Parkerson’s selection was announced at the Willie B. Withers Expo Luncheon during the opening day of the 26th annual Sunbelt Expo in Moultrie, Ga. The announcement was made by officials of Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., and the Sunbelt Expo, sponsors of the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award.
"We are delighted to have Mr. Parkerson as the Southeastern Farmer of the Year for 2003," said J. Thomas Ryan, executive vice president for Swisher International. "His accomplishments in the horticulture industry certainly speak for themselves. And especially the many innovations he has introduced to his industry."
Parkerson was selected by a panel of judges in competition among eight state finalists from the Southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
"I felt like I was just a small pea in the pod with my small operation compared to some of the massive farms of the other state winners," said Parkerson of his 160-acre operation in Suffolk. "After seeing and hearing about their accomplishments and operations, I’m extremely humbled to be selected as the Southeastern Farmer of the Year.
"I want to thank the officials of Swisher International and the Sunbelt Expo for caring enough about agriculture to sponsor this award," he added.
As the Southeastern Farmer of the Year, Parkerson received a $14,000 cash award from Swisher International. He also received the use of a tractor of his choice for a year from AGCO; gift certificates totaling $1,000 from Southern States; a $500 cash award, a $300 gift certificate and a custom-designed jacket from the Williamson-Dickie Company; and a $3,600 custom-made gun safe from Misty Morn.
Parkerson’s horticultural career began in 1968 when he purchased the wholesale division of Lancaster Farms, a small 10-acre operation. And by 1969, he was in the wholesale business of selling plants and trees.
That 10-acre operation has expanded to 160 acres of plants today, making it one of the largest serving the Mid-Atlantic Region. And with his "better way" of doing things attitude, Parkerson is known as one of the industry’s leading innovators.
He was the first to move away from traditional gallon production containers into larger ones. In 1975, Parkerson, was one of the first nurseries to begin directly sticking cuttings and liners into 3-gallon containers, bypassing several transplant stages.
"I was told by many in the wholesale nursery business that you couldn’t do either one of those ideas," he said. Parkerson also is credited with starting structureless greenhouses. Next came the birth of PNP - pot-in-pot production, where a socket pot is buried in the ground and another production pot is nested inside that one.
"Our main goal is quality and not quantity," says Parkerson. "We always want to deliver our customers the best products they can buy, and we’re always looking for better avenues to make that happen."
Parkerson is the second recipient of the Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award from Virginia. Nelson Gardner of Bridgewater, Va., was selected as the winner in 1990, the first year of the award program.
The other seven finalists for the award included Bruce Bush of Eufaula, Ala.; Sonny Williamson of Okeechobee, Fla.; Jim Donaldson of Metter, Ga.; Rick Parsons of Vance, Miss.; Frank Howey Jr., of Monroe, N.C.; Harold Pitts of Newberry, S.C.; and John Smith of Puryear, Tenn.