a pecan processing and manufacturing agribusiness. Georgia’s state Farmer of the Yeargrows wheat, soybeans, cotton, corn, andwinter field peas along with providing customag services and an ag construction business.The North Carolina Farmer of the Year has apig nursery and serves as a full-time environmental specialist. The Mississippi Farmerof the Year grows sweet potatoes, soybeans,and corn. The Tennessee Farmer of the Yeargrows corn, soybeans, seed soybeans, anddoes custom ag earthmoving work. The Virginia Farmer of the Year grows broiler chickens and turkeys, pigs, and has laying hens —all pasture raised. The Farmer of the Year fromFlorida is a member of the state legislature.
After having to postpose the program fora year due to the unfortunate health eventsof 2020, this year’s judging tour took placeduring the week of August 16-20. Insteadof selecting a new Farmer of the Year Classfor 2021, 2020 state winners were rolled to2021. Judges included Cary Lightsey, LakeWales, Florida, who was the overall winnerof the award in 2009; Joe West, Tifton, Georgia, retired UGA Dairy Scientist and AssistantDean of the Tifton Campus; and David Wildy,Manila, Arkansas, the overall winner of theaward in 2016.
Judges typically serve for three yearsbefore rotating off the team. Cary Lightsey isserving an extra year of his term. Joe West isserving the first year of his three-year term,and David Wildy is in the second year of histhree-year term.
Swisher International and the Sunbelt Expoare sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer ofthe Year awards for the 31st consecutive year.Swisher has contributed some $1,204,000 incash awards and other honors to southeasternfarmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Each winner of the Swisher/Sunbelt Expoaward will receive a $2,500 cash award andan expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expofrom Swisher International of Jacksonville,Florida. A Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply will be given to eachstate winner and nominator. Syngenta willdonate $500 to the state winner’s charity ofchoice. The Farmer of the Year is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to theoverall winner by Swisher. Massey FergusonNorth America will provide each state winner with a gift package and the overall winner with the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or 250 hours (whichever comesfirst). A Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoorand Farm Supply will be given to the overallwinner. Syngenta will provide an additional$500 donation to the charity of choice for theoverall winner who will also receive a Hays LTISmoker/Grill. In addition, the overall winnerwill receive a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition rifle from ReinkeIrrigation.
Add to that another $6,550,000 in spon-sorships, judging trip expenses, and travelexpenses during Expo week, bringing the31-year total to $7,754,000.
Ron Carroll, Swisher marketing vice president and a member of the Sunbelt Expoboard of directors, is a strong supporter of theFarmer of the Year awards, having been associated with the program since they beganin 1990. Back then, Carroll was a territorymanager for the tobacco company, whichis based in Albany, Georgia, and rememberswhen the company’s Expo exhibit was littlemore than a small tent.
He recalls that the late Bobby Batson, then
a marketing director with the company, came
up with the idea of expanding the Swisher
exhibit as a salute to the American farmer. A
few years later, Batson, along with Swisher
President Tom Ryan, expanded on that theme
when they helped start the Lancaster Sunbelt
Ag Expo SE Farmer of the Year award. Swisher’s
flagship brand “Swisher Sweets” became the
brand sponsor in 2006. Batson died prior to
the 2008 Sunbelt Expo, and his widow, Janie
Batson, of Concord, N.C., helped Swisher Inter-
national continue the tradition for the next ten
years. As of 2021, the award carries the com-
pany name “Swisher.”
Sunbelt Expo Executive Director Chip
Blalock accompanies the judges on their tour
of the ten State Farmer of the Year farms. He
comments, “ The Farmer of the Year program
is not just about winning an award but, more
importantly, telling the good news about
Agriculture. It is about honoring excellence
in our vital industry and bringing recognition
to the farmers, especially those near and dear
to our hearts here in the Southeast. They pro-
duce the safest, most abundant, and most
economical supply of food, fiber, and shel-
ter in the world.”
The stories of the state winners of the
2021 awards reveal how they started farm-
ing, how they expanded and improved their
farms over the years, and how they became
industry leaders. Some have come from tra-
ditional, multi-generational farming back-
grounds, and some are first-generation
These stories also reveal groundbreak-ing efforts in the environmental and energyareas that make present and future yieldssafer and more sustainable. Applying university and corporate-based agricultural scienceand research to improve and enrich theirfarming production is no longer a side storybut an integral part of day-to-day operations.
And they’ve all shared in generous waysthe bounty of their labors, contributingthrough hard work and dedication to thehealth and welfare of their local communities. Giving back is sown into the very furrowsof their agricultural way of life.
OVER THE PAST 30 years, the Swisher/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Yearaward program has honored excellenceacross Southern agriculture’s diverse landscape. Those who have participated in theprogram are part of a special group.
Unfortunately, some members of thisunique group of farmers are no longerwith us. In memoriam, here is a list of theFarmers of the Year who have passed.
ALTO L. ADAMS, JR., Florida State Winner 2007
AUSTIN ANDERSON, Tennessee StateWinner 2004
HUGH ARANT, Sr., Mississippi State Winner 1990
LEROY BALDWIN, Florida State Winnerand Overall Winner 1993
BRAD BLACK, Tennessee State Winner
BRUCE BUSH, Alabama State Winner
ROBERT CONNELLY, SR., South CarolinaState Winner 1992
JERRY EDGE, South Carolina State Winner 1998
GLENN W. FORRESTER, Alabama StateWinner 2006
NELSON GARDENER, Virginia State andOverall Winner 1990
JAMES GRAHAM, Tennessee State Winner 1990
ED HESTER, Mississippi State and OverallWinner 1995
RUSSELL INSKEEP, Virginia State Winner
ORELAN JOHNSON, Arkansas State Winner 2009
GEORGE KAISER, Alabama State Winner
BILLY LONG, Florida State Winner 1994
SYKES MARTIN, Alabama State Winner
BUCK McCANN, Virginia State 1994
ERNIE NUNEZ, Florida State and OverallWinner 1991
RICK PARSONS, Mississippi State winner
1994 and 2003
WILL PUTNAM, Florida State Winner
WILLIAM TACKETT, Mississippi StateWinner 2000
TOL THOMAS, Mississippi State Winner
BOBB Y VANNAT TA, Tennessee State Winner 1995
EDWARD WILSON, Tennessee State Winner 1993
JAMES WISE, Alabama State Winner 2005