WILLIFORD — For Kevin Morris, farming is a way of life.
“It’s more than a job,” he said, adding that the most rewarding part of farming is being able “to look back at an accomplishment and see how you’ve progressed.”
Kevin, 41, and his family — wife Jodi, 37, and children Whitney, 20; Austin, 18; Garrett, 11; and Lily Ann, 8 — are the 2014 Sharp County Farm Family of the Year. They farm 2,150 acres, raising cattle and hay.
Kevin said it has been “a real honor” to be recognized as the Sharp County Farm Family of the Year, but also “a little stressful” as the family prepared for the publicity surrounding the announcement.
“We felt like we would be judged by the public,” Jodi said, “but we are honored.”
Kevin began farming in 1992 on 689 acres that belonged to his grandparents, the late Bub and Earnestine Morris of Williford.
“In the early ’90s, my grandpa’s farm was no longer being used and was growing up,” Kevin said. “I was offered to use the land to farm on, with rent being repairs and improvements at my expense. The cattle market was high, and at the age of 19, I began to buy mature bred cows and raise calves off the older cows because the first cost was cheaper.
“As the market began to decline, I had made improvements to the farm and could begin to add to that herd. As neighboring farmers began to retire, I began renting farms that were close to the family farm. Gradually, my farming operation began to grow.
“We now own 450 acres and rent 1,700 acres. We’ve just grown into it.”
The farming operation includes not only acreage in Sharp County but also in Lawrence and Randolph counties.
The family’s cattle operation includes 200 pairs of mamma cows and calf, 110 yearlings and eight bulls. Kevin said the cattle are predominately Angus-based.
“We background our yearlings up to 15 to 18 months,” Kevin said, noting the cattle are grass-fed with a mineral supplement added as needed. “We sell the weaned cattle as finished products at local sale barns.”
The Morrises raise 150 acres of hay. They offer a custom hay-baling service, baling between 3,000 and 5,000 bales of grass hay per year. Kevin is also a partner in a peanut-baling operation, baling approximately 6,000 to 8,000 bales a year.
Kevin and Jodi both have jobs off the farm. He is a salesman specializing in hay and cattle-farming-related equipment at Greenway Equipment, a John Deere dealership in Hoxie. She has an accounting business in Imboden and also keeps the books for the family’s farm.
Kevin said a lot of the challenges on the farm are weather related.
“We’ve had floods and droughts,” said Kevin, whose farm is on Martin Creek. “Just about every farm up here has a creek or a river running through it.”
Kevin said that while the creeks and rivers do provide a reliable source of water, they can also cause severe flooding.
“We just take it one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other,” he said of the challenges they face.
As for future plans, Kevin hopes to add more land to the family’s farming operation, as well as an additional 100 cows.
Kevin offered this advice to anyone thinking about becoming a farmer: “You really need to like it. A lot of days, that’s all you are going to get paid.”
Kevin grew up in Williford, the son of Bill Morris and the late Dianne Morris. Kevin graduated from Williford High School in 1990 and attended a year and a half of college before returning home to farm. He was an alderman for the town of Ravenden from 2002 to 2010.
Jodi grew up in Ravenden, the daughter of Sonny and Sharon Swift. She graduated from Sloan-Hendrix High School and Arkansas State University.
Jodi enjoys cooking. She cans and freezes the vegetables she raises in her garden. She once owned a restaurant in Ravenden.
The Morrises also raise chickens, beef and hogs for their own use.
They have two horses. Jodi used to ride, and Austin now ropes. They also have border collies, which they use to help with the cattle.
The Morrises’ two older children — Whitney and Austin —are graduates of Sloan-Hendrix High School. They were both members of FFA, and Austin was vice president of the chapter during his senior year. They both raised and showed cattle and chickens as part of their FFA activities.
Whitney is a student at Black River Technical College in Pocahontas, where she is studying business. She plans to transfer to ASU to complete her degree.
Austin is also a student at Black River and plans to transfer to ASU. He hopes to return home to farm with his dad after he completes a degree in agriculture business.
The Morrises’ younger children — Garrett and Lily Ann —are involved in sports and help out on the farm when called upon.
When the Morrises do take time off from farming, they enjoy hunting and fishing. They also spend a lot of time in their gazebo, which is perched above the banks of Martin Creek, just outside their back door.