BY JOHN LEIDNER
AS THE SUNBELT AGRICULTURAL EXPO celebrates its 40th anniversary show, it also is marking the 28th consecutive year of honoring farming excellence in the Southeast with the prestigious Swisher Sweets/
Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.
Tobacco company Swisher International has been the primary
sponsor for the award since it began in 1990. The Farmer of the Year
recognition was started by the late Bobby Batson, a marketing expert
who worked in promotions and as national accounts manager at
Swisher International. His widow, Janie Batson, now helps to coordinate the award program.
When Bobby started the award, he received enthusiastic support
from the late Ed White, who was then the executive director of the
Sunbelt Ag Expo, as well as the backing of J. Thomas Ryan, who was
then Swisher’s chief executive o;cer.
Ryan retired in 2012, but the company’s strong support for the
Farmer of the Year award continues today under the leadership of
Peter Ghiloni, current president and chief executive o;cer of Swisher
Each year at Expo, Swisher’s exhibit is a “Salute to the American
Farmer,” a theme that was originated by Batson during the early
Swisher Expo exhibits. Expo visitors can find the Swisher exhibit in
the middle of the exhibit grounds, just north of Agribusiness Building 2 and immediately south of the Farm Press Exhibitor Lounge.
Today, Swisher is represented at Expo and at the Farmer of the Year
presentations by Ron Carroll, the company’s vice president of marketing for smokeless tobacco products. Carroll also serves on the Expo
board of directors. He accompanied the Farmer of the Year judges on
their farm visits two years ago, and again this year he participated in
the early August judging tour.
Carroll worked as a territory manager for Swisher when the Farmer
of the Year award was started in 1990, and says, “I have enjoyed watch-
ing the award grow for 28 years, to now include winners from 10
states. Thus far, we have recognized a total of almost 300 state winners
and 27 overall winners. Initially, the Farmer of the Year award program
began as a marketing tool to help us launch a new tobacco product,
but it has grown, and is now way more than that for us.”
It remains an honor, Carroll says, for Swisher to sponsor the award
and honor the farmers who provide food, fiber, clothing, and shelter
for Americans and those living abroad.
HONORS AMERICAN AGRICULTURE
Though it’s named Farmer of the Year, the award actually honors
American farmers for their long careers of service to the nation’s agriculture — for the great work they do in agricultural production, farm
management, and crop and livestock marketing.
It also recognizes the volunteer work that farmers do and how
they contribute to the overall success of their agricultural and community organizations, churches, and local schools, as well as honoring
the contributions of family members who contribute to the overall
success of the honored farms.
Farmers in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are eligible to take part in the Farmer of the Year awards. State
winners are selected by the sponsoring organizations in each state —
either state Farm Bureau or state Cooperative Extension Service organizations. While anyone can nominate someone for the Farmer of the
Year award, most state winners are nominated by local Farm Bureau
field representatives or local Extension agents.
PRIZES TO WINNERS
The a ward program o;ers some impressive prizes to state winners and
Since 1990 Farmer of the Year
program value continues to grow