BY JOHN LEIDNER
WHILE FARMER OF THE YEAR awards are presented to individuals, the awards are really a recognition of the many contributions that their entire
families and their key employees make toward
insuring the success of the honorees.
And though the awards are presented during
a single year, they actually recognize the farmers
for their long and impressive careers in agricultural production, marketing, business management, community service, and contributions to
Swisher International, through its Swisher
Sweets cigar brand, and Sunbelt Ag Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards
for the 29th consecutive year. At the conclusion of
this year’s Expo, a total of 29 outstanding farmers
will have been recognized as overall winners of
the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern
Farmer of the Year award, and 256 farmers from ten
states will have been recognized as state winners.
Farmers from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida,
Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia are eligible for the award. State winners are selected
by representatives of sponsoring organizations in
each state, typically either a state Farm Bureau or
Cooperative Extension Service.
Nominees for state awards are usually nomi-
nated by local county Extension agents and Farm
Bureau area organization directors or field rep-
resentatives, although the rules allow anyone to
nominate a potential Farmer of the Year. Some
state winners have been nominated by fellow
farmers, and even by family members.
Nominators play a key role in the overall
success of the awards, especially in providing
ground transportation for the judging team, and
in helping state winners plan what to show the
judges when they visit the farm.
To insure fairness of the selection process,
judges are limited to three hours for each farm
visit, and it is up to the state winners and the nominators to help decide what to show the judges
during their limited time on the farms.
Since the awards began, three state winners
have been women, including one this year. A few
years ago, the Expo recognized the first fulltime
beekeeper as a Farmer of the Year state winner,
and this year the first rainbow trout farmer is being
recognized as a state winner.
Beef cattle are grown on more farms in the
Southeast than any other commodity, and it’s
no surprise that beef cattle producers have been
prominent among state winners of the Farmer
of the Year award. A number of dairy producers
and poultry growers have also been recognized
as state winners, and several have been selected
as overall winners of the Farmer of the Year award.
Growers of field crops and horticultural crops
have been well-represented among state winners.
Farmers who grow timber, citrus, greenhouse
plants, nursery plants, and landscaping plants
are also represented in the lineup of state winners.
This year’s judging tour took place during
the week of Aug. 6-10. Judges include Charles
Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed spe-
cialist, Greenville; beef cattle rancher Cary Lightsey,
Lake Wales, Fla., who was the overall winner of
the award in 2009; and John McKissick, longtime
University of Georgia agricultural economist at
Judges typically serve for three years before
rotating off the team. Lightsey is completing his
second year of judging, and Snipes and McKissick
are taking part in their second three-year terms
Each state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt
Expo award receives a $2,500 cash award and an
expense-paid trip to Sunbelt Expo from Swisher
International of Jacksonville, Fla. Other prizes
awarded to state winners include a $500 gift certificate from Southern States cooperative and a
Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
This year’s overall winner will receive a $15,000
cash award from Swisher International. Other
prizes for the overall winner include the use of a
Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey
Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from
Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, and a smoker-grill
from Hays LTI.
AGCO’s Massey Ferguson tractor brand has a
Farmer of Year Awards highlight excellen
160-year history of providing innovation for its
extensive line of tractors. This is the 21st year for
Massey Ferguson to provide the overall Farmer of
the Year winner with the use of a tractor for a year.
Southern States cooperative has also been a
21-year prize sponsor for the Farmer of the year
awards, and before that, its predecessor coopera-
State Farmer of the Year Award winners for 2017, shown at the Sunbelt Ag Expo luncheon held in their honor, are: Front row, from left, Chip Blalock, Sunbelt Ag Expo; Mike Ro
International; back row, from left, Van Hemric, North Carolina; Everett Williams, Georgia; Chris Langley, Alabama; Robert Mills, Jr., Virginia; Mark Wilson, Florida; and Kemp M
luncheon Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the 41st Anniversary Sunbelt Expo at Moultrie, Ga.