t know that we had won, but we invited all of our immediate family to go with us,” she said, adding with a laugh, “There were about 20 people we included. We all come from big families, and some of our relatives are our landlords, too, as we lease some of our land. Farming to us is truly a family affair.”

The DeSalvos own the Big D Ranch in the Catholic Point community, near Center Ridge. The ranch is a 1,300-acre farm that includes a 350-head commercial cow-calf operation and a 150-head registered Ultrablack cattle operation that includes 30 to 40 registered bulls. The DeSalvos also raise approximately 900 acres of wheat and sorghum-sudan silage and Bermuda hay.

Beth said the Ultrablack cattle are a registered breed through the International Brangus Breeders Association and are a cross between Angus and Brangus cattle.

“These cattle, which are black, do well here in our area,” she said. “We’ve had a good response to the bulls we’ve sold. They are in high demand in this area.”

Beth said this summer’s drought was “very, very difficult” for the family.

“It’s been hard on everyone,” she said. “Luckily, we had put most of our forage in silage, so we were able to feed our cattle throughout the summer. We did not have to sell off any of the cattle. We have been very blessed.

“Water is, and continues to be, our biggest problem. We are still in a drought. Our ponds are not filling up with water. We have incorporated some tire tanks on our land for water, and we’ve got six more to construct. I’m sure Phillip will do that as soon as he returns from his hunting trip.”

Beth said the family’s future plans revolve around “trying to prepare better.”

“We want to try to make our forage last longer,” she said. “We hope to put it up in April, May and June. You really can’t depend on later hay cuttings. For the last few years, there haven’t been too many second and third cuttings of hay.”

Beth said she helps on the farm as much as she can, but “Phillip is the straw boss. We — me and the kids and Tony — just do what he tells us to do,” she said. “He’s the decision maker. At 33, he has a lot on his shoulders.”

In addition to helping out on the farm, Beth is a substitute teacher and a volunteer at Nemo Vista Elementary School, where Benjamin and Isabella are students. She and her family are also active members of St. Joseph Catholic Church in the Catholic Point community.

Tony DeSalvo, the son of the late Tony Luke and Frances Paladino DeSalvo, said farming has been the family business since the 1880s. He said the first DeSalvo to come to the area from Italy was Camillo DeSalvo.

“The first individual [land] purchase on record was made by him,” Beth DeSalvo said.

Early honors garnered by previous generations of the family include the Arkansas Master Farmer title, awarded in 1941 to Tony and Minnie Paladino, who were Tony DeSalvo’s grandparents and Phillip DeSalvo’s great-grandparents. What is known today as the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program was not started until 1947.

Tony and Minnie Paladino’s son and his family, Andy and Melba Paladino, won the Conway County Farm Family of the Year award in the 1950s. Phillip Paladino’s grandparents on his mother’s side of the family, Dwight and Johnnie Watts, received the Dairy Farmer of the Year award in 1968. Tony Paladino’s sister, Margie Hart and her husband, Jack, won the county honor in 1975. And Tony and Minnie Paladino’s grandson, Marion Rossi and his wife, Betty, were named the Conway County Farm Family of the Year in 1988.

“We are the first DeSalvos to win the honor,” Tony DeSalvo said.

He also also noted that his grandchildren, Ben and Isabella, are beginning to get interested in farming.

“They brought their animals to the county fair this year,” he said. “Ben brought a steer, and Isabella brought her pig and chickens. They are learning to work with animals through 4-H.”

As Arkansas’ Farm Family of the Year, the DeSalvos will compete in the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year program. A winner from among 10 southeastern state winners will be named in October in Moultrie, Ga.

“The Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program is the longest-running farm-family recognition program of its type in the United States,” said Randy Veach of Manila, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, one of the sponsors of the program. “We congratulate each of the county and district winners for this well-deserved recognition.”

The competition is judged on production, efficiency and management of farm operations, family life and rural/community leadership and values.

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