Ray Allan Mackey is the 2014 Kentucky Farmer of the Year

Ray Allan Mackey has been selected as the Kentucky winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

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.

As a result of his success as a diversified farmer, Mackey has been selected as the Kentucky winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Mackey joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

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.

Mackey can irrigate tobacco with a traveling gun but has no other permanent irrigation. He has explored the feasibility of adding new center pivot irrigation, and he believes that it may improve his corn yields.

He raises about 5,000 head of hogs per year in a wean-to-finish operation as an independent producer. He buys 19-day-old pigs and sells the hogs at about 260 pounds each.  He also has 90-100 beef cows and raises weaned and backgrounded calves. He sells his hogs to Tyson Foods, and sells on carcass merit using grade and yield values for cash or forward contracts. He groups his feeder calves according to size and sex and sells them to Midwest feedlots via order buyers through a local auction market.

Mackey farms in Hardin and Larue counties. “We sell most of our corn and soybeans to river terminals and processors to the west or to poultry operations to the south,” he says. He says grains are priced using forward contracts, basis contracts and cash sales. Grain storage of about 500,000 bushels helps him market for higher prices.

He grows his burley tobacco for contract sales to Philip Morris USA. “We produce more than 150,000 pounds of tobacco,” he says. H-2A guest workers from Mexico have been harvesting and handling his tobacco for the past 10 years.

Invests in efficient production

Mackey has doubled his burley tobacco production. He is controlling tobacco production costs by using greenhouse production for transplants, using laborsaving curing barns and delivering burley in larger efficient packages. He produces all of the tobacco transplants needed by his farm from his greenhouses.

He uses no-till planting or minimum tillage to prevent erosion. He uses a vertical tillage tool to prepare seedbeds and to lightly incorporate crop residues ahead of planting. Vertical tillage has replaced disks, chisel plows and field cultivators.

“We have reduced use of fuel and labor by using minimum tillage,” says Mackey. He also plants herbicide-resistant varieties and uses long crop rotation.

“We have increased soil test nutrient levels,” he says. “We use grid sampling along with yield history and soil type to determine our fertilizer needs. We apply fertilizer based on our soil needs, yield potential, nutrient removal and budget restraints.” He also relies on hog manure for nutrients, and applies it to save on fertilizer costs.

Using starter fertilizer, he has planted at least two weeks earlier than normal. He adds that early planting is aided by seed treatments, improved varieties and seedbed preparation to aerate the soil and warm the soil temperature.

Mackey also uses a crop scout to minimize weed and insect spraying, and to monitor the soil test levels in the grid-based sampling system.

For Mackey, becoming more efficient as a farmer has involved calling on the experience of other farmers and the expertise of researchers, Extension specialists and agricultural industry personnel. 

He is currently improving his grain handling and storage facilities, including adding a computerized grain drying system. He improves the soil by adding drain tile and by maintaining waterways and stream bank protection. For his livestock, he has invested in a new portable corral and head gate.

Mackey grew up on a family farm. He raised registered Angus cattle for 4-H and FFA projects. He also grew strawberries, tobacco and popcorn as a youth. He bought his first farm in 1986. He was given additional responsibilities for managing the family’s farm when his father served as state president of Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Mackey has been active in Hardin County Farm Bureau, Gilead Baptist Church and was on a decision-making council for Sonora Elementary School. Since 2004, he has served as president of Hardin County Farm Bureau. He was on a Hardin County Extension grain committee, a county planning and zoning advisory committee, the USDA-Farm Service Agency Committee, and the Hardin County Farm City Day Award Committee.

On the state level, he has been active in Kentucky Farm Bureau and Kentucky Corn Growers Association. He has served as president of the Kentucky Corn Growers Association, and also served as a financial agent for the Kentucky Corn Promotion Council. 

On the national level, he has been active in American Farm Bureau and the National Corn Growers Association.

Ray Allan and his wife Jan operate some land separately. Early on, Jan helped the farm with its accounting and recordkeeping tasks.

Jan is a retired elementary school teacher. She has also been active in Gilead Baptist Church. She and Ray Allan now attend Severns Valley Baptist Church. She has served on Hardin County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee since 2008, and has helped lead a children’s program at Hardin County Farm Bureau’s annual meeting. She has been an alternate voting delegate at Kentucky Farm Bureau’s conventions. She has also attended American Farm Bureau Conventions.

Ray Allan and Jan have two adult sons. Grant is a senior research associate with Pioneer Seeds in Union City, Tenn. Their son Stuart is using his college training to help the farm with accounting and record keeping. He also works on the farm when needed.

Father's farming legacy continued

Ray Allan also operates a farm with his brother David who is also involved at the home farm. David is largely responsible for farm equipment maintenance and repairs and also manages earth-moving equipment on the farm.

“Had it not been for my father’s vision of what a family farm can be, and his willingness to turn the day-to-day management over to me, then I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Ray Allan. “My father grew the farm in an area close to home that was blessed with good farming land.”

L. Joe Cain, director of the Commodity Division of Kentucky Farm Bureau, chairs the Farmer of the Year awards in the state. Fellow Farm Bureau member Larry Thomas nominated Mackey for the award. Thomas says Mackey’s leadership skills have been sought by local and state organizations. “I am confident he will compete well in the Farmer of the Year contest,” adds Thomas.

Mark Haney, Kentucky Farm Bureau president, says Mackey’s family is well known in Kentucky agricultural circles. Haney says, “His father, Ray Mackey, was Kentucky Farm Bureau president for 13 years, the longest of any of our presidents. Ray Allan is well regarded as a spokesperson on environmental issues and for farm production.”

As the Kentucky state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Mackey will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize that goes to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 25th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $964,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Kentucky farmers became eligible to compete for the award in 2006. Previous state winners from Kentucky include Sam Moore of Morgantown in 2006, Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek in 2007, Loretta Lyons of Tompkinsville in 2008, Doug Langley of Shelbyville in 2009, Joe Nichols of Cadiz in 2010; Jim Sidebottom of Greensburg in 2012; and Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek in 2013.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Mackey farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 4-8. The judges for this year include farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years; and Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.

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