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Florida rancher is new judge for Southeastern Farmer of the Year award

Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, Fla., has been selected as the newest judge of the prestigious Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, Fla., has been selected as the newest judge of the prestigious Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards.

This year as a judge, he will join farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., from Concord, N.C., and Charles Snipes of Greenville, Miss., in visiting the farms of the ten state winners from the Southeast.

Porter is serving as the senior judge this year. He was also the overall winner of the award in 2011. Snipes is a retired Extension weed scientist who currently provides contract services in agricultural research for the Mid-South.

Their judging trip will take place during early August. The state winners this year will represent the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The overall winner of the award will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

Lightsey is a farmer and rancher who was chosen as the overall winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award in 2009.

“As a past winner of this award, I have always been intrigued by the other winners who came before and after me,” says Lightsey. “I’m interested in hearing their success stories, how they began farming or ranching, and how far they have come.”

He is looking forward to seeing the hard work, diversified enterprises and new production technology among the farmers chosen as state winners.

“I envied the judges who were able to interview and learn from these men and women,” says Lightsey. “These innovative agricultural producers have the same love for their land and livestock as I have. Visiting with them will be a new adventure for me, and I am blessed to have been selected as a judge.”

Cary and his wife Marcia are cattle ranchers. They operate some 36,200 acres of land, and also grow citrus and sod. The Lightseys are known for their environmental stewardship. They make extensive use of conservation easements and keep 40 percent of their ranch property in native land use. The Lightseys have three grown children who are also involved in the family’s ranching and farming businesses.

“Cary Lightsey is a very busy and a highly successful agricultural producer and leader,” says Sunbelt Expo director Chip Blalock. “It is a great tribute to this award that he is willing to dedicate a week of his life in visiting the farms of this year’s outstanding state winners. He and his fellow judges will do a great job in selecting an overall winner.”

Blalock notes that the Farmer of the Year judges typically serve for three years before rotating off the judging team. Blalock, along with videographer Brett Reece of Dallas, Ga., will accompany the judges during their early August farm visits.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 28th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,080,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

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