Colemans Named Clay County Farm Family of the Year
Friends, family and associates gathered in Corning on "press day" to celebrate the Randal Coleman family as 2016 Clay County Farm Family of the Year.
Randal Coleman was raised farming with his parents, Roy and Vaudie Coleman, in Corning. "I hoed cotton when I was a kid, which was hard work," Randal said. "I was excited when I turned 12 and got to drive a tractor."
He graduated from Corning High School in 1971 and attended Arkansas State University in the spring of 1972. As a member of the track team, he competed in the high jump, but after a year he decided he wanted to farm.
"I didn't want to ask my dad though," Coleman said "He was 64 and ready to retire. However, my brother Junior didn't have any problem with asking dad for me, so that Tuesday we went to the bank to see about a crop loan." The following Thursday his father passed away from a massive heart attack. Unsure of the future, Randal was left to find a way to finance himself, since the loan paperwork hadn't been finished. His mother could help some with the equipment, but the cost was too much for her to bear without his father. However, the loans went through and he began farming. The first year he paid his mother back for the help she had given him with equipment and he was on his way.
Over the years Randal had four children, now grown -- Mark Coleman, Justin Coleman, Karie Skaggs and Heather Staggs. Later a stepson, Alex Tuer, was added to the family when Randal married his wife Cynthia.
Randal's son Mark is the only child partnered in the farming business. He graduated from Corning High School in 2001, spent two years attending Black River Technical College with the intent of earning a degree in agriculture, but before he transferred to a four-year college he saw his opportunity to get into the family business.
"I started out little, putting plugs in polypipe, hoeing cockleburs," Mark said. "When I was 11 or 12 I got to drive around and spray levees and responsibilities increased as I got older."
In 2006, Mark began farming with his dad fulltime. While in college he met Sherri. The two dated for a couple of years and married in 2005. Now they are the proud parents of 11-year-old Madelynn and two-year-old Walker.
"We've seen some rough times and some good times," Randal said, "but the Lord has really blessed us." He's seen droughts and floods that took other farmers out of the game, but he somehow managed to make it through. He said the hardest time period was in 1980 when a drought plagued Clay County in a time before irrigation. "Irrigation didn't begin until the mid 80's with the invention of polypipe," Randal said.
Another rough year was 1998 when a flood took out many crops. "We lost a few fields of soybeans that year," he said. He added a boat could've been driven all the way to Black River from Corning that year.
The Coleman farm is a combination of rented and owned ground all over Clay County. "We farm gumbo in the Black River bottoms and near McDougal and sandy ground in Success," Mark said, which means the family knows how to farm different kinds of topography.
The family farmed a total of 330 acres Randal's first year, but currently the partnership handles 1,600 acres -- 1,500 rented and 100 owned. Randal said the family farms a split crop with 50 percent rice and 50 percent soybeans. The majority of the family's crops are marketed through Riceland Foods.
A large step in cutting costs occurred when Mark developed his own spraying company, Coleman Custom Spraying, LLC. The business increases the farm's overall revenue and cuts costs by spraying their own herbicides, fertilizers and such. The company has 17,000 acres booked for spraying this year, noting the business is growing quickly.
The Colemans said the most significant problem is establishing consistent and higher yields. To deal with that issue, they have switched from dryland farming to irrigation in all fields and by establishing rice and soybean rotation. They have also begun planting row crops on hipped ground to increase irrigation efficiency and reduce water damage to crops. Last year the farm acres were leveled to eliminate rice levees and improve row crop irrigation.
The family actively works toward protecting the land by conserving water by using polypipe to irrigate rice fields and using pipe planner on row crops, which uses less energy, less water, improves efficiency and reduces excessive water runoff and labor cost. Many items are recycled, including polypipe, cardboard boxes, chemical jugs and barrels and scrap metal. Mark uses scrap metal pieces to make sculptures, which is one of his hobbies. On the farm, all power unit and tractor oil is reused for heating the shop.
The family has plans to expand in the future by increasing acreage in order to purchase new equipment, reducing repair time and cost. Wider implements and more fuel efficient tractors will help increase speed and efficiency, which will lower overall production cost.
The Colemans are also working with crop consultants and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Extension Service agents selecting seed varieties that can increase yields and improve crop quality and have hired a crop consultant to help with rice production and using variable rate fertilizing.
The addition of the spraying service has also allowed an increase in overall farm revenue and using GPA auto steer has helped with fuel and time efficiency.