Jeff Rutledge is a third generation Arkansas rice farmer. Working today in fields first cleared by his grandfather, Rutledge’s ties to the land started when he was a little boy, just old enough to pull weeds. That image of an overall clad boy romping through wind swept fields of grain lends itself to the romantic ideal most people have of farmers. But farming in the 21st century is a complex endeavor requiring a tenuous balance between the forces of nature and commerce.
Stewardship of the land is of primary concern so farmers like Rutledge raise a variety of crops like rice, soybeans, grain sorghum, and wheat. Rotating crops prevents the buildup of disease, insects, and weeds for any single crop and allows farmers to use fewer pesticides and also improve the productivity of the soil.
“Sustainable farming practices benefit everyone,” says Rutledge. “They ensure long-term viability by reducing negative impact on natural resources and, in the case of rice farmers, even help promote wildlife conservation. Our winter-flooded rice fields provide food and cover resources that are vital resting and foraging habitat for migratory waterfowl.”
Farm boys like Jeff Rutledge have had to grow up and literally get bigger and expand their operations to meet overwhelming global need. “The true makeup of agriculture in our country today is primarily families like mine,” says Rutledge. “We wish to continue the tradition handed down through generations but on a larger scale and with huge financial and emotional risk.”