Matthews Ridgeview Farms
In Wynne, Arkansas, the Matthews family, owners and operators of Matthews Ridgeview Farms (MRF), has been growing sweet potatoes for more than a century. The company’s roots in agriculture trace to Samuel Doke Matthews, who started out as a sharecropper, growing cotton in Arkansas. Today, Samuel’s great-great-grandson, Terris Matthews, and his wife, Kim Matthews, run the operation, which launched as MRF in 2006.
The husband-and-wife team established MRF on a solid foundation of faith and family values, raising their two daughters, Jaylie and Taycie, around the business. Today multiple generations are involved in the daily operations of MRF, including Terris’ father, David Matthews.
Situated on more than 4,000 acres of farmland dedicated to sweet potatoes and other commodities such as corn and soybeans, MRF is a leader in the Southeast. MRF distributes across the south central U.S. and into Canada and the Netherlands. The team also has a sister company, Delta Blue Farms (Delta Blues), which Kim manages. Delta Blues adds another 500 acres of sweet potato production.
“It gives us more products to be able to market,” Kim clarifies. “Delta Blues is operated out of a facility we lease from a nonprofit organization. We offer storage, packing and marketing for other growers. We became involved with the nonprofit through our former secretary of agriculture in 2009.”
A labor of love
Even as the industry advances in new technology and efficiencies, MRF is making adjustments, expansions and adding acreage — yet still planting by hand for the highest quality end product. “There’s still nothing more technically advanced in terms of the way we plant,” explains Kim, partner and co-owner of MRF. “We’ve been doing it this way for decades and it’s a very labor-intensive process. You’re on an eight-row machine with 16 people, two people per row and you’re hand feeding the plants one by one onto a piece that sets the plant into the ground.”
While still planting in the traditional sense, MRF is adding acreage and storage capacity. “We continue to expand our acreage for sweet potato production,” says Kim. “We are gearing up to do a major expansion within the next year that will ramp up our facilities, increasing climate-controlled storage, including refrigeration and the addition of a more advanced packaging facility.”
A new packaging facility will help MRF produce more value-added items, such as its Riverboat Steamers petite sweets. “This is a new item we’ve added to our product line for convenience,” says Kim. “The Riverboat Steamers are our petite sweet potatoes in microwavable packaging, so they steam and cook right in the bag. We started shipping these bags out in mid-September 2015.”
From the packaging line to the field, MRF is also working in conjunction with Louisiana State University (LSU) to test three new varieties of sweet potatoes. “So far they have met our expectations in terms of crop performance, so we’re testing on a broader scale this year,” says Kim.
With the help of LSU’s sweet potato research program, MRF utilizes test plots to analyze how each variety stands up to the climate and soil. “We’ve been working with LSU for about five years now and it’s really great for our business to have this mutual partnership,” says Kim.
MRF is making strides in facility growth, new products and varieties, and also in terms of sustainability and food safety. “We always have a plan and a goal in mind,” says Kim. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. We continue to work on our sustainability goals and precision agriculture in our fields, especially with water efficiency.”
“One of the biggest issues we face is water conservation,” she continues. MRF has added overhead pivots to distribute water and land-leveling for better field drainage. “The goal is to plant and yield a successful crop with the least amount of resources.”
Kim sees drones and new crop scouting technology as areas for technological advancement in the field. “Drones are certainly impacting the industry,” she says. “There is a future here because they help crop scouts accurately see every part of the field, but at the end of the day, we’re still planting row by row and hand-feeding the plants. It’s all still very labor intensive.”
Honesty, integrity and a lot of faith
To keep up with the labor demand, MRF has added more employees. “We’ve added a few new employees, but we’re growing at a smart pace that’s sustainable,” explains Kim. “We will never overextend ourselves in this business. We’re at Mother Nature’s mercy and we put our faith in God to see us through.”
“We will never overextend ourselves in this business. We’re at Mother Nature’s mercy and we put our faith in God to see us through.”
Kim says success is more than dollars and cents for MRF. “To me and my husband, success is knowing what we’re doing is honoring the Lord,” she says. “We are here to take care of our people and our customers with honesty and integrity no matter what we are doing. Always be honest and do not lose your integrity.”
At the end of the day, the Matthews family puts their trust in God first. “I remember back in 2009 when over a course of two to three weeks we had more than 15 inches of rain,” recounts Kim. “We prayed the rain would stop and asked the Lord to take care of the crop. The rain continued but still it was our highest yield yet and it was the most beautiful crop. Those potatoes should have been terrible, but it was the most powerful testimony of God’s influence. He gives us what we need.”
With this philosophy central to business, Matthews Ridgeview Farms is carrying on five generations of family farming and growing good in the Southeast.
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