The Ault brothers, Herby and Chris, are standing in a freshly-cut soybean field just west of Petit Jean Mountain. It’s mid-October and a clear, unseasonably hot 92-degree day has unfolded in the Arkansas River Valley.
“You should have waited a couple of weeks to visit,” says Chris, waving towards the mountain range. “The leaves will be up to full color then.”
Speaking of colors, Herby describes the brothers – who come from a non-farming family – as “definitely green” when first coming to the profession. “We were raised in Greenbriar, Ark., and through high school we began buying a few cattle and working for folks in agriculture. That’s how we got started.
“I was working for row-croppers and Chris worked for a dairy farmer. My mother had a little country store and, I guess to avoid working there, Chris and I hit the farms,” says Herby with a laugh.
One can never accuse the Ault brothers of a fear of trying new things. Consider the following extremely abbreviated timeline.
“So, as time went on after high school, we bought more and more cattle and got into the custom hay business,” says Herby. “Around 1988, we began farming soybeans.”
Ground was hard to find in the area. “Around 1994, we found some available farmland in Perry County and began farming rice.
“We went from that to a partnership in the turf grass industry – about 250 acres of zoysia and bermudagrass. At that time, 250 acres was a lot for turf grass and I really enjoyed it. We stayed in that business until 2000.”
In 2001, the brothers bought six poultry houses. “Those are right on the Perry County/Conway County line. At that point, we got completely out of row crops and turfgrass.
“Around 2003, we bought 140 acres in Yell County with the intention of working cattle and hay. There was some heavy, buckshot soil that we began cropping in soybeans.”
Since then, the Ault’s diverse operation has only kept expanding. “There have been some great opportunities for us with older guys retiring and us being in the right place at the time. In most cases, as they retired we bought their equipment as we expanded.”
At this point, the brothers farm some 2,500 acres in a 15-mile radius of their shop and grain bins in Cotton Town. “We own about 550 acres,” says Herby. “About 380 acres is in pasture, 280 in woods and the rest is in row crops. We have about 50,000 bushels worth of grain bin capacity.
“We’ve started growing grain sorghum and like to store it in our bins. That’s sold mostly to individuals. We have an interesting marketing opportunity because there are a couple of Mennonite families in the area that want non-GMO crops.”
Another opportunity presented itself in 2012 when the Aults started farming edamame soybeans. The year, recalls Herby, “was probably the most trying year of my life. We were at Ground Zero for all kinds of problems. It was a survival situation for everything from the poultry to the cattle to the crops. After a bad drought during cropping season, we lost two chicken houses to snow – a 23-inch snow hit Christmas night.”
Even so, edamame, or vegetable soybeans, have proven very good for the Aults. “2015 was the best year we’ve had with the crop but it’ll still be good. We had a lot of rains early this year and that delayed planting. In terms of managing edamame, you just have to remember it’s just a soybean that needs to be paid close attention, especially with irrigation timing.
“They’re a pretty tough little bean that’s easy to get out of the ground. I believe they’re an early Group 3, so they’re a short-season bean. Around here most soybeans planted are Group 5s with a few Group 4s.”
One of the biggest attractions of edamame is the contractor shares in the process. “The seed is theirs, they help take care of harvest and that saves us a lot of time. They have a field man that comes by regularly to provide recommendations.”
What about weed control?
“The resistant pigweed situation is tough around here,” says Herby. “We’ve taken over some farms that already had the problem – well, by 2012 it was a real problem. It isn’t as big a problem in our heavier soils compared to mixed.
“Obviously, we wish they’d come out with a new product that would target pigweeds. But right now we go with recommendations from Extension, plant Liberty beans, use a lot of pre-plant applications. Crop rotation is also going to be our biggest help, I think.
“It’s kind of disheartening because, in some cases, you think your weed program is really providing good results. Then, there will be 120 acres that gets a big flush.”
Herby’s view sweeps across the mountains and forests surrounding the bottomland. “Look around. It’s absolutely beautiful here. But there are several hindrances farming in this area. One is the amount of transportation it sometimes takes to move our crops. The mountains around here are wonderful, but the roads wind around and you have to take them slow.”
Another issue the brothers sometimes run into is “a lack of really close suppliers. The folks we work with are great but it’s not like we can get a problem taken care of in an hour.”
Were the Aults affected by the Arkansas River overflowing its banks this year?
“We lost about 120 acres of corn that was about two weeks from tasseling. Then, the water just stuck around for a long time, probably 30 days. Compared to some of our neighbors, we were fortunate, though.”
Above all, thanks
Above all, the Aults insist that those who have helped them through the years be properly thanked. “We’ve been able to lean on great people,” says Chris. “You can’t underestimate how important that has been.”
“Of course, the list starts with my wife, Kelly, and Chris’ wife, Karla,” says Herby. “People we’ve worked with have been patient and kind with us and we haven’t forgotten. I hate to name anyone because there have been so many. From the beginning, farmers we worked for were helpful and taught us about the animals, the crops.”
In recent years, “Extension agents Hank Chaney and Jack Clark have always bent over backwards to help us. Lanny Ashlock and Kelly Cartwright have also been awesome and have helped us every chance they could.
“One of our landlords, Bobby Crow, trusted us with a huge opportunity to expand. He took a risk with a couple of youngsters. The same is true of Delbert Hamilton. We’re just grateful for being accepted in the farming community.”
They may no longer be green, but the Aults are “constantly
open to anything, really open to expert advice,” says Herby. “Because we don’t have a long history in this, we’ll seek out a lot of advice before making big decisions.”