At WDairy near Madison, Ga., Everett Williams milks 1,700 to 1,800 highly productive cows three times daily. This herd of crossbred cows has an impressive rolling herd average for milk production at more than 28,000 pounds of milk per year.
Williams farms 3,657 acres. Half of this land is rented and half is owned.
As a result of his success as a dairy farmer, Williams 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.
WDairy shipped almost 52 million pounds of fluid milk last year. Williams sells milk through the 18-member Cobblestone Milk Cooperative to markets from Orlando, Fla., to Virginia.
Beef from dairy cattle is a second commodity from the farm and accounts for 10% of his income. Cull cows are sold through local livestock auction barns and surplus cows and replacement heifers are sold to other dairies. This helps reduce crowding in his barns and maintains the current herd size.
Everett’s father, John Williams, started the dairy in 1958 as an alternative to cotton. While growing up, Everett worked on the dairy. He milked cows during weekends while majoring in dairy science at the University of Georgia.
Following graduation, he managed a South Georgia dairy before returning home to the family dairy in 1978. At that time, the rolling herd average was 10,000-12,000 pounds. During the early 1980’s, as individual cows started to produce 100 pounds of milk per day, the farm switched to milking three times daily.
When his Holsteins became too big for his confinement facilities, he established a crossbreeding program. The Holstein, Jersey and Swedish Red breeds now make up the three-breed rotational cross cows he milks. “We doubled our herd size in four years, and increased our milk production, milk fat content and overall herd health,” says Williams. The current rolling herd average is 28,363 pounds with a 3.8% butterfat content.
WDairy uses the latest technology to monitor and manage the herd. In 2012, a 72-cow carousel or rotating parlor was built along with a third freestall barn. Cows are milked in one rotation of 10 minutes and the milk is direct loaded onto milk tankers. He uses electronic monitors to track the movements of the cows. Information from these monitors tells Williams if a cow needs to be bred or if she is getting sick. Individual milk meters record how much milk each cow gives during a 24-hour period. Automatic sorting gates also save time.
Wiliams makes extensive use of recycled manure while reducing the use of commercial fertilizer and improving soil productivity. He works with Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect his farm’s natural resources. He follows a nutrient management plan in applying animal waste and notes that soil phosphorus levels have not increased much over the years. Recycled manure water is used to flush the freestall barns and irrigate the crops. Recaptured sand is also used to replenish the freestalls.
He uses multiple cropping, such as cutting ryegrass twice for silage followed by corn for silage. He has experimented with different forages and cover crops, including buckwheat, sunn hemp and browntop millet. He also uses minimum tillage planting.
Last year, he planted alfalfa on 100 irrigated acres. “This low-lignin alfalfa is a potential new forage for the Southeast,” says Williams.
He raises irrigated corn for silage on 500 acres yielding 27 tons per acre and non-irrigated corn silage on 520 acres yielding 15 tons per acre. His ryegrass silage averages about eight tons per acre for both irrigated and non-irrigated fields. He grew 320 acres of irrigated ryegrass and 380 acres of non-irrigated ryegrass last year. He also grows sorghum silage yielding about 15 tons per acre.
Williams does his own silage harvesting and occasionally does custom silage harvesting, but this provides only a small portion of his farm’s income. While he grows silage to feed to his own herd, he will sell silage to other farms that are short on feed.
He works hard to retain long time employees. He builds relationships with his neighbors. And he helps out other dairy farmers in need. His plans call for building another freestall barn, adding more irrigation and increasing his herd size. He also takes great pride in building up WDairy for the next generation, all while protecting the natural environment.
Community service is also important to Williams. His farm hosts numerous tours for neighbors, national and international visitors.
He was a volunteer fire fighter and a member of Morgan County Farm Bureau for a number of years. He currently serves on the Pennington Cemetery Board. He is a local and state 4-H and FFA volunteer, and a member of the Morgan County Dairy Association.
On the state level, he is president of the Georgia Milk Producers and serves on a University of Georgia Veterinary School advisory board. He serves on the boards of Central Georgia Electric Membership Cooperative and Georgia Transmission Cooperative. He has testified on dairy topics before the Georgia House, the U.S. House and the California Department of Agriculture. Williams represents Georgia dairy farmers at national conferences and often speaks to groups in Georgia about modern dairy farming.
Nationally, Williams is on the board of Cobblestone Milk Cooperative and served on the boards of Carolina-Virginia Milk Producers and Southeast Milk. His farm has also won awards for production and quality from the Dairy Herd Improvement Association and milk cooperatives.
Everett and his wife Carol are active in Pennington United Methodist Church. Carol is involved in almost every part of the farm. She manages the calves, handles human resources and other office duties. She is president of the Georgia Dairy Youth Foundation, chairs the Morgan County Agriculture Center Authority, serves on the Georgia Junior Livestock Foundation board and is vice president of the Georgia Cattlewomen’s Association.
They have four children and three grandchildren. Their sons Justin and Daniel are University of Georgia graduates who are back working and managing on the farm. Their daughter Katie has an agribusiness degree from the University of Georgia and helps the farm with promotion and tours as her health allows. Their daughter Michelle is disabled and has a business degree from Georgia College and State University. All four children took part in 4-H and FFA, and now give back to these programs as volunteers.
Mark McCann with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the state. Lucy Ray, Extension agent in Morgan County, Ga., nominated Williams for the award. “Everett is a good example of a modern dairy farmer,” says Ray. “He’s very involved in his community and in the dairy industry, and he’s a great example of how successful a family can be.” Ray especially admires how Williams recycles sand from his barns and how his farming practices benefit natural resources.
As the Georgia state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Williams 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 Georgia include: Timothy McMillan of Enigma, 1990; Bud Butcher of Senoia, 1991; James Lee Adams of Camilla, 1992; John Morgan of Mystic, 1993; Alan Verner of Rutledge, 1994; Donnie Smith of Willacoochee, 1995; Armond Morris of Ocilla, 1996; Thomas Coleman, Jr. of Hartsfield, 1997; Glenn Heard of Bainbridge, 1998; Bob McLendon of Leary, 1999; James Lee Adams of Camilla, 2000; Daniel Johnson of Alma, 2001; Armond Morris of Ocilla, 2002; Jim Donaldson of Metter, 2003; Joe Boddiford of Sylvania, 2004; Jimmy Webb of Leary, 2005; Gary Paulk of Wray, 2006; Daniel Johnson of Alma, 2007; Wayne McKinnon of Douglas, 2008; Bill Brim of Tifton, 2009; Robert Dasher of Glenville, 2010; Carlos Vickers of Nashville, 2011; Barry Martin of Hawkinsville, 2012; Will Harris of Bluffton, 2013; Philip Grimes of Tifton, 2014; and James Lyles of Ringgold, 2015; and John McCormick of Sylvania, 2016.
Georgia has had four overall winners, James Lee Adams of Camilla in 2000, Armond Morris of Ocilla in 2002, Robert Dasher of Glennville in 2010 and Philip Grimes of Tifton, 2014.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Williams farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 7-11. The judges this year include farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C., the overall winner in 2011; Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed specialist from Greenville, Miss.; and beef cattle rancher Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, Fla., who was the overall winner in 2009.