An attorney who practices law from offices on his farm, James Vaughn of Forsyth, Ga., is especially proud of taking a 650-acre pine tree plantation and converting it over a ten-year period into productive pastures where he raises forages for his beef cattle.
As a result of his success in cattle and timber production, Vaughn 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.
A farmer for 35 years, Vaughn operates 5,590 acres of land. He owns the farm with his sister and partner, Dr. Brenda Vaughn Caldwell. He is assisted in daily farm management by his wife, Beth, and two sons, Matthew and Jordan.
Vaughn grows timber on 4,000 acres. Recently planted stands are thinned for pulpwood and are increasingly used as energy crops. “Our timber sales are handled by our contract forester,” adds Vaughn. “Our goal is to convert natural stands into plantations and to use shorter rotations.”
In 2006, a root rot fungus infected the 650-acre pine plantation he converted to grasslands. Vaughn harvested the timber and began to convert the land to grass. As a result, he doubled the size of his cattle herd and established a commercial hay enterprise.
“We took a bad situation and turned it into something better through hard work and assistance from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service,” says Vaughn. District conservationist Carmen Westerfield helped Vaughn with this transition that included cost-sharing from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Vaughn has identified another timber tract that he may convert to grassland.
He raises non-irrigated bermudagrass hay on 245 acres that yielded 6.9 tons of forage per acre in 2017. The farm markets hay in 50-pound square bales and 1,000-pound round bales. In 2017, more than 18,000 square bales were sold to wholesale markets.
His wife, Beth, is a partner in a local feed store, and a portion of his hay is marketed through this store, Country Oaks Farm and Pet Supply. The store is also a source of farm inputs Vaughn uses, including feed, seed, vaccines, herbicides, twine and net wrapping.
His beef operation includes 407 purebred Angus cows of which 42 are registered. His father started the herd in the 1950’s. Vaughn and his sons have worked to continue his father’s legacy. “We raise our own replacements and we rarely buy breeding animals,” adds Vaughn.
Since the mid 1990’s, Vaughn has been marketing to feedlot operator Bill Pellett in Atlantic, Iowa. After the cattle are finished in the feedlot, the meat is sold to export markets.
He stays with the same feedlot buyer because he receives carcass quality information that he uses to improve herd genetics. “That data drives our breeding decisions,” he adds. Many of his cattle qualify as Certified Angus Beef and reach the Prime grade.
Vaughn’s cattle are not treated with growth hormones, an important consideration for the export buyers. He sells some grass-finished cattle through White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Ga. His farm sells bred heifers by private treaty and sells about 10-15 registered bulls each year.
His family is also involved in buying, training and marketing cutting horses. The farm keeps 15-18 horses. Some are show horses. The rest are used to manage the beef herd.
“I moved my law firm to the farm because I could practice law in the country better than I could farm in town,” he explains. Vaughn specializes in tax and commercial law. His Vaughn, Wright & Boyer, LLP firm also handles property taxes, timber contracts, partnership records and other farm-related legal matters.
Vaughn has been a leader in the Development Authority of Monroe County, the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, the Central Georgia Joint Development Authority and the Monroe County Hospital Authority. He has chaired the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, the Middle Georgia Regional Roundtable, the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center and the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce.
He served on the boards of the Macon State College Foundation, Monroe County Bank and Mid-Georgia Cattlemen’s Association. He’s a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Macon.
He has been a member of the Georgia Agri-Leaders Forum, the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and the Georgia Forestry Association. He is also a member of the National Cutting Horse Association and the American Quarter Horse Association.
Beth is also an accomplished leader. In addition to her ownership interests in the feed store, she chairs the Bank of Dudley and Hogan Timberlands, her family’s forestry investments located primarily in Laurens County, Ga. Beth graduated in Finance from Auburn University and earned an MBA from the University of Georgia. She learned banking from her grandmother who also ran the Bank of Dudley.
In her spare time, Beth helps exercise and care for the horses. She handles some of the record keeping for the farm and helps with hay harvest and cattle work.
James and Beth are proud of their four happily married adult children and six grandchildren.
Their son, Matthew, graduated from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga., in Agricultural Engineering Technology. Matthew works full time on the family farm maintaining equipment, producing hay and forage and caring for livestock.
Their son, Jordan, graduated from Auburn University in Equine Science and works full time on the farm while also training cutting horses. Jordan helps manage the animal health program and produces and markets hay.
Their son, Benjamin, graduated from Auburn University in Forestry and graduated cum laude from the Walter F. Georgia School of Law at Mercer University. Benjamin owns his own law practice in Forsyth and helps his dad manage the farm’s timber.
Their daughter, Jennifer Vaughn Hickson, who graduated from the University of Georgia in Animal Science/Dairy Science, lives in South Carolina and works as an assistant for an equine veterinarian. She and her husband also own a farm, and are involved in the cutting horse business.
“I’ve been here on this farm for my entire life,” says Vaughn. “My farm is special to me.” He says, “I have achieved an important goal of maintaining a farm business where my family can work and maintain the lifestyle we enjoy.”
He says he is producing high quality beef, hay and horses along with commodity timber products. “More importantly,” he adds, “we are producing these commodities in an efficient and sustainable manner in the hope and expectation that future generations of our family can live and work on the farm.”
The state coordinator for the Farmer of the Year award in Georgia is Mark McCann, assistant dean for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Vaughn was nominated for the honor by Caitlin Jackson, Extension agent in Monroe County, Ga. Jackson admires Vaughn for his farming skills, his community leadership and his dedicated volunteer work as an advocate for agriculture and land-grant university research and Extension programs.
As the Georgia state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Vaughn 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 award 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 cooperative, 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.
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; John McCormick of Sylvania, 2016; and Everett Williams of Madison, 2017.
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 Vaughn’s farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 6-10. The judges 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.