Outdoors

Farm Family of the Year: The Huneycutts

By Joe May
The Southern Standard

The Huneycutt family’s farming roots in Clark County go back to 1882 when their first ancestor arrived in the Clark and Dallas County border town of Dalark.

Calvin M. Huneycutt came to Dalark to farm land his great grandchildren, brothers Ted and Steve Huneycutt and their families still work to this day. The Huneycutts with their cattle, row crop and other agriculture interests are this year’s Clark County Farm Family of the Year. In addition, the family was named the West Central District Farm Family.

At the same time, another ancestor showed up in the small border town to run a cotton gin. John Stephen Lee, thought to be a relative of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, was from Illinois and had enlisted in the Confederate army, then deserted and joined the Union army as a spy for the South. An old family story says that at some point he was found out and Union officials came to his home with the intentions of hanging him, but his wife, Ted and Steve’s great-great grandmother, hid him between two feather mattresses.

Convinced that his wife knew more than she was telling, the soldiers threatened to hang her, to which she was said to have replied, “Hang me and be damned!”

Not knowing quite what to do, the soliders left with both husband and wife unmolested.

Today, the brothers proudly show their ancestor’s military paperwork as well as a photo of his cotton gin that he ran in Dalark.

That same resolve that the Lees had in Illinois served them when they decided after the war to move to Dardanelle, Arkansas and then later to the new town of Dalark, where in 1896, John Lee got his hand pulled into his gin. Severely injured, he was taken to his home where he lived for a short while. During that time, he dictated his desire that the church he pastored, organized in 1851, Macedonia Primitive Baptist, where his descendants still attend, receive a portion of land from his estate to construct a meetinghouse. He was buried in the church cemetery.

On the Huneycutt side, Calvin’s son, Claude, married his wife, Stella Lee Pennington, in 1920 and they moved to the Richwoods area to sharecrop. In 1942, they returned to Dalark and purchased the land that they had sharecropped in that vicinity, land that is still in the family today. In fact, Ted notes, both the places that his grandparents farmed are family-owned. Based on his grandmother’s advice from childhood, in 2020, he was able to purchase the ground that his grandparents had sharecropped in Richwoods.

Ted and Steve’s late father, Ted Huneycutt Sr., was a farmer as well, raising cattle and cotton in the Manchester area. In 1968, the family was named the Clark County Farm Family of the Year. Ted Jr. joined him after graduation from Southern Arkansas University in 1987 and together they raised cotton until 1990 when the prices got too low. In 2011, the family returned to their cotton farming roots, this time raising the crop in Richwoods. After the cotton is picked the modules are taken to a gin in Cooper, Texas, to be ginned and sold.

Today, while the farming operation belongs to the family as a whole, the brothers have a division in the labor. In childhood, their father always assigned Ted to the rowcropping operation, while Steve helped with the cattle.

“He knew that’s where our interests lay,” Steve commented.

Steve runs about 150 head of crossbred Angus cattle on 500 acres at Dalark and works at McPherson Oil Company in Gurdon, where he is the logistics manager for the company’s holdings in the state. For 22 years, he was employed at Wacaster Oil in Arkadelphia, where he ran the local operations. His mother, Reba, ran the local office for her mother, Margie Schoonover, who owned the business at the time. In between farming, Ted Sr. also spent several years as part of the operation.

Steve markets the family’s cattle by direct market or on video auctions.  

The family has 4,000 acres in their no-till farming operation, with 3,000 of those acres being rented. Cotton is raised on 1,500 acres, corn has 400 acres, wheat takes up 300 acres, soybeans are on 700 acres and hay is grown on 100 acres.

Wildlife feed and corn are sold directly to locals and corn is also sold to local markets while grain is transported to area elevators.  

The family’s interests have always been varied, as a faded sign in the company’s lodge style office on Hasley Road in Richwoods shows. Perched high above the kitchen area, the Coca-Cola advertising sign reads “Huneycutt Grocery,” a country store with a meat counter that Ted Sr and Reba operated in the early 1970s for a short while in Dalark.

Along with farming, Ted Jr. has worked in investments and as a stockbroker, opening Benchmark Investments in 1998 as well as also running Benchmark Mortgage. After 20 years in that field, operating from a storefront on Main Street in Arkadelphia, he sold out in 2018 citing the government’s onerous regulatory climate. Today, from the family’s office/lodge on Hasley Road, he operates Benchmark Ag, which deals in crop insurance as well as stocks and commodities to complete Risk Management for farmers and ranchers across the state. Surrounding the office are the families crops, including fields of wheat, corn, cotton and soybeans. Not far away is another venture the family embarked on in 2016 — The Barn at Richwoods — a wedding and event venture, where Ted and Cindy’s daughter, Sara and son-in-law Jeffery Liggin christened the venue with the first wedding at the Barn. Richwoods, now as it is named, is managed by Ted’s wife, Cindy (who is also a local pharmacist) and Steve’s wife, Leanne, with the help of Steve and Leanne’s daughter Jessica.

Inside the building, just as the name suggests, the venue is constructed to look like a barn, featuring a vaulted ceiling and rough-cut cypress lumber on the walls. Complete with rooms for both bride and groom as well as a banquet area, the business is a popular one for locals looking for that perfect place to say their vows.  

Future plans include adding a corn maze, pumpkin patch and Christmas tree operation to The Barn.

Come this fall, the Huneycutt family will embark on yet another agriculture-related venture. Ouachita Valley Meat Market is set to open September 1 on Walnut Street behind the Big Red station in Arkadelphia. Currently under construction, when completed, the business will feature locally-sourced chicken, beef and pork. In addition, customers can purchase ready-made family meals or sandwiches at the drive-through window.

Originally, the brothers had thought about opening a slaughterhouse to process their own meat, but decided that such an operation would be “too capital and labor-intensive” as Ted stated. Instead, they will contract with a USDA slaughterhouse to “kill” the family’s beef but process the final product in their facility. Ted’s son-in-law, Jeffrey Liggin, is working to begin raising hogs in a rented barn near the family’s Richwoods operation and hopes to also raise chickens organically, making use of chicken tractors to allow the birds to graze the fields.

In addition to meats from local farms, the brothers hope to be able to sell locally-raised produce from area farmers. They also intend to make and sell their own hamburger, sausage, brats and bacon and other specialized products. A feedlot and backgrounding operation is also a future venture.

The family’s goal in their current multi-generation operation, which also includes Ted’s daughter Sara (Jeffery Liggin) sons, Trey, Luke (Alexis) and Greyson as well as Steve’s children, Josh (Jana), Jessica (husband Ryan Day), Ashlyy and husband Matthew Buie and Logan (Tessa),  is to “continue to improve profitability and increase the scope of our operation so that the generations  after us can farm if they want to.”

Like many farmers, the Huneycutts have had problems finding and retaining skilled employees. Driving over the property, Ted pointed to a worker, Hermann Vorster, from South Africa the family was able to hire by participating in the H2A Visa program. Other issues include high input costs due to rampant inflation and ongoing problems with feral hogs tearing up valuable cropland and, to that end, the family has partnered with the Clark County Farm Bureau to use their hog trap in an attempt to eradicate the invasive species.

In addition to their volunteer activities with church, Farm Bureau, the local NRCS board and the FSA county committee, the family is a supporter of Christian education, having sent their children through Clark County Christian Academy in Arkadelphia, where both Steve’s wife, Leanne and daughter Jessica, as well as other women in the family, have taught over the years.

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