The field for one of Kentucky Farm Bureau’s top honors has been narrowed to three finalists as preliminary judging of the 2013 “Farmer of the Year” nominees is now complete.
Gary Cecil of Daviess County, Kenny Imel of Greenup County, and Ray Allan Mackey of Hardin County are the finalists for this year’s prestigious award.
KFB initiated a “Farmer of the Year” awards program as a way to recognize its members for their commitment to excellence in agriculture, efficiency in farming practices, sound financial management and outstanding leadership in their county Farm Bureau and other civic organizations.
The award recognizes an individual whose personal efforts not only strengthen the state’s agriculture industry but also demonstrate service and leadership on and off the farm.
Gary Cecil, a 38-year farming veteran, raises tobacco, watermelons, corn, wheat, pumpkins and other miscellaneous vegetables on his 705-acre farm in Owensboro, and is currently the only commercial watermelon grower in the state.
His farming career began in the mid-1970’s when he rented his first 10 acres of land to grow tobacco and helped local farmers haul their hay and corn.
A family endeavor from the beginning, Cecil’s wife, Imelda, helped provide additional income by working as a nurse while raising their three children. Their son, Ryan, and daughter, Suzanne, have both returned to the farm to fill integral roles in the operation today.
Working with labor-intensive crops like tobacco and vegetables, Cecil now employs more than 20 workers and has added two greenhouses for early vegetable production.
He is a long-time KFB member and has served on the Daviess County Farm Bureau board of directors for nearly 30 years, including two terms as president.
He also represented Kentucky for 10 years on the U.S. Potato Board, served on Kentucky’s Soil Conservation board for 16 years, and has offered his time and leadership to numerous other local civic and industry-specific organizations.
Kenny Imel, a 37-year farming veteran and first generation horticulturalist, manages a greenhouse nursery of ferns, mums, hanging baskets and specialty pots on his 129-acre farm in Greenup. He also raises cattle and mixed grass hay, and operates a successful agritourism business that attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Imel started farming when he was just 14 years old, inspired by an FFA project that introduced him to raising cattle, hogs and produce. As he moved into full-time farming, Imel also raised field crops, chicken, and hogs, but he eventually focused his efforts on greenhouse, cattle and hay production and added agritourism features as a way to continue growing his farm.
Imel has served on the Greenup County Farm Bureau board of directors since the early 1980’s, including four terms as its president and vice president, is presently a member of the KFB Certified Roadside Market Advisory Committee and the state Horticulture Committee.
Imel volunteers much of his remaining time to assist local industry clubs and other civic organizations.
Ray Allen Mackey
Ray Allen Mackey, a 27-year farming veteran, raises corn, soybeans, tobacco, beef cattle and swine on his 4,535-acre farm in Elizabethtown.
He began farming immediately after graduating from college, first helping his father manage the family farm, then sharecropping some neighboring land, and eventually purchasing his own farm in 1986.
As the size of Mackey’s farmland and facilities continued to grow with more acquisitions over the following years, so did his family’s involvement on the farm. Mackey’s brother, wife, and both of his sons all play integral roles on the farm today.
Mackey has been a member of the Hardin County Farm Bureau board of directors since 1985 and served as its president since 2004. He is also vice-chair of the KFB Swine Advisory Committee and the KFB District Three chairman.
Mackey is additionally very active in the Kentucky Corn Growers Association, serving on its board since 2003 and serving as president for a two-year term.
Judges visited the finalists in late-September to conduct interviews and see the farms first-hand.
The “Farmer of the Year” award will be announced at KFB’s 2013 state annual meeting in Louisville on December 6, and the winner will receive $1,000 from the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation.
All three finalists will be given a KFB jacket, and the runners up will receive $250 from the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation.
In addition to the statewide recognition and prizes, KFB’s “Farmer of the Year” winner will represent Kentucky in the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern “Farmer of the Year” contest, the South’s most prestigious agricultural award, in Moultrie, Georgia, October 14-16, 2014.
The state winner will also receive $2,500 from Swisher International, a customized jacket and a $200 gift certificate courtesy of The Williams Dickie Company, and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperative.
Kentucky’s winner will compete against nine other state winners for the chance to win a $15,000 award from Swisher International and several other sponsor-based prizes.