Family honored for agricultural heritage

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submitted photo The Morris family of Carlisle was honored by the Arkansas Century Farm program on Dec. 12 for its 100 plus years of agricultural heritage . Picture from left is Marcy Morris, Jason Neil, Emily Morris-Neil, Richard Morris, Matt, Erica, Michael and John Morris.

The Morris family of Carlisle was one of 17 farm families honored by the Arkansas Century Farm program Dec. 12, 2012.

At the meeting held in Des Arc, the Morris Farm was awarded a certificate and sign by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. The farm is currently owned by Richard, Becky and Matthew Morris.

According to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture website, the Arkansas Century Farm Program recognizes Arkansas’s rich agricultural heritage and honors families who have owned and farmed the same land for at least 100 years. The program is administered by the Arkansas Agriculture Department.

The Arkansas Century Farm Program is a voluntary program as each family chooses whether to submit an application and participate in the program. The program places no restrictions on the farm and offers no legal protection. There is no cost to the family to submit an application and participate in the program. Successful applicants receive a special certificate and a metal sign identifying their historical farm.

Below is a story written by Richard Morris titled “Our Story”, which tells the history of farming began for the Morris family.

“The early rice industry in Arkansas had its beginning on the Morris Farm in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. William Fuller, brother-in-law to my Great Grandfather John Morris, saw his first rice fields while on a hunting trip along the coast of Louisiana in the fall of 1896.

“While there, he noticed the similarities of the rice fields to those of his own in Lonoke County, Arkansas. The only difference, and one that would become a major challenge to growing rice in the early years, was that there were no irrigation wells on the Arkansas prairies. Soon after Fuller’s return home, he began to make plans to plant a small field of three acres to rice in the spring of 1897. The first thing he would need was a well to water the rice, so before spring arrived, he put down two four-inch wells to pump with a double crank drum. He purchased his seed from a rice farmer in Crowley, La., and was ready to plant.

“Mr. Fuller states that some rice had been grown in the timber country of Arkansas for personal consumption, but not on the prairie for commercial use. In that spring of 1897 he planted three acres on his farm NW1/4 of Section 8, 1N 7W, about three miles south-southwest of Carlisle and obtained a very good stand. Fuller said the rice grew and did very well until he pulled the pump to pieces and he had to give it up for that year. Not to be discourage, Mr. Fuller moved to the rice growing area of Louisiana in 1898 and remained there for several growing seasons to learn all he could about raising rice and putting down wells.

“In the mean time, his brother in law John Morris began working with raising rice on his own farm across the road from Fuller’s place in Section 5. In 1901 a group of citizens in the Lonoke vicinity formed a company for the sole purpose of experimenting with growing rice in all phases and to learn how to make irrigation wells. The organization was named The Lonoke Rice Growing Association. For the purpose of their first experiment, arrangements were made to use forty acres on the farm of John Morris. The growing of the rice was to be entirely in the hands of Mr. Morris. A 10-inch well was sunk and the necessary equipment ordered for the 1901 crop. A field of 30 acres was planted and a fine stand was obtained, but there was a delay in receiving and installing the machinery for the well, plus an extreme drought, so the stand was greatly reduced and the remaining plants severely injured. The net result of all of this was an almost complete failure of the 1901 experiment and the company folded soon afterward due to the lack of funding.

“In 1902, John Morris had his well and began working in cooperation with the Arkansas Experiment Station Rice Branch of Lonoke Arkansas. The newly formed station had no land at the time so arrangements were made with Mr. Morris to plant a 20-acre field on his farm. The seed was ordered from Louisiana, but failed to arrive until June 4, which was considered too late in season for planting. However, they decided to risk five acres, and in spite of the late planting and a cold ripening season, the field yielded 60 bushels per acre of well mature rice. Encouraged by his partial success, John made plans to plant 20 acres for the 1903 crop. He traveled to Louisiana in March of 1903 to learn more about some of the rice culture and gather as much information as he could. While in the rice fields of Louisiana, he was suddenly stricken with heart failure from which he died at an early age of 47. Although stricken with grief and heartbroken, Emma Morris, the widow of John Morris, was determined that she and her boys, Elmer and Miron Morris, would plant the 20 acres her husband had planned. In a letter written to Western Trails magazine published in Chicago, Emma Morris writes the following. ‘The spring of 1903 was very rainy and backward, but we got our little crop of 15 acres planted in the middle of May. The rice came up nicely and grew rapidly. We succeeded in getting water over about eight acres. A portion of the crop was almost or quite choked out by crabgrass. We harvested 10 acres, seven and one half of Japan and two and one half of Honduras. Our crop yielded 904 bushels. The Honduras being more properly watered yielded 258 bushels. We have an excellent 10-inch well, all ready to the coming spring and I have land prepared to plant 50 acres. With the assurance of abundance of water, I feel confident that we will raise a large crop.’ Elmer Morris stated that 1903 was the year of the World’s Fair at St. Louis and a good many people from that area came by to see our rice crop as it was headed out and standing shoulder high.

“In fall of 1903, Mr. Fuller had returned from the fields of Louisiana with the necessary well equipment and rice seed for the 1904 crop. Many farmers from the Hazen and Carlisle area came together and offered Mr. Fuller $1,000 if he could produce a successful rice crop of at least 35 bushels per acre on 70 acres, thus proving that rice could be grown on the prairie of Arkansas. If he failed or the yield was less than 35, he was to have nothing. The rice crop that Fuller planted in 1904 was a success, yielding about 75 bushels per acre. Mr. Fuller collected his money and proved to the people that there was great potential in raising rice. Across the road, Emma Morris and her sons were also successful with their 1904 crop and the rice industry in Arkansas was born. As a result of all this somewhat successful experimentation, on both the Morris and Fuller farms, rice culture began to take hold and there were some 450 acres planted in Lonoke County in 1905.

Both, the Morris farm and Fuller farm have been owned and operated by the Morris family for over 100 years with the earliest for 120 years.”

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