AUGUSTA — As a kid growing up in Woodruff County, Billy Kyle said he “always grew a garden.” Today, Kyle grows acres of rice, soybeans and corn.
Billy and his wife, Nancy Kyle, have been named the 2018 Woodruff County Farm Family of the year. They live in Augusta, but Billy farms in nearby McCrory, where he grew up.
“It’s all right,” Billy said, smiling, when asked about the Farm Family of the Year honor.
“I am a third-generation farmer,” he said. “I always grew a garden when I was a kid, so I guess it was just in my genes.
“My father and grandpa are, and were, well-respected and good farmers. My two uncles farmed, and my cousin, too. It is what my family does.”
Billy, 37, and Nancy, 46, have been together 19 years. They have three adult daughters — Kelby Bolling, 25, and her husband, John, who live in Beebe; Brooklyn Brownderville, 23, and her 1-year-old daughter, Atley Lansford, who live in Marion; and Sidney Brownderville, 21, who lives in Augusta.
Billy has been farming for eight years. He started with 1,300 acres and has increased his operation to 5,000 acres. He raises 800 acres of corn, 1,200 acres of rice and 3,000 acres of soybeans.
He said he sells his rice to Poinsett Rice and Grain Inc. and Morris Granary in McCrory. He markets his soybeans to local granaries as well.
He said he works with his tenants to get their ground “leveled where you can row water [for irrigation].
“Getting into row irrigation saves on water and fuel,” he said. He said he does have two pivots that he uses for irrigation, but he mainly uses a flexible pipe system to irrigate his crops.
Billy grew up in McCrory, a son of Joe and Colleen Kyle. Billy has one brother, Sam Kyle, who lives in Kentucky, and one sister, Carrie Delancey, who lives in McCrory. Billy’s grandmother, Mickey Kyle, 98, still lives in McCrory; she is the widow of John Kyle.
Billy graduated from McCrory High School in 1999 and attended one year of college at East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City.
“I just took the basics,” he said. “I quit after that one year and came home to farm. On-the-job training is the best way to learn to farm.
“Everybody in my family farms, except for my brother. He just never took an interest in it.”
While Billy leases the majority of his acreage, he has bought land for himself.
“My dad and I have bought some land together,” Billy said.
“Dad is 73 and retired, but he bought some land in Pumpkin Bend,” Billy said. “That gives him 350 to 400 acres to farm. It takes him about two hours to drive around that farm and check on things.
“Dad had a well business. He dug the majority of the wells around here. He made enough money to buy ground. Mom helped him run the well business.”
Billy said the biggest challenges he faces in farming are the weather and marketing his crops.
“You can’t predict the weather or the grain prices. I’m in a real high-stakes poker game every year,” he said.
“My dad always told me, ‘As long as you are making money, you are not losing money. I’m never going to hit the grand slam, but I’m doing OK,” Billy said.
“I’m lucky. I’ve been able to do a good job and am now able to pick and chose the land I want to farm,” he said. “I’ve leveled ground for dad and me and for some other farmers, too. You have to have level ground in order to plant good crops. I began leveling ground when I was in high school.
“Woodruff County has good soil for row crops. The water table is the highest in Arkansas, so you don’t have to dig very far down to get water.”
He said 5,000 acres is a lot to farm.
“The more land you get, the more work it is. You have to find a happy medium,” Billy said.
“I have three full-time farmhands,” he said.
“Labor is a big issue in farming,” he said. “One of my hands is retiring, so I have to find someone to replace him.”
He said one of his soybean fields has been affected by the pesticide dicamba, which has drifted onto the field.
“Dicamba has been banned in Arkansas, but some farmers are still using it,” he said. “The state Plant Board knows about it and is taking care of it.”
Billy said he is too young to think about retiring, but he has already made some financial preparations for the future.
“I am setting up some retirement funds,” he said.
He said his parents and sister have started a barbecue restaurant in McCrory.
“Smokin Joes BBQ has been in business about eight months,” he said. “They are doing good with it.”
Billy’s wife, Nancy, who is from Bald Knob, works for ARcare in McCrory.
“Her grandbaby is her main interest,” Billy said. “She’s a good [baby]. She wakes up smiling.”
When Billy is not farming, he enjoys hunting. He has been a National Wild Turkey Federation sponsor for the past two years.
“I hunt anything, anywhere,” he said. “This year, I am going up north — Iowa and Illinois — to hunt deer. Next year, I’m planning to hunt in Nebraska and Canada.”