State Winners – Part 1

State Winners – Part 1

When competing based on one’s accomplishments, we like to focus on what distinguishes each competitor from the rest. Though the Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year contest looks at the differences between individuals, they also acknowledge that each of the ten state winners have many things in common. They all exemplify excellence in agriculture, have a passion for their work, and serve as pillars in their community. Sunbelt Expo Executive Director Chip Blalock says, “The diversity of operations is always a highlight of the Farmer of the Year program. We have had traditional row crops, livestock, catfish, trout, alligators, citrus, fruits and vegetables to name a few.” Despite what makes them different, these five state winners share incredible work ethic and a love for agriculture.

Charles Edwin Isbell Jr. or “CJ” hails from Hanover County, Virginia. As a third-generation farmer, he has had the opportunity to see first-hand how much the industry has advanced through his operation. What started as a humble laying hen enterprise has transformed into a sustainable feeder pigs and cattle operation alongside hay, corn, wheat, barley, and soybeans crops. Isbell has given back to his community through land stewardship, volunteer work, and serving as a leader in various organizations. By finding innovative solutions to common industry challenges, such as labor demands and closing the gap between farm and table, Isbell has demonstrated qualities that make him an exceptional agricultural community leader. With help from his wife, kids, and father, this family farm has adapted and innovated over time.

Jay Yeargin of Weakley County, Tennessee, started with just 60 acres, which he expanded to its current 2,700 acres through ambition and hard work. This allowed him to grow and diversify his operation over the years to produce corn, soybeans, hay, and wheat crops, which he stores and transports with his equipment. Yeargin also has a thriving cow-calf enterprise and offers custom dozer, mowing, and track hoe work. Through multiple marketing avenues and careful management decisions, Yeargin can attain the best prices for his products. His commitment to excellence goes beyond his farm and conservation work; it extends to the local, state, and national level through his involvement in his community and the agriculture industry.

For Stephen Kelley, family is part of the farm. This Kentucky native got his start through his grandparent’s and parent’s operations alongside his brother. After attaining a college education, he and his brother acquired a 600-acre lot, which provided challenges that helped him grow. Kelley now owns over 2500 acres that run on a solar electricity system, and he specializes in producing timber, corn, wheat, and soybeans. Kelley routinely evaluates efficiency, which allows him to save on input, time, and labor costs. He actively participates in multiple conservation programs and serves in the community. His devotion to conservation and farming has been passed down to his children.

Robert “Bob” Martin Hall hails from York, South Carolina, where his fruit and vegetable operation is located. As the area his family had farmer for over a century and a half transformed into a more suburban area, a unique opportunity arose for Hall and his family, the chance to create a family-owned, roadside stand offering fresh fruits and vegetables. Family plays a key role managing the business and overcoming the many challenges farmers face. Alongside his wife, Hall has taken on roles within the community that allow them to lead and give back. They have made a top-notch, diversified agri-tourism destination that feeds directly into the local community. Hall has combined agricultural innovation, a passion for sustainable production, employee and customer satisfaction, and to develop a successful business.

James Lamb grew up in Sampson County, North Carolina, where his family operation was located. In a unique turn of events, Lamb had the opportunity to return following college for a job with Prestage Farms. There he found his passion for pig farming, which he soon brought back to his own farm. Lamb now raises swine alongside his cattle, corn, soybean, millet, and Bermuda grass enterprises, all while serving in various leadership positions. Biosecurity and environmental conservation are some of Lamb’s top priorities on the farm. He always finds ways to advocate and give back to his community and the agriculture industry.

Within each state, candidates are nominated, and from them, a winner is chosen. Each state winner receives a $2,500 cash prize alongside an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Ag Expo and a variety of other gifts. Out of the ten state winners, an overall Farmer of the Year winner is chosen. Each winner demonstrates excellence in agriculture and shows a commitment to the betterment of the agriculture industry.

State Winners – Part 1

Farmer of the Year History

For 31 years, the Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award program has celebrated excellence in agriculture by showcasing the best of the best. These ten leaders, each representing a state in the Southeast region, are true examples of the American farmers, serving as community leaders, innovators, and problem solvers.

For over three decades, the Sunbelt Ag Expo has recognized those who have exemplified “excellence in agriculture” through this prestigious honor.

Chip Blalock, Executive Director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo, explains, “We are proud to coordinate this amazing awards program and provide an opportunity to recognize the hard work, leadership, and innovation of each of the annual state winners. Though much has changed since the start of this award, there has always been a shared commitment to the continued betterment of the agriculture industry.”

Out of the ten state winners, an overall winner is selected each year. Each state winner and nominator receive a paid trip to the Sunbelt Ag Expo from Swisher Sweets, $2,500 cash, and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States Cooperative. They are also provided a gift package from Massey Ferguson North American and a Columbia vest courtesy of Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply. Additionally, Syngenta sponsors a donation of $500 to each state winner’s chosen charity. The overall southeastern winner is awarded $15,000 from Swisher Sweets, another $500 gift certificate from the Southern States Cooperative, a Hays LTI Smoker/Grill, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply and, from Reinke Irrigation, a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition .22 rifle. They are also given the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for up to a year or the equivalent of 250 hours. Over the years, the gift packages have expanded thanks to Swisher Sweets, the Sunbelt Ag Expo, and the generous sponsors.

What started as a way to recognize agribusiness leaders for their “excellence in agriculture” has turned into a prestigious honor for those dedicated to serving their communities and feeding America. Farmers from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia compete from one of the most esteemed awards in the Southeast and nation. In the past 30 years of the award, Swisher Sweets has awarded over $1,204,000 to the state and overall winners. Since the award’s inception, 265 outstanding agribusiness leaders have been honored, with many having gone on to be recognized at the national level for their work. Through this award, the Sunbelt Ag Expo acknowledges the hard work and sacrifice American farmers make and helps the public become more aware of the importance of agriculture in their own lives. The Sunbelt Ag Expo looks forward to continuing to honor excellence among agribusiness leaders across the Southeast.

Marketing Your Livestock

Marketing Your Livestock

When it comes to marketing livestock, producers are faced with many questions: what to produce, where to market the product, when to price, and more. Livestock producers often sell their livestock. They produce and raise what they have resources for, sell at market outlets to gain the most return on their investments, and sell at a time when the livestock are ready, and hopefully, prices are higher. The producer, in this case, is the price taker. Profitable marketing encompasses more than just getting the highest price. Having a marketing plan is vital to profitable marketing. It requires producing the type of livestock the market desires, then marketing the desired product at the best time through the best avenue.

Planning requires information. An excellent way to become a better livestock marketer is to understand your species marketing system and how the prices are determined. Then you need to analyze all market alternatives. When you determine what to produce, be sure that you are selecting a desired breed by the market. For example, cattle with a high percentage of Brahman influence are typically discounted when selling through the sale barn. However, in this scenario, they may be more valuable as breeding stock to a producer who is seeking heat-tolerant genetics for their herd. When determining where to market, make sure to research the avenue you choose. There are a lot of different options including but not limited to sale barns, contracts, private treaty, or public auction. When considering when to price, consider not only the highest prices but also the cost of production. For example, although 600-pound calf prices spike in the spring, it could be more cost-effective to sell them later in the summer. It is crucial to see what the associated cost of production is and to research trends.

In addition to traditional marketing methods, consider utilizing social media marketing to market directly to your consumers. The global pandemic has taught the general public that we could not survive without food, fiber, and agriculture. This has sparked an interest in learning about where their food is produced and how it is produced. Keeping an open mind to non-traditional marketing and niche marketing your livestock in this way could prove profitable.

Marketing Your Livestock

Current State of the Livestock Industry

Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, the livestock industry is doing well after some struggles earlier in the year. In the third quarter of 2020, there is an overall percentage increase in meat production.

According to the USDA, “The average weights for pork, beef, broilers, and turkeys were heavier for the third quarter of 2020 than for the third quarter of 2019.” While carcass numbers are down in beef, broilers, and turkeys, the added weight has resulted in a percentage increase.

The USDA stated, “There were more hogs slaughtered in the third quarter of 2020 than in 2019, while slaughter for the other three meat species declined. Hog slaughter increased 4 percent and hog weights 1 percent, resulting in pork production increasing over 5 percent.” Furthermore, Ron Plain with National Hog Farmer explained while production is up, prices are lower than in recent years for a couple of reasons. One reason being the large supply of hogs, which is expected to set another production record for the sixth year in a row. The second reason includes COVID-19 impacts due to packers reducing slaughter schedules to protect employees.

Cattle slaughter was slightly down by 0.1 percent. Cattle weights saw a 2.8 percent increase, which lead to a 2.7 percent increase in beef production. “COVID-19 increased the backlog of heavy slaughter cattle,” according to Harlan Hughes with Beef Magazine. “Coupled with the market interruption from COVID-19, it’s projected to lower the 2020 annual average slaughter steer price, and to again lower the 2021 annual slaughter steer price. Then, decreasing beef production is projected to increase slaughter steer prices from 2022 through 2025.” For the overall amount of beef produced for the second half of 2020, it is projected to exceed 2019’s levels.

Broiler production saw an increase in weight, but slaughter numbers were reduced to 1.6 percent. Therefore, the overall production dropped slightly by 0.4 percent. Prices for broilers seem to be relatively steady per USDA December 2020 reports.
Concerning turkeys, “The increase in turkey weights offset the decline in number of turkeys to leave turkey production nearly unchanged,” according to USDA.

To stay up-to-date on current market trends, check out the market outlooks provided by the USDA Economic Research Service.

Marketing Your Livestock

Getting the Most Out of Your Cattle Equipment

Safe and efficient cattle handling is a top priority for cattle producers. It takes knowledge of animal behavior and proper handling techniques to get the most out of your cattle and cattle working facilities. Well-designed facilities do not make up for lack of proper handling. Here are three tips for getting the most of your cattle working facilities.

1. Remove distractions
Cattle go into stress and hesitate with distractions. For example, a white Styrofoam cup that falls into the working pen or a shirt hanging on a post can startle cattle. Shadows in the alley can also stop smooth cattle flow. You want to remove the items that cause these distractions and create an even flow of light to have a more efficient cattle handling experience. Another way to cut down on distractions is to cover the back three­ quarters of the squeeze chute to reduce balking as the cattle enter the chute.

2. Don’t fill the crowd pen too full
Temple Grandin suggests filling the crowd pen half-full when working animals through a chute. This allows the crowd pen to become a passing-through pen and keep the cattle moving forward rather than turning back. It also allows you to have room to turn the cattle around. Grandin says, “Don’t squish them in there. Animals have to be able to move freely and see where they are going. They’ve got to be able to see the entrance, so sometimes switching the side you work from in the pen makes a difference.”

3.Properly maintain equipment
Do a walkthrough of the equipment before you get started, and make sure everything is in working order. You may need to apply oil to areas that need oil—repair parts of the fence that need repair. Handling the maintenance before getting started allows the working day to go smoothly.


Marketing Your Livestock

Preparing Your Cattle for the Winter

As the winter winds begin to blow in, it is time to start preparing cattle for the colder temperatures that lies ahead. Good management decisions are crucial to maintaining cattle health throughout the winter. Check out these three keys to success to consider during the colder months.

1. Body condition score
According to Ted Perry with Purina, this is the best way to reduce cold stress. You should score your cattle regularly and record the data. This record will allow you to make effective feeding decisions during the winter months. The layer of fat insulation in a cow with a 5 or 6 score will enable them to conserve body heat and be productive during the winter. When viewing your cattle every day, you may not notice if they are losing weight. Be sure to have another set of eyes look at the cattle for precaution.

2. Take inventory of available forages
During cold weather, a cow’s feed intake increases by 20 percent. When cold weather is in the upcoming forecast, you will need to increase the offered feed by 20 percent or provide additional hay at least 24 hours in advance. You must have this on hand even if you plan on continued winter grazing with rye or other winter forages. Lisa Baxter, a forage specialist with the University of Georgia, states, “although we have the ability to graze 365 days a year in Georgia, the reality is we will always have a few weeks that require supplementation. It is always good to have a month or so of high-quality hay on hand just in case of a failed stand of annual forage or inclement weather.”

3. Stay up-to-date on cattle health
According to the Oregon State Extension Catalog, cattle can present health problems during and after stress periods. The temperature change can induce stress, and stress reduces the cattle’s ability to resist infection. Vaccines are one way to keep them healthy in addition to deworming them to avoid parasites. Additionally, during cold weather months, giving extra time to examine the cattle daily is essential to prevent runny noses, pneumonia, and other respiratory issues that could lead to larger health problems in the future.

Sorghum in the South

Sorghum in the South

Although we see sorghum in the Southeast today, it has deep roots in ancient history around the world. In an archeological dig at Nabta Playa, in northeast Africa, archeologists found sorghum dating back to when it was first domesticated.

Throughout time, the ancient Egyptians found ways to help sorghum grow in other areas. Eventually, the crop was able to grow in Australia, and as the explores moved west so did sorghum.

The sorghum belt in the United States spans from South Dakota to Texas, but those are not the only places you can find it growing in America. While you can see sorghum growing in Georgia, it is not a top ten producing state of this grain, but other Southern states make the cut, like Louisiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi.

Sorghum is usually located in a field with a pH range of 6.0-7.8 and is planted as soon as the soil temperature is greater than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As the plant begins to grow it can take up to 14 days for the first leave to emerge.

As the plant grows, the sorghum gets more leaves, usually 15-18 leaves. The last leaf to form is the flag leaf. As soon as you can see the leaf tip the countdown is on for the sorghum head to form. This process usually takes around seven to ten days.

After the sorghum head is formed the flower starts to form from the top of the plant down. Quickly after that process is over, the grain is formed and begins to mature. The transformation from soft grain to hard grain can be seen by a change of color. The final color of the grain can vary from bronze, red, tan, or white.

Sorghum is harvested with a combine, and once it is harvested, it can be used to produce a variety of products. That can be Sorghum syrup, popped sorghum, sorghum flour, or just whole grain sorghum. Sorghum has many different uses in the kitchen. It can be used as a starch substitute, plant-based protein, or sweetener.

The ancient grain from Africa has a big impact both in and out of the field and kitchen since its domestication in the West. Next time you drive pass a field full of sorghum you will know the history of the crop.

Sorghum in the South

South Georgia Snow

When you think of snow, frozen crystals falling from the sky to settling and creating a white layer on the ground may come to mind. However, in the South, where snow is not common because of the climate, cotton is referred to as the snow in South Georgia.

Cotton is one of Georgia’s top ten commodities, so it will not take you long to locate some while traveling through the state.

Cotton is planted in the spring when the soil is warm enough for the seeds to germinate. The soil temperature should be at 65 degrees Fahrenheit cotton also grows best in sandy loam soils, making them the southern part of the United States the ideal spot to grow southern “snow.”

While the cotton is growing, farmers need to keep their field as weed-free as possible. There are also other threats that can diminish cotton growth and impact cotton yields. The biggest threat is the weather, specifically rain and hurricanes in the Southeast. This is a critical reason why harvesting cotton on time is important.

Cotton harvest is usually completed during late fall. Machines like cotton pickers and combines harvest the cotton. These machines are in charge of removing the bolls from the stalk and removing the seed cotton from the spindles.

After the harvest, cotton stalks can become a decoration in your house, or the cotton itself may be used in items that are found around your house like q-tips, bedding, and your favorite t-shirt. If you don’t use the cotton stalks as decoration, most chop the stalks to prevent nematodes in the soil.

Cotton is used in our daily lives and continues to grow into new things each year. Most notably, it is also biodegradable. While the harvest season is coming to a close in south Georgia, be sure to look out your window to take in the beauty of the south Georgia snow.

Sorghum in the South

Soybeans Beyond the Midwest

When thinking of crayons do you think of soybeans? You probably should because they are a key ingredient in making soy crayons. That’s not the only household item they are used to make. Soybeans are used to make candles, hair-care products, and so much more!

When thinking of the states that produce this legume, the Midwestern usually comes to mind. However, the Southeast produces them, also. Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolina’s all have acres dedicated to the production of soybeans. According to the United Soybean Board and National Oilseed Processors Association, soybeans contributes $115.8 billion to the U.S. economy and approximately $927 million to Georgia’s economy.

These legumes are planted in the spring, usually two or three weeks after the last frost is over. In the Southeast, can start earlier in the spring, though, since there are generally less frosts. Before planting, be sure to check that the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

This legume is an annual plant that is free-branching and has hairs. Each plant has pods, and these pods can contain up to four seeds in them. Once the pods are mature and turn a tan color, it is time for harvest.

Soybeans are harvested with a combine like corn and wheat. The front of the combine has a piece called a header. This piece cuts and collects the soybean plant while the beans are separated and taken out. The soybeans, then, go to a holding tank in the back of the combine.

After the harvest, soybeans are either sent directly to a grain dealer or they are taken to a storage facility until it is time to sell them. Eventually, all soybeans will be transported to a processing plant. At this plant the soybean meal is separated from the soy components. The soybean meal is great for livestock feed, and this oil can be used in cooking oils, paint, diesel, and other products mentioned above.

Soybeans’ impact travels far beyond the Midwest. So, think about them the next time you feed livestock, cook in the kitchen, or color with some crayons.

Sorghum in the South

Peanut Harvest in the United States

We are all familiar with Girl Scout cookies, but did you know that around 230,000 pounds of peanut butter per week is used for baking Girl Scout’s Tagalongs and Do-si-dos?

Peanuts are only grown in 13 states, which are in the southern region of the United States. Six of these states grow nearly all of the United States peanut crop. Those states include Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Unlike pecans or walnuts peanuts actually grow underground. The flowering plant is what you see when passing by the plant, but the peanut pod is just below the soil. In addition, a peanut is classified as a legume not a nut.

Furthermore, farmers are quick to grow peanuts because they require less water and fertilizer than most crops and are considered a “zero waste” plant. This means the farmer can use every part of the plant, and from picking the peanuts off the vine to bailing the dried stems for peanut hay. This crop also adds nitrogen back into the soil. All of these factors make peanuts a sustainable crop. Peanut farmers are also trailblazers for innovation and efficiency in the farming community.

In the southeastern region, these tasty legumes reach their harvest time around September or October. When it comes harvest time, peanuts have a two-step harvesting process. First, the plant is carefully dug up by a machine called a digger. The digger flips the peanuts upside down and places them back in their row. They are left for a few days to dry out before picking the crop. The next step is for the peanut to be separated from the plant. This process is usually performed with a machine called a picker or shaker, and you “pick” the peanuts from the vines.

While they are small, peanuts are might when it comes to the sustainability of the land, economic impact, and nutrition. So, the next time you are at your local grocery store, think about picking up these salty legumes to help support the peanut industry.