Combined, the state winners of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year program have 350 years of farming experience, with scores of farming generations before them to boot. From one of the largest growers in his state to a Vietnam veteran, from a meticulous record keeper to one who can trace his farming heritage directly back to 1786 to even a ‘city’ boy, their backgrounds and farming operations vary across the board.
They all have one thing in common: each is a top producer in his state and on top of his game. Judges will be visiting each farmer in August to pick which one will get tapped as the top Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year, but neither the farmers nor the general public will know until it is announced at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., Tuesday, Oct. 14.
Take look at this year’s Sunbelt Expo/Swisher Sweet Southeastern Farmer of the Year state winners.
(Information and photos courtesy of John Leidner.)
1. Alabama – Phillip Hunter
Drive through Nashville or Birmingham and see the upscale offices and residential complexes. Chances are the trees landscaping the properties came from the farm of Phillip Hunter.
He grew up as a city boy and now lives in Birmingham. He raises shade, evergreen and ornamental trees at the Hunter Trees, LLC nursery in Talladega County.
Hunter started out in the landscape business as a 12-year-old when he opened his own business mowing grass for others. He operated this business until he went to college. He grew up in Jackson, Miss., and studied landscape contracting at Mississippi State University.
2. Arkansas – Andy Gill
Corn and soybeans make high yields for Andy Gill of McGehee, Ark. He farms productive flat bottomlands in the Arkansas Delta, close to where the Arkansas River flows into the Mississippi River.
Using furrow irrigation, Gill’s yields are impressive. Last year, he produced 220 bushels of corn per acre from 1,972 acres and 82 bushels of soybeans per acre from 1,228 acres. His overall farm operation consists of about 3,200 acres, of which 2,700 acres are rented and 500 acres are owned.
Gill has been a farmer for 34 years. He began farming as a youngster. He worked for his dad, and then farmed for his uncles while in high school. “Farming has always been a way of life for us,” says Gill. “I am an eighth generation farmer.” He says his family traces its history to James Gill who began farming in 1786 after emigrating from Ireland.
3. Florida – C. Dennis Carlton
Cattle rancher, citrus grower and real estate investor C. Dennis Carlton has made a big impact in the city of Tampa and nearby parts of Florida.
A rancher for 40 years, his farming interests include more than 35,000 acres, of which 30,082 acres are rented and some 5,368 acres are owned.
His operation includes two large ranches. Carlton & Carlton Ranch has cattle in five different counties, and Audubon Ranch has cattle in two counties. His pastures cover 34,680 acres spread out through six counties. He produces irrigated citrus on 359 acres yielding 338 boxes of fruit per acre last year. He also leases out 183 acres of irrigated strawberries.
4. Georgia – Philip Grimes
A meticulous, high-yield crop farmer, Philip Grimes of Tifton, Ga., is admired as one of the best farmers in South Georgia. He has been recognized on the state level for producing high peanut yields for more than 20 consecutive years. A conservation farmer, he uses cover crops and has installed grassed waterways, terraces, and ponds on his land.
A farmer for 37 years, Grimes operates 2,210 acres of which 1,150 acres are rented and 1,060 acres are owned. Peanuts and cotton are his main crops. He also grows cantaloupes, broccoli, snap beans and corn. He plants about 50 acres specifically to benefit wildlife and he has about 475 acres of timber.
Grimes keeps detailed farming records, and has since he began farming.
His irrigated per acre yields include 6,440 pounds of peanuts from 660 acres, 1,405 pounds of cotton from 890 acres, 6,500 cantaloupes from 360 acres, 600 boxes of broccoli from 90 acres, 8,500 pounds of snap beans from 105 acres and 265 bushels of corn from 100 acres.
5. Kentucky – Ray Allan Mackey
Diversified livestock and crop farming at Meadow View Farms have been profitable over many years for Ray Allan Mackey, a 28-year farming veteran from Elizabethtown, Ky.
Mackey farms 4,535 acres, of which 1,350 acres are rented and 3,185 acres are owned. He is known for growing corn, soybeans, burley tobacco, hogs and beef cattle.
His excellent per acre yields last year included 200 bushels of corn from 2,050 acres, 55 bushels of soybeans from 1,725 acres and 2,850 pounds of burley tobacco from 62 acres. He also operates about 300 acres in hay and pasture. Last year was the first time he harvested 200-bushel corn. His corn crops also include specialty grains, white corn and yellow waxy corn, sold to food processors or for export.
6. Mississippi – Danny Murphy
A national soybean leader, Danny Murphy of Canton, Miss., has farmed for 41 years. Murphy farms 1,600 acres, including 980 acres of rented land and 620 acres of owned land. Soybeans and corn are his major crops. His non-irrigated per acre yields last year were 42-bushel soybeans from 800 acres and 135-bushel corn from 800 acres.
He is a longtime no-till planter. And he has won National Corn Growers Association yield contests with first place in the 2006 state no-till class and first place in the state 2008 non-irrigated class.
Through his volunteer work with the American Soybean Association, he has been a national leader in shaping the current farm bill. Though it was late in passing, Murphy believes most farmers will be pleased with the farm bill.
7. North Carolina – Frank Howey Jr.
As urban growth near Charlotte has expanded, the farm of Frank Howey Jr., has grown at an equal rate. In 32 years of farming, Howey from Monroe, N.C., has become one of the largest farmers in the area and state.
He specializes in row crops, wheat, soybeans and corn, and has a small cattle herd. He operates close to 21,000 acres of which 3,500 acres are rented and 17,500 acres are owned.
He uses no irrigation yet produces impressive yields. Last year’s per acre yields were 185 bushels of corn from 6,000 acres, 81 bushels of wheat from 9,100 acres and 68 bushels of full season soybeans from 1,100 acres. Weather hurt last year’s doublecropped soybeans, but those he harvested yielded 51 bushels per acre. He also has about 1,500 acres of timber.
8. South Carolina - Walter Dantzler
Walter Dantzler of Santee, S.C., is a Vietnam War veteran who sincerely appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the heritage of his multigenerational farm.
A farmer for 45 years, Dantzler farms 4,487 acres. This includes 2,626 acres of rented land and 1,861 acres of owned land. He farms 3,975 acres of cultivated land and has 512 acres of timber.
His major crops include corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and wheat. Last year’s per acre yields were 125 bushels of dryland corn from 1,410 acres, 190 bushels of irrigated corn from 356 acres, 1,005 pounds of cotton from 505 acres, 3,900 pounds of peanuts from 326 acres, 42 bushels of soybeans from 860 acres, and 48 bushels of wheat from 902 acres.
This year, he’s growing his first runner peanuts. He normally plants Virginia type peanuts.
9. Tennessee – John Keller
A farmer for 50 years, John Keller of Maryville, Tenn., has long been close to the land he farms in the shade of the scenic Great Smoky Mountains.
He farms about 788 acres, including 226 acres of rented land and 562 acres of family-owned land. His crops include corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, hay and pasture. He also raises cattle. He grows and sells straw from both his wheat and rye, and also sells bundled cornstalks for use in decorations.
His per acre yields last year were 150 bushels for corn from 123 acres, 49 bushels of soybeans from 316 acres, 60 bushels of wheat from 150 acres and 2.75 tons of hay from 140 acres. His pastures consist of about 130 acres.
Keller owns about 70 beef cows and finishes about 20 head per year for his custom freezer beef business. He sells the freezer beef directly to customers and hopes to expand these sales to reach new customers.
10. Virginia – Tom Nixon
Beef cattle, turkeys and row crops are major enterprises at scenic Glenmary Farm overlooking the Rapidan River near Rapidan, Va. Robert T. “Tom” Nixon II, who owns this farm, is focused on flexibility in growing and marketing cattle and crops.
For instance, he harvests corn as a cash crop or silage, depending on prices for corn and beef cattle. He’s equally flexible in selling cattle, be they weaned calves, stockers, bred cows or finished cattle from his feedlot.
A 30-year farmer, Nixon farms about 4,000 acres. He rents most of the land and his family owns 378 acres. “We rent from absentee landowners because land prices are high,” says Nixon.
Though he doesn’t irrigate, his crop yields are good. Per acre yields last year were 175 bushels of grain and 20 tons of silage from 750 acres of corn, 10 tons of silage from 250 acres of sorghum, 50 bushels of soybeans from 1,000 acres, 83 bushels of wheat from 400 acres, 95 bushels of barley from 400 acres and 75 bushels of oats from 50 acres. He also grows hay on 400 acres producing 3.8 tons per acre and has about 1,600 pasture acres.