Since its inception in 1990, the Swisher / Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award has evolved into the most prestigious honor in the southeast and nation with 265 outstanding agribusiness leaders being honored for their “excellence in agriculture.” Ten states participate in the program: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. In the previous 30 years of the award, Swisher has awarded over $1,204,000 to the state and overall winners. Each state winner receives $2,500 in cash and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Ag Expo from Swisher.  A Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply is given to each state winner and nominator. Additionally, Syngenta donates $500 to each state winner’s charity of choice and Massey Ferguson North America provides each winner with a gift package. The overall Southeastern winner receives an additional $15,000 from Swisher.  Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or up to 250 hours (whichever comes first) from Massey Ferguson North America, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a Hays LTI Smoker/Grill, and a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition .22 rifle from Reinke Irrigation.

2020-2021 State Winners

Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern 2019 Farmer of the Year

Michael H. McDowell of Vernon Hill, Virginia has been selected as the overall winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for 2019. He is a fourth generation Halifax County farmer and cattleman who grows mixed grass hay, annual hay, and alfalfa and raises award-winning registered Angus cattle.

At the age of sixteen, McDowell began to farm three acres on his own under a sharecropper arrangement with his father. That formative experience taught him the value of responsibility and introduced him to the rewards and challenges of working the land in order to pay for his college tuition. He obtained a B.S. degree in animal science and agronomy from Virginia Tech.

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Farming With Spirit Featuring 2019 Farmer of the Year Michael McDowell

When the pastor takes the pulpit at County Line Baptist Church in Halifax County, Virginia, a 5-foot cattle prod leans at his side. It’s not a prop. It’s not what might be known in ministry circles as an “object lesson.”

For Pastor Michael McDowell, it’s an essential part of his story.

It’s also an essential part of the Apostle Paul’s story, a source of faithful inspiration for McDowell. “When Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus,” says McDowell, “Paul falls from his horse and Jesus speaks to him, and says, ‘Paul, it’s difficult for you to kick against the pricks.’”

And that’s where the stories of Pastor McDowell and Farmer McDowell intersect. “I was reared around mules and animal-drawn implements,” he says, recalling days on his four-generation farm, just down the road from the church, when there wasn’t a tractor to be found. “That ‘prick,’ or prod, directed an animal to go where they were supposed to go. It’s a constant reminder to me when I tend to want to go another way.”

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Click here to view an archive of all previous winners by state.


2019 Overall and State Winners

2018 Overall and State Winners

2017 Overall and State Winners

2016 Overall and State Winners

2015 Overall and State Winners

2014 Overall and State Winners

2013 Overall and State Winners