Saline County farm family’s harvest slowed by rains

By Wayne Bryan Published June 15, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

From left, Bethany, Samuel, Joey, Baylee and Beth Hutchison stand by their tractor in a hayfield on the family’s farm.

ALEXANDER — Rain makes crops grow, but on the Hutchison farm, which spreads over both sides of Kruse Loop near the border between Saline and Pulaski counties, the family hopes the rain will hold off for a while — it’s time to make hay.

“We have had one cutting of mixed grass so far this year,” Joey Hutchison said on a recent rainy morning. “We only cut about 75 to 80 acres, and it’s all been sold. We have lots of Bermuda to cut, but it’s just too wet.”

Joey, along with his wife, Beth; their daughters, Bethany, 15, and Baylee, 10; and son, Samuel, 7, mix hay farming along with meat processing during the fall and winter. The Hutchisons are the 2014 Saline County Farm Family of the Year, said Ron Matlock, cooperative extension agent from the Saline County office of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

“They were selected this year by the county committee,” Matlock said. “Like all the county farm families, they are now in the running for the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year.”

Last Monday, the Hutchisons and two members of the selection committee for the state title met at Kruse Meats, the family’s processing plant, and toured parts of the farm.

“We talked about their production operations and conservation efforts,” said Monica Paskewitz of the Little Rock office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We also discussed their goals for the future.”

Rick Cartwright from the Cooperative Extension Service state offices in Little Rock said committee members also talked with the Hutchisons about how the entire family is involved in their farming operation and about their involvement in the community.

Beth Hutchison said all of her children take part in the farm work, especially with hay production.

“When a field is being cleared, they pick up the rocks in the ground. After the hay is cut and harvested, they will pick up the cuttings and replant them,” she said. “Some of it is done by machine, but a lot is still done by hand. As they get older, they will work more with the machines.”

Asked if she enjoys working on the farm, Baylee hesitated just a moment, then smiled and said, “I enjoy the money Daddy gives me.”

Both Joey and Beth are from farm families. Joey was raised on the family farm he runs today, and Beth was raised on a farm in Bauxite. Her parents are previous Saline County Farm Family of the Year winners.

The family farms 320 acres for hay, with 280 acres in mixed grasses. While only 40 acres are now being planted with Bermuda grass, Joey said, he wants to convert more of his acreage to Bermuda.

“It has more protein than the mixed grasses,” he said. “And the Bermuda has a yield of 4,000 pounds an acre, while the mixed crop is about 3,000 pounds an acre when cut.”

The Bermuda is related to the fine grass grown in yards all over the country, but he said the kind grown on the Hutchison farm is a hybrid that is bigger, stronger and has more protein than the mixed grass.

“Horses seem to like it better,” Joey said. “Horse owners can be very picky if their horses don’t eat much of the hay they are given. I am trying to market more to the horse market.”

Hay-cutting season normally starts in May, but it has been delayed because of the wet weather this year, Joey said. The hay harvest will continue through the summer; then the family business moves to the meat-processing plant.

“Come hunting season, we will process thousands of deer,” Joey said. “I really lost count last year.”

The family business works with the organization Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, and Joey said he processed 3,200 pounds of ground venison that was given away.

Kruse Meats also produces a deer-meat summer sausage, Joey said.

“Once the season is over, we process beef,” he said. “We buy it by the carcass load. We used to have a kill floor, but it burned down in 1998, and we found it was hard to get help, and the government food regulations are hard.”

The Saline County farm was started 68 years ago by Joey’s grandfather George Kruse as a cattle farm, and the plant processed the farm’s cattle.

“We raised cattle and harvested our own herds, but we started to cut back,” Joey said. “It got harder and more expensive to get cattle in Arkansas, so it had to be shipped in.”

He said their major source of meat now is from Texas, followed by Oklahoma. Joey said Kruse Meats is a wholesale supplier for Morrilton Packing Co.

Beth said the beef processing takes the family through the winter until May.

“Then we shut down and turn to do hay,” she said.

Beth, along with being a busy mother and a working farmer, holds a doctorate in physical therapy and works at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock as a therapist.

“I take some time off during deer season to help with the processing,” Beth said. “I work for the bad year that we know can come along.”

The family is also covered by her job’s health care benefits.

While the family has not raised cattle for years, that does not mean the farm is without animals. The old cattle stockyard is home to a small herd of donkeys, which go back to the days when the family kept cattle.

“We were having trouble with coyotes and dogs killing calves, and my father and grandfather heard that donkeys would take care of the problem,” Joey said. “I know that once we got them, we didn’t have problems anymore.”

The family farm is also home to a flock of peacocks, even several rare white peacocks, that perch on the old stockyard fences.

“They don’t always stay home,” Joey said. “They are pretty and neat to have around, and they can be a pest.”

The biggest pest the family is dealing with right now, however, is the weather. The rain has been good for growing this year’s hay crop, but now the Hutchisons could use some dry weather for harvest.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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