Back in 2019, Randy Veach, longstanding president of Arkansas Farm Bureau, took the podium at the organization’s 85th annual convention to give his final address as its president. Now, nearly two years into retirement, he has stepped back into the spotlight to commemorate a job well done.
Veach, along with five others, was recently inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame.
The Manila native served on the board of Arkansas Farm Bureau for 20 years, during which time he traveled to 29 countries around the globe, fervently promoting agriculture on behalf of the state.
“I’ve been to China twice, Japan twice,” Veach recalled. “Once, I went to China because they stopped buying our soybeans. I sat down with three Chinese businessmen and told them, ‘You can’t live without us. You buy our soybeans to feed your people.’ It wasn’t long after that, they took off the embargo.”
For Veach and more than 190,000 Farm Bureau member families across the state, farming is serious business. Agriculture is Arkansas’ largest industry, adding about $20 billion to the state’s economy each year. From the Veach family farmstead in northeastern Arkansas, where the Mississippi River Delta nourishes soil that yields cotton, beans and corn, to the far-reaching timberlands down south, agriculture reigns supreme in the state of Arkansas.
“Agriculture is so important to not only Arkansas, but everywhere,” Veach explained. “When you sit down at your table to eat, you need to think about agriculture. When you put your clothes on in the morning, you need to think about agriculture.
“Then, there’s the economy. If agriculture just ceased, the state’s economy would absolutely collapse. In California, they raise fruit — that’s agriculture. I have heard people say, ‘I don’t care anything about agriculture. I get my food from Kroger.’”
Veach explained that for most countries, the main Arkansas import is soybeans, and many import quite a bit of cotton to make garments, too.
“Of course, cotton has been kind of up and down because of the prevalence of other materials, but it’s hard to beat cotton. It really does breathe,” he said. “But, soybeans are a big market because you can do so much with them, with the oil and with the bean itself.”
Timber is a major commodity in Arkansas, and countries like South Korea — another place Veach has visited — buy and ship logs from the U.S. because they don’t have enough wood.
“I’ve been to Panama. That was interesting,” Veach said. “The president at the time, we went to his house. Just before we got there, his daughter had been kidnapped. That was interesting. We do trading with Panama and picked up more after our visit.
“It’s amazing how many countries could not survive without us and what we do.”
Born into agriculture, Veach gained an appreciation for farming when he started picking cotton by hand at a young age.
“One of my sisters is two years older than me, and the other is four years older than me. I am the youngest. And I would out-pick them every day,” he said.
“My mother was pretty good: She would say, ‘Whoever picks the most cotton gets to pick the dessert.’ So, my sisters would say, ‘We’ll do your chores for you at home, Randy, if you’ll choose bread pudding,’” Veach remembered fondly.
“You don’t have to write about that, but the point I’m making is, I’ve been in love with agriculture all my life.”
While he remains proud of his tenure with Farm Bureau, Veach is enjoying retirement. He gets to spend more time with his wife, Thelma, and their grandchildren.
“The Veach family, we grew up on the farm. And it’s that way for most of the farmers and ranchers throughout the state of Arkansas. They are so important,” he said. “Agriculture is always there to provide food, to enable you to build a house. And all of it comes from farmers. That’s the way it’s done. It’s intense and important, and all of those out there who are doing it, are putting their whole heart into it.”