BY KENDAL NORRIS
THE FARMER OF THE YEAR award is givento an individual, but the award reflects thecountless contributions made by the farmer’s family and employees to insure the success of the honoree. These annual awardsalso highlight each farmer’s long and distinguished career in agricultural production,marketing, business management, appliedresearch, environmental innovations, community service, and contributions to industry-related organizations and their community.
Swisher International and the Sunbelt AgExpo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmerof the Year awards for the thirty-first consecutive year. At the conclusion of this year’s Expo,a total of 31 outstanding farmers will havebeen recognized as overall winners of theSwisher/Sunbelt Ag Expo SE Farmer of theYear awards, and 276 farmers from 10 stateswill have been recognized as state winners.
Nominees for state awards are nominated
by local county Extension agents in Georgia,
Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and
Virginia. Farm Bureau Federation area orga-
nization directors, field representatives or
county Presidents nominate the winners in
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, and
North Carolina. The rules, however, allow
anyone to nominate a potential Farmer of
the Year as long as they go through the local
County Extension agent or Farm Bureau rep-
resentative. Some state winners have been
nominated by fellow farmers and even by
Nominators are an important componentin the overall success of the awards, especially as they provide ground transportationfor the judging team and help state winnersplan what to show the judges when they visitthe farm. They can also act as shepherds inthe initial application process that requiresa considerable amount of accurate technicaland yield information, a listing of businessachievements, goals summaries, environmental and economic challenges and solutions, and personal reflections on each individual’s farming experience.
To ensure fairness in the standard selec-
tion process, judges are limited to three hours
per farm visit. It is up to the state winners and
the nominators to decide what to showcase
during the limited time the judges are on site
at each farm.
Since the awards began, three state winners have been women. Several years ago theprogram recognized the first fulltime beekeeper as a Farmer of the Year state winner.This year the new type of farming representedis a baitfish hatchery.
One of the top commodities grown onfarms in the southeast is beef cattle. This yearthere are five representatives of that side offarming among the state winners: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina,and Virginia, all with varying operations. Theyinclude purebred Angus, commercial, directto consumer grass-fed cattle, and stockercattle.
Fruits, vegetables, and herbs — specialty,
conventional — are grown by the Farmers of
the Year in Florida and South Carolina. The
Kentucky Farmer of the Year specializes in
soybeans, wheat cover, corn, soft red win-
ter wheat for grain and utilizes solar energy
on his farm. The Arkansas Farmer of the Year
represents the baitfish hatchery industry, and
the Alabama Farmer of the Year has a cattle
operation and a poultry operation as well as
Farmer of Year Awards highlight
excellence in agriculture
FARMER OF THE YEAR
State Farmer of the Year winners for 2019, shown at the Farmer of the Year Dinner held in their honor are, left to right, Jerry Ray, Tennessee;
Ted Parker, Mississippi; Danny Cunningham, Kentucky; Hank Richardson, Alabama; Chip Blalock; Sidi Limehouse, South Carolina; Ron Carroll;
Robert Dickey, Georgia; Johnny Wishon, North Carolina; Charles Obern, Florida; Chris Isbell, Arkansas; and Michael McDowell, Virginia. The
2019 overall winner was Michael McDowell. This year’s overall winner will be announced at the Willie B. Withers Sunbelt Expo LuncheonTuesday, October 19, at the 43rd Anniversary Sunbelt Expo in Moultrie, Ga.