The 75th annual Arkansas Farm Family of the Year program has named the 2022 County Farm Families of the Year.

Since 1947, the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year Program has served as a vehicle to recognize outstanding farm families throughout the state.

The 2022 Pope County Farm Family of the Year has been named as the Doug & Carla Spence family of Atkins.

River Valley Now visited and spoke to Doug and Carla Spence after they were named Pope County Farm Family of the Year.

Doug stated, “Growing up, I farmed all my life. At 21, I wanted to start chicken farming so we built chicken houses in 1995. Carla and I got married in 1996 and soon after, we built two more. Our operation started growing from there.”

Doug continued to state that the family has raised cattle and chickens for a long time and at one point, they ventured out and also went into the dirt moving business as well as began row cropping. Although the family continues to farm and move dirt, they no longer do row cropping. Since starting his own farm, Doug stated, “we just do what we need to do.”

Although it is a lot of work, farming isn’t the only business the family handles. In 2015, Carla opened a flower and gift shop in Atkins, Spence’s Flowers & Gifts and in 2018 the family bought a wedding venue, “Meadow on the Mountain,” located at the end of Saint Joe Road. Most recently they opened a tanning salon, Spence’s Tanning, that is located across the street from the flower shop on NE 1st Street in Atkins.

When asked how they manage to handle it all Carla stated, “Hope, our daughter-in-law runs the tanning salon and Meadow on the Mountain and our daughter Haylee runs the flower shop. In the meantime, our son helps Doug on the farm.

Both Doug and Carla credit Doug’s parents, Al and Joann Spence, for their success and stated, “They have been the foundation of the farm. They helped us get started.” Doug continued, “I wouldn’t have gotten started as a 21-year-old kid without them. When I walked into the bank at 21, they wouldn’t loan me any money so my parents helped me get all of this started.”

Although their farm has been successful there have also been hard times for the Spence family. Doug and Carla advised that their most difficult year was in 2008. “Pilgrim’s Pride pulled out and that was tough. We were out of chickens for six months so I went to hauling logs for a guy we went to church with at the time. We hauled logs and whatever else we could do just to get by,” Doug said.

After some time passed and the family did what they could to make a living, Doug stated that he had a cousin that lived up at Fayetteville and he asked one time if he had gotten a chicken contract. At the time he was asked Doug said he hadn’t gotten a contract, but his cousin reassured him that he thought he would be getting one.

Doug said, “My cousin talked to some people up there and he told them I hadn’t gotten a contract and sure enough, it wasn’t long and we had chickens back.”

Around April or May of 2009, the Spence’s received a chicken contract with Tyson out of Clarksville and according to Doug, “I’ve been growing them every since. It was a very trying time then, but we now have six chicken houses.”

Doug said that he receives 125,000 chicks per batch and five flocks per year. He houses 25,000 chickens in the bigger houses and 19,800 chickens in the smaller houses.

“Right now we are keeping them about 52-56 days and are growing a little over  seven pound chickens for Tyson in Clarksville,” Doug said in closing.

The objectives of the Farm Family of the Year program are:

  • To give recognition and encouragement to farm families who are doing an outstanding job on their farm and in their community;
  • To recognize the importance of agriculture in the community and state; and
  • To disseminate information on improved farm practices and management.

Selection as Arkansas Farm Family of the Year include efficiency of production, conservation of energy and resources, leadership in agricultural and community affairs, home and farm improvement, and home and farm management.

The families were visited by a set of judges to determine eight District Farm Families of the Year and the The state Farm Family of the Year will be announced in December at the Farm Family of the Year luncheon.

The Farm Family of the Year program begins each year with the selection of top farm families in each county and culminates in December with the selection of the state Farm Family of the Year, who then go on to represent Arkansas at the Swisher Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

River Valley Now congratulates the Spence family for being named the 2022 Pope County Farm Family of the Year and for all their hard work.