Along the banks of the Little Red River, Michael Oxner of Searcy, Ark., farms pristine land in a national wildlife refuge.

It’s land prone to flooding. Yet Oxner endures by producing excellent crop yields while protecting wildlife and conserving natural resources.

As a result of his success as a crop farmer, Oxner has been selected as the 2011 Arkansas winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Oxner now joins eight other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award.

The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

A farmer for 22 years, Oxner farms just over 6,000 acres, including 580 acres of owned land and 5,500 acres of rented land. Rice, soybeans and corn are his major crops. Last year’s crops included rice on 2,600 acres, soybeans on 2,100 acres, corn on 300 acres, cotton on 280 acres and wildlife food plots grown in moist soil on 1,150 acres.

At the wildlife refuge, he attracts waterfowl by keeping the soil moist through irrigation and permanent water impoundments. He also grows millet and native grasses on a portion of the refuge.

Hybrid rice has improved his yields. He also uses Clearfield technology to control red rice. His five-year rice crop yields are about 140 bushels per acre.

His soybeans produce about 20 bushels per acre and his irrigated corn yields 150 bushels per acre. Last year, his cotton was grown by a tenant and yielded 900 pounds per acre.

Oxner spent his childhood on his grandfather’s farm. “When I was 10, my grandfather helped me plant two acres of soybeans,” he recalls. “I plowed them, irrigated them and sold them. I was hooked on farming.”

At the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, he majored in agricultural business and finance.

In 1989, he rented 700 acres to farm while still in college. His grandfather suffered a stroke while Oxner was in college, and he was able to farm a portion of the land his grandfather farmed. Oxner continued farming while studying for a master’s degree.