‘Mr. Soybean’ to be inducted into Agriculture Hall of Fame

Carol Rolf Originally Published March 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 1, 2013 at 1:03 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Lanny O. Ashlock of Conway will be inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame at Little Rock’s Embassy Suites Hotel on Friday. He served as a soybean specialist and agronomist for the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, for more than 20 years and is known by Arkansas farmers as “Mr. Soybean.”

Lanny O. Ashlock of Conway was born in Oklahoma, raised in New Mexico and moved to Arkansas when he was a senior in high school. He was introduced to soybeans by a farmer in Yell County about the same time he met the farmer’s daughter, Bonnie, now Ashlock’s wife of almost 50 years.

On Friday, Ashlock, who is known as “Mr. Soybean” by many farmers in the state, will be inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in a ceremony set to begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Little Rock. Ashlock now serves as assistant vice president for special programs for the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, and as a member of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.

On March 31, he will leave his current position at the U of A.

“Arkansas has been good to me,” Ashlock, 69, said with a smile. “I am truly humbled by this honor.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” he said of his work with the U of A and its Cooperative Extension Service. “But I’ll be 70 in June, and it is time I slowed down. I don’t know if I’ll stop or not, but I will slow down.”

During his career, Ashlock has worked to improve and promote soybeans.

“I think one of the reasons I have been named to the Hall of Fame is because I was involved in early soybean research in Arkansas and adjoining states,” he said.

His field research, along with that of co-workers, led to the development of many innovations, including early maturing soybeans, known as Group IV.

He said these early-season beans are able to escape the harmful effects of drought. He said that today, 65 to 70 percent of soybeans are the early-maturing varieties.

Ashlock also attributes his work to promote the Arkansas Soybean Checkoff as a reason for the upcoming honor.

“Under this program, the soybean farmer, for every bushel of beans he presents at the first point of sale, assesses one-half of 1 percent of the value and pays that amount,” Ashlock explained. “Half of the checkoff dollars stays in Arkansas to support research and the industry.

“If we don’t support our industry, why should we expect anyone else to?”

Shannon Davis of Bono, chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, said of Ashlock, “Dr. Lanny Ashlock is a great asset to the Arkansas soybean industry.

“Lanny has made invaluable contributions to Arkansas soybean farmers through his dedication to research and the Extension Service with the University of Arkansas. The distinction of being inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame is a true testament of Lanny’s work ethic and integrity. It is a well-deserved honor.”

Ashlock said soybeans are native to China and were brought to the East Coast of the United States in the 1800s.

“They were mainly grown and used for livestock feed,” he said.

Soybeans are still used to feed livestock, but today, they are known as the “miracle crop” and are used in a variety of products, including plastics, paints, cooking oils, candles and inks and toners. They are also good to eat, with many farmers, including those in Arkansas, growing the vegetable crop known as edamame.

He said 780 million acres of soybeans are grown annually in the United States, with Arkansas farmers growing more than 3 million acres, yielding an average of 43 to 45 bushels per acre last year.

Although he grew up in New Mexico, Ashlock learned about Arkansas at an early age.

“My dad was born in Johnson County, and my granddad and great-granddad lived in Arkansas, too,” he said, noting that his dad had left Arkansas prior to World War II, and after the war, he took a job in the oil fields in New Mexico. “All I ever heard about in New Mexico was Arkansas.

“When I was a senior in high school, my dad bought a farm in Yell County, and we moved to Arkansas,” Ashlock said.

“I’m the oldest of three boys,” Ashlock, the son of the late Olen and Dorothy Ashlock of Wagoner, Okla., said.

His brother Gary lives in Wagoner, and their brother Stanley lives in San Marcus, Texas.

Ashlock graduated in 1961 from Fourche Valley High School in Briggsville. He attended his first two years of college at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. During that time, he worked through the summers for Oscar Goodson, a former cotton farmer in Yell County who had switched to growing soybeans.

“That’s when I was first introduced to soybeans, and when I fell in love with that little old girl from Arkansas,” he said, referring to his wife and Goodson’s daughter, Bonnie.

During the summers in New Mexico, Ashlock had worked for room and board for cotton farmers in the southeast corner of the state near Hobbs.

“I was around irrigation and cotton farming,” he said. “So, my background in agriculture is row crops.”

He was also active in 4-H and FFA, both in New Mexico and at Fourche Valley High School.

“I competed in land-judging activities when I was a sophomore and junior in high school,” he said. “That’s what sparked my interest in agronomy.” (The dictionary defines agronomy as “a branch of agriculture dealing with field-crops production and soil management.”)

Following their marriage in 1963, the Ashlocks moved to Fayetteville, where he continued his studies at the University of Arkansas, graduating with a degree in agronomy. Ashlock completed a master’s degree in soil chemistry and fertility at the U of A in January 1967 and took a job mapping soils with the Daniel Boone National Forest Service in Morehead, Ky.

“I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go back and get my Ph.D.

“Before I left for Kentucky, I had interviewed for a job as assistant county [extension] agent in Boone County in Harrison. That job was still open, so I took it in the fall of 1967. I was then promoted to associate county agent in Batesville in Independence County, and later to county agent and staff chairman in Waldron in Scott County.”

His county-agent work totaled six years.

During that time, his father-in-law had died, and the family sold the farm. He and Bonnie, who had three sons by then, moved to Oklahoma in 1973, where he enrolled in Oklahoma State University to work on a doctorate.

“It was quite a decision to go back to school,” he said. “Bonnie helped me in so many ways. She went to work in a bakery to help us make ends meet.”

He graduated in the fall of 1978 with a doctorate in agronomy.

After graduation, Ashlock took a job as an agronomist with Texas A&M’s extension service at the Corpus Christi Research and Extension Center.

“I enjoyed the work but was always looking back at Arkansas,” he said. “I stayed there four years and then took a job at Texas A&M in College Station doing soil testing for two years.”

Ashlock moved back to Arkansas — Conway — in 1983 when he accepted a job as soybean agronomist with the U of A Extension Service.

In 1991, he took a job at the University of Arkansas at Monticello as head of its agriculture department and its experiment station at Rohwer. In 1994, he returned to Little Rock and the Extension Service as a full-time soybean specialist.

In 2001, Ashlock took early retirement from the U of A Extension Service and went to work as an agronomist for Cullum Seed Co. in Waldenburg.

In July 2010, Ashlock returned to the U of A when he was hired for his current position.

“I’ve traveled on a road I didn’t build,” Ashlock said when asked about the successes he has seen in life. “I hope I have been able to build something on that highway for others. I fell heir to much that I have accomplished, and I am most appreciative of that. I’ve been very blessed.”

The Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce sponsor the Agriculture Hall of Fame. Established 25 years ago, it honors those who have made significant contributions to Arkansas agriculture, as well as community and economic development.

Tickets to the luncheon are $35 each and are available by calling (501) 228-1470 or emailing aghalloffame@arfb.com.

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