Chris Langley, Alabama

Beef cattle and timber are ideally suited to the land Chris Langley farms near his home in Camp Hill, Ala.

Langley sets and meets annual production goals. His farm includes 2,650 acres of which 2,402 acres are owned and 248 acres are rented. “Our rented land is mainly pasture,” says Langley. About half of his income comes from timber and half comes from beef.

As a result of his success as a beef and timber producer, Langley has been selected as state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He joins nine other individuals as finalists for the overall award that will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

“I’m a fifth generation farmer, and my children will be sixth generation farmers,” says Langley.

As a child, he raised hogs, rabbits, goats and chickens. Selling eggs brought him spending money. By age 16, he bought a beef heifer and a pulpwood truck. He cut pulpwood during evenings and on Saturdays and bought his first land at age 18.

While Langley is not a consulting forester, he provides similar services. He works with landowners to provide first, second and third thinnings, along with final sawtimber harvests. He controls weedy vegetation and provides firebreaks, prescribed burning and site preparation for new tree stands.

His timber business grew and he now has three mechanized timber harvesting crews. He harvests his own timber and buys timber from other landowners. “I haul to pulp mills, chip and saw mills, plywood mills, and pole mills,” says Langley. He harvests trees within 100 miles of Camp Hill. In addition to his timber and cattle, he also owns a trucking business.

He builds relationships with landowners, and now is harvesting trees from three generations of landowners. “I can show you where I have done a final cut, replanted the trees, thinned them twice, and then did a final cut again,” he says.

His cattle numbers are impressive. His herd includes 320 cows, 297 calves, 12 bulls and 67 bred replacement heifers. “We have an Angus-based herd and we use SimAngus, Hereford and Angus bulls,” he adds.

Langley uses Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) scores for birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight and milk production to improve the genetics of his herd. He uses frame scores to select replacement females that are neither too large nor too small.

He manages his cattle herd for 90-day breeding and calving seasons. His biggest steers weigh 800 to 825 pounds each when he sells them. “I wean calves around July 4th and sell them by mid August,” he explains. “We group and sell the calves in truckload lots. These calves are vaccinated, and are able to eat from feed bunks when we sell them.”

Langley uses artificial insemination on replacement heifers during early December, and in January he turns in bulls to finish breeding the young females. Estrous synchronization shortens the calving period and as a result, he only has to spend a few nights each year to assist with calving for the first calf heifers.

He markets calves through the Piedmont Cattle Marketing Association. This is his 22nd year to sell through this group which hosts a live auction, with bids by phone and through the internet. Langley says he receives 7% higher prices than if he sold his calves through auction markets. He also follows the performance of many of his calves once they reach the feedlots.

He grazes cattle on about 538 acres. His bermudagrass hay on 160 acres produces about two tons per acre per year. “My livestock graze fescue, clover and ryegrass. I overseed with a grain drill and plant ryegrass for seasonal grazing,” he says. He emphasizes rotational grazing to manage pastures and maintain soil health.

Langley protects the environment by using water troughs in pastures, cross fencing and by feeding hay on gravel so cattle won’t be standing in mud. He protects streams when he cuts timber by using streamside management zones. Streamside management zones provide excellent timber, wildlife habitat and water quality. In addition, he places water bars on roads and turnouts to prevent roads from washing.

Langley is proud that he has helped others to enter the beef and timber harvesting businesses.

He built a shop and office next to his home. He shares his farm with others, by inviting children in the community who find it difficult to raise and exhibit their own livestock. He invites livestock judging teams to his farm, and he has built a rodeo arena that his children and their friends use. Langley and his family have also hosted petting zoos for the public at fairs, schools and on their farm.

Langley is active in a number of organizations. In Chambers County, he is a member of the Cattlemen’s Association, Farmers Federation board and Soil & Water Conservation District board. He is chairman and a member of the Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council. He has also been active for many years in Rock Springs Baptist Church.

On the state level, he has been a member of the Alabama Forestry Association, Alabama Loggers Council, Independent Logging Contractors of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Federation and the Federation’s Forestry board. He is an alumnus of Auburn University’s Ag and Forestry Leaders. He has been a member of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and serves as its vice president. He is also a member of the Alabama Angus Association, and the Langleys received the 2017 Alabama Angus Family of the Year award. He was also a Master Tree Farmer in 2002.

He has also been recognized for his forestry and beef production by the Alabama Farmers Federation. In addition, he and his family were named as the Federation’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in 1996.

Nationally, he has been a member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Angus Association, and was named an American Tree Farmer in 2001.

His wife Elizabeth is a cancer survivor who retired from teaching to work as secretary and treasurer in his business. She has been a longtime supporter of the local and state Farmers Federation, Cattlemen’s Association, 4-H, Gideons Auxiliary and other organizations.

Chris and Elizabeth have four children who grew up exhibiting livestock. Son Christopher is a volunteer firefighter, runs a logging crew for Chris, and helps care for his handicapped grandmother. Son Charlie attends the University of Arkansas at Monticello on a rodeo scholarship. Son Chandler is active in the Alabama and Chambers County Young Farmer programs. Daughter Chelsea attends Wadley High School, participates in barrel racing and gives horse riding lessons to young children.

Langley’s children all work on the farm and he hopes to expand his farm for them. He wants to buy more pasture and timberland, build a new hay barn and invest in poultry housing.

Jeff Helms with the Alabama Farmers Federation coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the state. Langley was nominated for the award by Preston Roberts, area organization director with the Alabama Farmers Federation.

“Chris and Elizabeth are great farmers, leaders and community servants,” says Roberts. He admires how the Langleys encourage their children to come back to the farm.

As the Alabama state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Langley 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 and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize that will go 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 from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a smoker-grill from Hays LTI and a Henry Golden Boy “American Farmer Tribute Edition” rifle from Reinke Irrigation.

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.

Previous state winners from Alabama include: Ricky Wiggins of Anderson, 1990; George Kiser, Sr. of Foley, 1991; Allen Bragg of Toney, 1992; Sykes Martin of Courtland, 1993; David Pearce of Browns, 1994; Glenn Jones of Blountsville, 1995; Raymond Jones of Huntsville, 1996; Dan Miller of Greensboro, 1997; Homer Tate of Meridianville, 1998; Eugene Glenn of Hillsboro, 1999; George T. Hamilton of Hillsboro, 2000; Bert Driskell of Grand Bay, 2001; Charles Burton of Lafayette, 2002; Bruce Bush of Eufaula, 2003; John B. East of Leesburg, 2004; James A. Wise of Samson, 2005; Glenn Forrester of Columbia, 2006; Billy Gilley of Holly Pond, 2007; Lamar Dewberry of Lineville, 2008; David Wright of Plantersville, 2009; Shep Morris of Shorter, 2010; Andy Wendland of Autaugaville, 2011; Sam Givhan of Safford, 2012; Annie Dee of Aliceville, 2013; Phillip Hunter of Birmingham, 2014; Ricky Cornutt of Boaz, 2015; and Wendell Gibbs of Ranburne, 2016.

Alabama has had one overall winner, Raymond Jones of Huntsville in 1996.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit Langley’s farm along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 7-11. The judges for this year include farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C. who was the overall winner in 2011; and Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist from Greenville, Miss., and beef cattle rancher Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, Fla., the overall winner in 2009.