DANVILLE — Stan Garner grew up on a small row-crop farm near Paragould on Crowley’s Ridge in northeast Arkansas, but he always wanted to raise cattle.
After graduating from Greene County Tech, he attended Arkansas State University, where he received a degree in animal science. Instead of realizing his dream of raising cattle right away, he took a job in the public-service sector with what is now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He would spend 33 years with that agency, retiring as supervisor of the Yell County NRCS office in 2006.
Now a full-time cattle farmer, Stan, 65; his wife, Betty, 62; and their daughter, Crystal Garner, 31, have been named the 2014 Yell County Farm Family of the Year. They call their farm Crystal Acres.
“It is quite an honor to be named Farm Family of the Year,” Stan said. “For years, I served on the committee that chooses the family each year. I was surprised by the honor.”
The Garners bought their first 40 acres in Yell County in 1987 and built a unique “earth-sheltered” home into the side of a natural hill. They moved into their home, which was built for energy efficiency and storm protection, in 1988, and, Stan said, “The rest is history.”
The family now owns 160 acres and rents another 40 acres for their cattle operation.
“We are contract grazers,” Stan said. “We sell grass, labor and management. We do not own the cattle. The cows remain on the farm year-round.”
They have 58 cows, 16 replacement heifers and 54 calves.
“Calves are typically weaned and stockered 90 to 120 days postweaning before leaving [the farm],” Stan said.
“Our goal was to develop and operate a beef-cattle operation that is enjoyable, profitable and sustainable,” Stan said. “We are there. We set a production goal of being able to maintain at least one animal unit (1,000 pounds) of beef per acre, year-round, with no purchased feeds,” he said. “We are about 90 percent there.”
Stan is not opposed to learning and trying new ways of doing things on the farm.
He has installed and operates a “management intensive grazing” system that, he said, “has increased grazing harvest efficiency from the average of 30 to 35 percent under continuous grazing to 70 to 75 percent using management intensive grazing.
“This is accomplished by moving the grazing herd to a new grazing cell every two to four days, with an average of three days, allowing 18 to 21 days’ rest before returning (to the original grazing cell).
“We stockpile Bermuda in the fall on a few grazing cells. After frost, we strip-graze this dormant Bermuda by moving cattle to a new strip every day. This saves energy by extending the grazing season and reducing the hay-feeding season.”
Stan said his ultimate goal is to have a year-round grazing program with little-to-no hay feeding.
Stan has utilized the Conservation Reserve Program administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency for several projects.
“We used the CRP program to install a woodland buffer and fence to exclude livestock from wetlands at the southeast corner of the farm,” Stan said. “These wetlands now serve as an eagle habitat.”
He also used the CRP program “to fence cattle from ponds and improve water quality and cattle health,” he said.
“We planted and currently maintain a buffer of native grasses and legumes from wildlife around each pond,” he said.
Also using the CRP program, Stan has installed an electric transfer pump, an underground line and four freeze-proof tanks as an alternative water supply to the ponds that were fenced to exclude cattle. One of these ponds serves as the water supply for all four tanks.
Stan has initiated a new system of feeding hay to the cattle.
“We unroll a round bale of hay, put up an electric fence down the middle of the hay, forcing the cows to eat under the fence,” he said. “It looks like pigs eating at a trough. It cuts down on the waste of hay.”
Betty and Crystal, who lives in Mena, also help on the farm, especially during hay season.
Betty graduated from Paragould High School and is retired from the USDA Forest Service in Danville. She has been instrumental in conducting prescribed burns on some of the family’s leased land.
Crystal is a valedictorian graduate of Danville High School. She showed sheep through FFA for three years, winning one reserve grand championship and two grand championships at the Yell County Fair.
She is an honor graduate of the University of Arkansas with a pre-veterinary degree and a graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. She operates a veterinary clinic in Mena four days a week and spends most weekends working in Yell County.
Stan hopes to buy more land in the future.
“I buy land as an investment,” he said. “Of course, if I have the land, I would have to use it.
“Land investment is more stable than anything you could do. But at our age, I’m not looking at having 500 head of cattle.”
Stan does devote time to learning about grazing management and teaching others about the practice.
“There is a tremendous need for us cattle producers to become more efficient,” he said, noting that he is a member of the Arkansas Grazing Lands Coalition Board.
Stan is also a member of the Yell County Cattlemen’s Association, the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Yell County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and the Danville Lions Club. Furthermore, he is a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Active and Retired Federal Employees.
Betty is a member of the Yell County Cattlemen’s Association and the Yell County CattleWomen’s Association, and is past president and current secretary-treasurer of the latter organization. She is a member of the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce and is its second vice president.
Betty is also a member of the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association and the Arkansas CattleWomen’s Association, which she serves as secretary. She is treasurer of the Arkansas CattleWomen’s Foundation and is a member of the National CattleWomen’s Association and the American Legion Auxiliary.