The Arant family's fourth-generation farm pays homage to the past but adds modern technology and marketing to look to the future.
Currently, Hugh Arant Jr., David Arant Sr., and David Arant Jr. farm rice, corn, and soybeans on a farm that dates back to the 1920s near Ruleville, Miss. Around 2014, the Arants created a rice milling company called Delta Blues Rice.
"We have five products available on Amazon and our online website," David Arant Jr. said. "We have brown rice, white rice, white rice grits, brown rice grits, as well as jasmine rice. Rice grits are broken grains of rice that, when cooked, are creamier than regular rice. We have recipes on our website and YouTube videos on how to cook rice in different ways.
"When my wife, Rebekkah, and I graduated from Mississippi State University in 2006, we moved to Jackson, Miss. I got a job as a civil engineer while she taught English. During our time in Jackson, we enjoyed going to local farmers' markets and meeting the people who grew our food," he said. "We moved back to Ruleville in 2012. I grew up on the farm, and I wanted to give my boys the same experience, but we missed being able to go to the farmers market for farm-fresh food."
Arant said the idea for Delta Blues Rice started soon after he and his wife moved back to the farm in Ruleville. The Arants, who wanted to put their mark on the food industry, decided to start Delta Blues Rice.
"We wanted to connect with people the way we had connected with the growers at the farmers' market," he said. "My father, uncle, and I were talking one day, and the idea to start a rice milling business was hatched."
From farm to table
"We started with my grandfather's small rice mill," Arant said. "We actually had been milling rice since the mid-80s for friends and family. Everybody said it was the best rice they ever had. We always said, 'Oh, it's just rice.' It was something we took for granted because that's what we always ate growing up. So we thought, 'why don't we try selling rice straight from the farm to the consumer.'"
The family only mills a small portion of its total rice acreage, which is a different variety from the rest of the rice. The remainder of their rice crop is sent to commercial rice mills. Because of consumer feedback, they're currently working on getting an organic certification.
"I had one chef tell us that he liked how when he opened our bag of rice it smelled fresh," he said. "It is neat when people say that it is the best rice they've ever had, and they enjoy the product and recipes."
Growing the farm
Arant's father and uncle, David Sr. and Hugh Jr., graduated from Mississippi State and came back to the farm, improved the land, and built the operation.
"They built the farm up to where it is now and helped to make it a great operation," David Jr. said. "They built grain bins and leveled all the land. We used to have catfish and cotton but got out of cotton in the mid-90s and catfish in early 2000."
They farm about 4,000 acres; 2,400 of those acres are devoted to soybeans, and the remainder is divided between rice and corn.
The family's 2019 crop
This past season, the Arants had about 700 acres of rice, 2,400 acres of soybeans, and the remaining acres in corn.
"At one time, we farmed 8,000 acres, but it was too much to manage. By cutting back, we manage our acreage more efficiently by minimizing cost and running bigger equipment to cover more ground," Arant said.
2018 was a good year for soybeans and corn.
"This year, we're just glad to be done. All the rain we had in the spring and summer really affected everything as far as timing. For us, it took so long to get everything planted. With soybeans, the earlier you get them planted the better."
They normally start planting corn in March and soybeans and rice in April and try to get everything done by the first week of May.
"This year, with the rain, we had different ages of soybeans in the same field because one side of the field was replanted. It made it a little bit harder to manage since the timing of everything was off. Every year is different in farming, though. You just have to roll with the punches," he said.
Rice varieties and row rice
The Arants plant several varieties of rice, but this past season, they grew Diamond, Ricetec 7311, and Gemini.
"We're trying to get away from using levees on the farm if possible," he said. "This year, we had about 250 acres in row rice and the rest were zero grade fields. It's nice not to have to deal with levees, putting them up and knocking them down. There might be a bit of a yield lag with row rice, but not having to deal with the levees makes it more convenient for us."
Arant said another advantage of row rice is less irrigation.
"You might have more weeds on the upper end of the field where you don't have a stand of water, so you have to manage for weeds a little better," he said.
Technology and cover crops
Technology and cover crops also play key roles in the Arant operation. They use GPS and variable rate fertilizer as well as moisture sensors to improve efficiency.
"The moisture sensors have become more advanced as far as the information they'll give you, and you can get the information on your phone, which is really convenient," Arant said.
"We also do as little tillage as possible. We still till some but try to minimize it. It's been about 5 years since we did any deep tillage. We are planting more cover crops on the farm, planting cereal rye on about 800 acres. I haven't necessarily seen a yield increase from cover crops on the soybean side, but we can cut expenses."
Cereal rye helps to suppress weeds such as Italian ryegrass and henbit, which means less spraying for weeds at planting.
"All our ground is furrow irrigated, and where I have cover crops, I am not pulling the middles for irrigation," he said. "Cover crops also minimize erosion, and the runoff is typically cleaner in the drainage pipes compared to non-cover crop fields. We plan to keep farming this same land for a long time, and cover crops help maintain our soil health."