Innovative Chris Isbell was the first farmer to grow prized Koshihikari rice outside of Japan, and the thrill of doing it spurred him on to develop and grow a premium variety of Yamanda Nishki rice used to make Japanese sake. When covid shut down Japan exports in 2020, Isbell had Japanese sake rice ready and waiting, and he now sells rice to sake breweries around the world. His product and Hot Springs’ sparkling spring water are now being used to create a new Origami Sake in Arkansas. Isbell’s moto of “never says no” to research has led to meaningful partnerships with both the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University. His sustainability efforts include water-saving methods, solar fields helping power the farm and flooded fields for waterfowl in the offseason. Isbell earned USA Rice Farmer of the Year honors in 1996 and the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year award in 2019. He has served on the Bayou Meto Water District Board of Directors since 2020.
Isbell’s family has been raising rice since 1948 and he made agriculture more than a way of life with a broader vision of the farm. His understanding, wisdom, forward-thinking, ability to communicate ideas and see them to fruition, made farming better. His was a place to dream, experiment and learn. He strived to make ag an amazing way of life for himself and those around him, including his children and grandchildren.
Appropriately, Isbell attends Harvest Church, where he serves as an elder, plays guitar in the church band and teaches a small group.
Rice farmer Chris Isbell developed and grows a premium Yamanda Nishki variety to make Japanese sake.