An occasional local talk radio personality, Darren Luttrell is also a third-generation farmer, a successful poultry producer and a high yielding corn and soybean grower. He lives in Beaver Dam, Ky., and farms in Ohio County near the Olaton community.
Luttrell’s farm encompasses some 3,700 acres of row crop land where he grows corn and soybeans. He owns about 30 acres of timber and 60 acres of pasture. He raises broiler chickens on contract for Perdue Farms, Inc., in eight poultry houses. He and his wife own 750 acres and other family members own land totaling close to 1,500 acres.
As a result of his success as a row crop and poultry farmer, Luttrell 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. 16 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
This year, Luttrell is growing about 1,900 acres of corn and 1,800 acres of soybeans. His impressive per acre yields last year were 228.8 bushels for corn and 65.6 bushels for soybeans.
In planting, he uses minimum tillage to save soil. He also saves soil by planting grass on ditch banks throughout his farm.
He has 350,000 bushels of grain storage capacity, and that helps him get better prices. For the past 14 years, Luttrell has used a marketing consultant for advice on cash sales, hedging and basis contracts.
He raises broilers for Perdue about ten miles from his main crop farming headquarters. At one point, he and his brother and his dad were partners in their farm and in a construction company. After the poultry houses were built, they split up the businesses. Luttrell and his dad acquired the farm and the brother received the construction company.
A longtime employee watches over the chickens for Luttrell. Each of the eight houses holds 25,000 birds and Luttrell normally raises six flocks per year. That amounts to 1.2 million broilers per year. If each bird reaches a weight of seven pounds, then Luttrell raises a whopping 8.4 million pounds of chicken per year.
While some broiler growers have issues with their contracting companies, Luttrell is generally pleased with his partnership with Perdue. “They treat us like we want to be treated,” says Luttrell.
During the 22 years that Luttrell has grown chickens, he has seen many improvements in broiler housing and equipment. “Our houses cost $100,000 each when we built them,” he says. “If you built them today, you would pay $250,000 to build each one.”
Broiler growers should be able to pay for their houses over a seven-year period, according to Luttrell. As he sees the overall farm economy today, he believes a farmer would be better off investing in broiler production than in grain production.
Poultry litter has become a valuable resource for his farm. “Every year, we do a partial cleanout of each chicken house, and we apply the litter to either cropland or pasture,” he says. “At times, we have also sold poultry litter, especially when fertilizer prices were high. We compost the litter, and then in either late summer or early fall, we take it to the fields and spread it on the land.”
He sees a quicker response to litter applied to pasture land than to crop fields, but he notes, “Over time, litter will help build up the fertility level of rough farmland.” When spreading litter, Luttrell follows soil test recommendations and matches those recommendations with analysis of the litter’s nutrient content.
Once or twice a month, Luttrell is a guest on a local talk radio program, Lunch at the Z. He talks with the host and callers about farming and a variety of other topics from the studios of station WXMZ based in Hartford, Ky.
This is the 22nd year for Luttrell to host Youth Ag Day where local 4th grade students come to his farm to learn about farming. “It has been very rewarding to host these students,” says Luttrell. “One of the teachers here actually came to the farm when she was a fourth grader.”
FFA students and others in the community come together to help make Youth Ag Day a success. The 4th graders stop at eight to nine stations where they experience a hay ride, a petting zoo and see farm safety and electrical safety demonstrations. “They see and learn where their food comes from,” says Luttrell.
As a child, Luttrell recalls that one of his first jobs on the farm was taking care of pigs. “When I was 10 to 12 years old, my grandfather had 20 to 30 sows,” he recalls. “We also bought feeder pigs and fed them out.”
He started farming full time in 1982. He graduated from high school at mid-term so he could take part in planting the crops that year.
Luttrell is an active leader in his community. He sits on the Beaver Dam Tourism Commission. “We have a four-year-old amphitheater where we bring in big name musical acts to entertain members of our community,” he explains. He served for nine years on the Kentucky Soybean Association board. He also sits on the board of the Ohio County Economic Development Alliance. He has been a board member of the Ohio County Farm Bureau for at least 15 years. He also serves as a supervisor on the Ohio County Conservation District, and served as its chairman for about 14 years.
His wife Debbie helps out on the farm by keeping books and running occasional errands. Debbie is on a local Habitat for Humanity board. She worked at an attorney’s office for five years until she decided to stay home to spend more time with their grandchildren. Darren and Debbie have three grandchildren and one more is expected in July of 2018.
Debbie and Darren have also been active in Cedar Grove Baptist Church. There, Debbie was the church treasurer for 20 years, and also served as a Sunday school teacher, nursery supervisor, and worked in women’s ministry. Debbie was also a Girl Scout leader for 20 years, and she was a volunteer at the elementary schools her children attended.
Darren and Debbie have two sons, Josh and Jeffery, and a daughter, Kristy. Jeffery farms with Darren and specializes in growing the grain crops. Josh farms on his own and he and his wife have a 600-head cattle operation. Josh’s pastures are often the recipient of the fertilizer nutrients from the litter produced by Darren’s chickens. Kristy is moving to Seattle, Wash., and is the expectant mother of a new baby this summer.
Darren’s father, Bobby Luttrell, is still active on the farm and helps out from time to time. Bobby recently took an old liquid applicator frame and used it to build a tile plow that will dig trenches four feet deep and lay down plastic drainage pipe.
Joe Cain, director of the Commodity Division of Kentucky Farm Bureau, coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in Kentucky. Luttrell was nominated for the award by Jerry Black of Hartford, Ky. Black is a farmer who serves as president of Ohio County Farm Bureau.
Black says he admires Luttrell for welcoming young people out to the farm and helping to educate them about agriculture. “Darren began with what his grandfather and his dad started and then he expanded and made it better. He is innovative and is always trying new ideas on his farm,” says Black. Black also enjoys Luttrell’s talk radio appearances. “He’s our Paul Harvey,” says Black.
As the Kentucky state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Luttrell 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 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 from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply and a smoker-grill from Hays LTI.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 29th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,120,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Kentucky farmers became eligible to compete for the Farmer of the Year award in 2006. Previous state winners from Kentucky include Sam Moore of Morgantown, 2006; Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek, 2007; Loretta Lyons of Tompkinsville, 2008; Doug Langley of Shelbyville, 2009; Joe Nichols of Cadiz, 2010; Jim Sidebottom of Greensburg, 2012; Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek, 2013; Ray Allan Mackey of Elizabethtown, 2014; Jack Trumbo of Simpsonville, 2015; Keith Lowry of Water Valley, 2016; and Mike Batch of Owingsville, 2017.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit Luttrell’s farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 6-10. The judges for this year include Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed specialist from Greenville, Miss.; beef cattle rancher Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, Fla., who was the overall winner in 2009; and John McKissick, longtime University of Georgia ag economist from Athens, Ga.