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Point Person: Arkansas farmer a hub for on-farm research, peer information

Conyer Farms in Pine Bluff, Ark. goes the distance to make information, technology accessible to all.

Raney Rapp, Senior Writer

June 14, 2024

5 Min Read
Wink Conyer
Lawrence “Wink” Conyer at his farm near Pine Bluff, ArkRaney Rapp

Lawrence “Wink” Conyer is anything but shy. When he isn’t offering up soul-food recommendations, a much-needed oil change or a helping hand, he’s tackling tough topics like climate change, government programs and what it means to be a farmer in an underserved group to neighbors, peers and friends.

Conyer’s commitment to candid information exchange has made his 1,000-acre Pine Bluff, Ark., row crop operation a hub for research and technology advancement for farms in the region and throughout the country.

Beginning with just over 20 acres in 1999, Conyer’s interest in implementing conservation practices as an opportunity to increase efficiency and ultimately reinvest in on-farm upgrades allowed him to rapidly expand the operation in one generation.  The rest, he said, is a case of being in the right place at the wrong time.

Right place, wrong time

One of the most difficult obstacles for Conyer to overcome came in procuring quality crop ground. Starting small and waiting for the right opportunities to expand often felt like hoping to be in the right place at just the wrong time.

“The opportunity doesn't come open too often that you could purchase land most of the time,” Conyer said. “Our white counterparts know more about that than we do and they have friends to call when they decide to give up some land. That makes a big difference, especially in small community.”

Conyer’s experiences in land-building and his foundational first interaction with local NRCS agent Levell Foote helped develop an appreciation for establishing open communication.

In 2016, he placed third in a national competition for the Lloyd Wright Small Farmers Award, an honor he was nominated for by Foote, that recognizes producers who show passion for improving awareness in agriculture.

The award, given by the National Organization of Professional Black Natural Resources Service Employees, is still one of Conyer’s banner achievements and it opened doors.

Today, Conyer’s farm serves as a public and private proving ground for new technology. National ag companies as well as local universities have access to take notes and test out new ideas – which Conyer is always willing to share.

Community cultivator

Close to home, Conyer shares much of his experience and connections with students and faculty at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff. From submitting information to the school’s small farm program to serving as a farmer mentor, Conyer has been instrumental in helping the school’s agriculture department maintain ties with the local community, especially its youth.

“Mr. C has also been helping us with that program, because his main thing, his mission, is that he wants to bring more awareness to youth,” said UAPB’s 1890 scholarship coordinator Tomekia White. “And in order to reach out to youth, we want to get them more involved in you know, get hands on, learn about the importance of farming, food and nutrition.”

Conyer’s involvement with the university is due in part to his late wife Edna Washington Conyer, who was the university’s first female agricultural economics graduate.

Talking with researchers, academics and youth helped reinforce Conyer’s idea that the solution for encouraging engagement in underserved communities with agriculture was simple communication. As a board member for the National Black Growers Council, he implemented ideas focused on that theory.

“That’s one of the things we try to do with the NBGC is talk about it, a lot of growers don’t feel comfortable approaching a program like NRCS because they don’t know what to do,” Conyer said. “A lot of farmers don’t have trust in government programs, but if they see an older farmer, someone like me, someone like themselves that’s had success with it, it becomes easier.”

Through hosting on-farm field days, cooperating with researchers and even allowing a film crew to produce a profile on his farm for PBS, Conyer’s focus is on sharing his experience with producers like him, one small step at a time.

Discovery Farm

Aside from outreach, conservation is the second most defining aspect of Conyer’s on-farm mission. He doesn’t shy away from talking about the challenges of climate change, increasing carbon or finding practices to help benefit the land he worked hard to acquire.

One way Conyer helps contribute to climate research is by hosting a Discovery Farm for the University of Arkansas. With less than 20 active Discovery Farms across the state, Conyer’s operation is one of a select few who allow students and researchers to complete intensive on-farm monitoring.

“Our students that work with the discovery farms try to get an idea to answer some simple, simple questions - such as is agriculture having an impact on the environment?” said program co-leader Mike Daniels. “We started with water quality, and we really have not found anything that's been alarming.”

The program completes monitoring especially of field nutrients and sediment run-off for watershed areas as well as overall soil health.

“Now we're looking at climate change. Can we store carbon in our farmland that helps the health of that soil and helps climate?” Daniels said. “It gives us a nice database to be able to look and see what kind of impact or what kind of benefits that agriculture can provide to the environment.”

Like many of Conyer’s projects on-farm, the Discovery Farm monitoring helps create an accessible record of conservation practices and their effects – not only for Conyer himself and for researchers, but for anyone curious to learn.

“It's just a good way to address this issue. And what they've done is give farmers a comfortable platform to tell their story to groups like EPA, policy makers,” he said.

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Farm Life

About the Author(s)

Raney Rapp

Senior Writer, Delta Farm Press

Delta Farm Press Senior Writer

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