On his crop farm near the Ogeechee River in East Georgia, John McCormick has been a leader in using innovative farming practices. Some of these include using global positioning systems, planting soil-building cover crops and using variable rate nutrient application and variable rate irrigation.
At his farm near Sylvania, Ga., he doublecrops 240 to 250 acres and raises crops on a total of 1,040 acres. He rents 340 acres and owns the rest. He owns a total of 1,020 acres and that includes some land in woods, ponds and swamps that is managed to benefit timber and wildlife.
As a result of his success as a crop farmer, McCormick has been selected as the 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. 18 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
His cotton on 330 acres yields 800 pounds of lint per acre in dryland fields and 1,150 to 1,200 pounds per acre from irrigated fields.
He’s growing corn on 285 acres, mostly for silage. The silage yields 23 to 25 tons per acre. His corn for grain produced 207 bushels per acre last year.
Peanuts on 250 acres produce yields of 3,200 to 3,300 pounds per acre on dryland fields and 5,300 pounds per acre on his irrigated fields.
He grows soybeans on 390 acres. Yields are 33 bushels per acre when doublecropped after corn silage. Full season beans yield 54 to 55 bushels per acre.
He improved his corn and soybean yields by switching from 36- to 30-inch rows. He also narrowed his peanut rows from 36 to 30 inches. Currently, he’s evaluating the idea of using 30-inch rows for his cotton. He has improved soil nutrition by using variable rate lime and fertilizer applications. McCormick says on-farm trials have been a big help in providing information on which soybean and corn varieties he plants.
Overall, McCormick says his use of guidance systems and variable rate technology have allowed him to reduce his use of fuel, lime, fertilizer and pesticides.
He uses Zimmatic products to remotely manage his center pivots and to allow for variable rate irrigation.
Conservation tillage and cover crops are important to McCormick. In 1996, he switched to strip tillage planting. He has grown black oats, large-root daikon radish and ryegrass as cover crops. Ryegrass isn’t a typical cover crop because it is hard to kill, but he likes its fibrous roots and the organic matter it adds to the soil.
McCormick markets his corn silage to a dairy farm by using a formula based on September corn grain futures prices. He markets his own grain crops, and relies on production contracts for marketing his peanuts. He’s especially pleased with the Staplcotn cooperative that sells his cotton and the pooled cotton of other farmers throughout the year.
Planting, spraying and other custom work boosts his farm income. McCormick says his farm also has potential for generating income from hunting and fishing. His dedication to conservation can be seen in the land he has set aside for grassed waterways, wildlife borders and riparian zones. Earlier in his farming career, he used contour farming, terraces, filter strips and soil drainage.
Though he now mainly farms now in Screven County, Ga., he grew up on a hog and tobacco farm in Bulloch County, Ga. Feeding hogs was the first farm chore he remembers doing as a child. His first crop was an acre of tobacco he raised in the ninth grade. A gilt and a heifer also helped him pay for his University of Georgia education.
After college, McCormick spent nine years working for a chemical company before he started farming full time.
He raised cattle and hogs during the first 25 years that he farmed. A disease decimated his hog herd in 1992, and, with pork prices low, he decided to eliminate swine as an enterprise on his farm.
“I used to grow tobacco, but I haven’t grown any since the tobacco quota buyout,” he says. Federal price supports and the tobacco quota program ended in 2004. “I would grow tobacco again if I was a young farmer and I could get a contract,” he adds. He decided to increase his plantings of cotton and peanuts to help make up for the income that had been provided by tobacco.
“Technology on the farm is changing fast,” he says. “What’s here today is gone tomorrow. One day we’ll add a smart box to our planter that will automatically dispense seed and chemicals in the proper amounts.”
“We set goals for our farm and our individual crops, and we try to make small improvements each year to maintain a sustainable farm,” he says.
As a young man, he served in the Georgia Air National Guard. McCormick has been a member of the Bulloch County Livestock Association and Statesboro Kiwanis. He has been a 4-H leader and volunteer. While living in Bulloch County, he served on a school zoning committee and an agriculture advisory committee. In Screven County, he is on the local Extension agricultural advisory board.
When he grew tobacco, he served on the Georgia Tobacco Commodity Commission and hosted an Extension tobacco tour stop on his farm.
He and his wife Paula have been active in Brooklet United Methodist Church.
Paula works as an assistant principal at an elementary school in Effingham County, Ga., and is concluding her 34th year as a professional educator. She has been recognized for her excellence in teaching math and science, and was named Teacher of the Year for Guyton Elementary School in 2010. She has also been a longtime member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Beta Sigma Phi social and service sorority.
While on the farm, Paula has performed a number of tasks such as scouting cotton, managing a farrowing house and supervising tobacco field workers. She also enjoys hunting.
They have four sons and six grandchildren. One son, Josh, has returned to work on the farm. This is his second year of farming full time with his dad. Their son John is the oldest and he works as a surgeon. Sons Jason and Gus are project managers for manufacturing companies.
Mark McCann with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the state. Ray Hicks, Extension agent in Screven County, Ga., nominated McCormick for the award. Hicks first met McCormick when McCormick was raising livestock in Bulloch County, Ga.
Hicks admires how McCormick has been able to use variable rate irrigation, global positioning system guidance and conservation tillage to improve his crop farming. Hicks also notes that McCormick was one of the first farmers to test the Irrigator Pro peanut irrigation scheduling method that was developed by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.
McCormick says, “Being a farmer has been a blessing, and from it I have learned responsibility and leadership.”
As the Georgia state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, McCormick 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 27th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,040,000 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.
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 McCormick farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 1-5. The judges this year include Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.; and farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C., the overall winner in 2011; and Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed specialist from Greenville, Miss.
Note to media: The judges will visit the McCormick farm on Aug. 1 from 8-11 a.m. If you would like to visit the farm during the final two hours of judging, please call John Leidner at 229-392-1798, or contact him by e-mail at [email protected], or call McCormick at 912-536-2163.