MELBOURNE — Roy and Suzanne Runsick had barely gotten over the shock of being named 2014 Izard County Farm Family of the Year when they were notified that they had been selected as Farm Family of the Year for the North Central District.
“We are honored to represent Izard County and are ecstatic to be the district winners,” Roy said. “We are tuned into sustainability and the environment and are glad people see the importance of that.
“We may have a slim chance of going any further than district, but we are really passionate about what we are doing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody could be passionate about what they do?”
The Runsicks, who are both 64, raise 46 head of registered Angus and Red Angus cows and 30 calves and grow forage on 150 acres on Arkansas 9 between Melbourne and Brockwell. They will now be judged along with seven other district winners to determine a state winner. The state winner will be announced at the Dec. 11 Farm Family of the Year luncheon at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock.
Roy said the couple “are trying to create an efficient, profitable and sustainable cow/calf operation that mimics nature with a late-spring calving season when forage is plentiful and focuses on a balance between production and wildlife management.
“We are concerned with producing a more-efficient kind of cattle,” he said.
“We also are striving to harvest the sun’s energy to produce a quality forage product for both beef cattle and wildlife consisting of at least 25 percent native grasses.
“We want our farm to be sustainable, profitable, enjoyable and environmentally sound,” Roy said. “We hope to put back more than we’ve taken.”
Roy said the couple agree with the Native American philosophy that states, “We do not inherit the land from our fathers. We borrow it from our children.”
Suzanne said she believes the Farm Family of the Year program is great.
“It gives agriculture some positive promotion,” she said. “In America, we are so fortunate to have such an abundance of food at reasonable prices.
“It’s important that we educate the public about the importance of nature and farming. It is the blood of the country, the heart and soul of America.”
Roy grew up on a small farm in Ash Flat.
“We raised cattle, goats and swine,” he said. “At the time, the chores seemed endless for me and my four siblings, but I developed a love for the land and respect for the unique qualities of our livestock.
“As a child, I was active in 4-H and FFA, with a focus on livestock projects. I always planned to own a farm someday but came to believe that the economy in Sharp County would not support a family by farming alone.”
After graduating from high school, Roy attended Arkansas State University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. He returned home, purchased a portion of his family’s farm and began raising cattle and teaching. As his family grew and financial demands increased, he added two poultry houses to his operation.
“After 15 years in the classroom, mostly at Evening Shade, I left teaching to manage a large farming enterprise in Fulton and Sharp counties,” Roy said. “A few years later, following my divorce and the sale of my original farm, I purchased 130 acres on Highway 167 near Evening Shade and began rebuilding my registered Angus herd.”
In 2000, Roy began managing a small farm for a childhood friend who had just inherited it after 20 years of neglect. That friend was Suzanne.
“Two years later, we married, added Red Angus to our operation and aggressively began our journey to reclaim and improve her 75 acres,” he said. In 2004, the Runsicks purchased Suzanne’s sister’s third of the family farm and began building their present-day home and farming operation.
In addition to farming, Roy is an artificial-insemination technician and a representative for Genex stud service. He is also a sales representative for Powerflex Fence, an international electric-fence company.
Suzanne graduated from Melbourne High School and has a master’s degree in home economics (now known as family and consumer sciences) from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
She taught for 30 years, first in the Mountain View School District, then in the Cave City School District. She was the first teacher in Arkansas to be honored with the Master Adviser Award for her work with the Future Homemakers of America organization.
She is active in many community-service organizations with an emphasis on education and the environment and has earned numerous awards for her activities with young people.
The Runsicks have a blended family.
Roy’s son Stuart Runsick, 43, is married to Kathy Yopp. They live in Paragould with their children, Kyle, 17, and Taylor, 12. Stuart is employed by Rice Tech and works with rice farmers in northeast Arkansas.
Roy’s adopted son Scott Runsick, 41, lives in Cherokee Village. He has one son, Jonathan, 17, who lives in Rogers. Scott works as a farm technician for his uncle in Evening Shade and helps Roy with large fencing contracts.
Suzanne’s son Bradley Bangs, 41, lives in Conway with his wife, Paige, and their 7-year-old daughter, Abigail. Bradley is a science teacher and basketball coach at Greenbrier High School.
Suzanne’s son Keith Bangs, 38, and his wife, Brandy, live in Springdale with their children, Jasper, 3, and Owen, 10 months. Keith is a Penske team manager for PAM Transport.
In addition to using conservation practices for their land, such as rotational grazing, the Runsicks are trying to provide a habitat for wildlife on their farm. They are passionate about the Bobwhite quail and are trying to bring back the population by providing a better habitat for them.
“The numbers have declined tremendously since I was a kid,” Roy said. “It’s due to loss of habitat. Some farmers have clear-cut more land, planted non-native grasses, sprayed all the weeds and mowed all the pastures.”
He said that over the past several years, he has worked with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Forestry Commission to ensure that the fragile balance of nature is preserved by constantly monitoring soil, water, forage and wildlife habitat.
“Just this past spring, we spotted two large coveys of quail with around 20 birds each,” Roy said. “It has taken 14 years to go from zero to two, but it is progress at a time when most farms in the area still have none.
“We’re just a small farm, but that is one little contribution we can make,” he said, adding that the improved habitat for the quail will also benefit other wildlife such as turkey, deer and rabbits.
Roy and Suzanne have been active in a multitude of organizations over the years.
Roy is a member of the Tri-County Cattlemen’s Association, the American Angus Association and the Red Angus Association of America.
Suzanne is a member and officer of the Herb Society of America, Ozark Unit; a member and officer of the Garden Clubs of America, Izard County Chapter; a member of the Izard County Farmers Market; and a board member of Child Care Aware of North Central Arkansas, Izard County.