by Dwain Hebda
Randy Veach takes a seat in his office during the closing days of his presidency of Arkansas Farm Bureau. He’s occupied the space with distinction for more than a decade, and he’s got the mementos to prove it – from framed press clippings and photos with power brokers all over the wall to a proclamation read on the floor of the U.S. Senate in a leather-bound folder on his desk.
He’s supposed to be packing up, but it doesn’t look like anything’s made it into the box yet. Or maybe there’s just so much here you can’t tell what’s already been hauled back to the family farm.
Veach is the real deal, a third-generation farmer of primarily cotton on land his grandfather cleared and tilled, along with running a sawmill. He was born the day his grandfather died and has spent much of his life working the ancestral ground at Lost Cane, a spot on the map so tiny it uses Manila, Big Lake and Whistleville as reference points.
“This was my 49th year to farm, my 49th crop. I’ve had cotton every year except two out of those,” he says. “I chopped cotton when I was five or six years old. There’s some videos of me running a cotton picker when I was 10, by myself.”
The work was hard, but Veach really didn’t have a choice. Donald Veach, his father, had an unbending work ethic that he invested early in his son
“Dad was, and I’m kind of the same way, just get up and go to work,” he says. “One of my boys called me when he started farming with me, called me one morning and said, ‘Dad, I’m sick.’ I said, ‘Not today you’re not. We’re planting. When we get this crop planted you can be sick, but you can’t be sick today.’”
Veach got involved with Arkansas Farm Bureau at the county level after two years of college during which time he met and married his wife Thelma. He’d had his eye on other public service, but the good Lord had other ideas.
“I was running for quorum court in my county and I went to talk to a good friend of mine, Pat Sullivan,” Veach says. “He was a guy that was very important in our county and I went and talked to him about supporting me for that position.”
“He said, ‘No, Randy, I’m not going to.’ I said, ‘Okay, could I find out why?’ And he said, ‘Because you need to be involved in something that you love and what you do and that’s agriculture. You need to be involved in Farm Bureau.’ So from there I started on the county board.”
Sullivan was right – Veach’s passion for farmers and farming soon landed him on the state board where he stood out as a natural leader.
“Stanley Reed and I met on a Farm Bureau trip to Washington, D.C. I was county president then,” he says. “We wanted him to run for president, so he said, ‘Randy, there’s only one way that I’ll run for president, that’s if you’ll run for vice president.’ He actually forced me into it.”
Both men got elected and that was the last time Veach would be opposed for state office, a tenure that includes five years as vice president and 11 years as president. During that time, Arkansas Farm Bureau’s reach and influence multiplied and with it, the health of the state’s ag economy.
“Agriculture is still the most important and the largest industry (in Arkansas); it’s a huge economic engine and it always has been,” he says. “It’s continued to grow in importance with the expanding population of not only the United States but around the globe. We provide affordable, high-quality food, fiber and shelter for Arkansas, for the nation and we feed most of the world.”
Arkansas Farm Bureau began in 1935, first as a lobbying organization and second as a means for farmers and ranchers to procure insurance. These benefits continue today as the vast majority of farms are still family-owned, which has meant sustained healthy membership numbers and Arkansas Farm Bureau’s substantial political clout.
“Our farmers and ranchers understand the importance of this organization,” Veach says. “You talk about membership, we’re at almost one-fourth of the population of the state of Arkansas connected to a Farm Bureau membership. We have some insurance companies and that makes a difference, because we’re not only out there providing the food, fiber and shelter that they need, but also a way that they can protect their families.”
What Veach does worry about, as do many farm families, is who will take over for the current generation. His own grandkids are not likely to carry on the family business and other families are in the same boat, especially given the mercurial nature of farm economics.
“Everywhere I go, even outside of the state, I speak about this a lot,” he says. “Everybody talks about sustainable agriculture and we’re not sustainable if we’re not profitable.”
“The input costs continue to rise. The markets fluctuate. We’ve had a pretty good fluctuation in the markets and drop in the markets because of the tariff war. There’s a lot of things that enter into the market and what the pricing is.”
Veach won’t completely disappear from view in his so-called retirement from Arkansas Farm Bureau leadership. He’s got commitments with various entities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to his county Farm Bureau organization to a board seat at the Rockefeller Institute as well as all-important church and family commitments. He might even run some dirt through his hands now and again.
“I love being a farmer,” he says. “It’s been my life and it still is. And I think the world of this organization. I appreciate this organization and all it has done.”