John Woodruff

Longtime University of Georgia Extension agronomist John Woodruff has been selected as the newest judge for the prestigious Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards.

Woodruff, from Tifton, Ga., will join John McKissick, University of Georgia agricultural economist from Athens, Ga., and farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., in visiting the farms of the state winners from the Southeast. McKissick is serving as the senior judge this year and Kirksey was the overall winner of the award in 2008.

Their judging trip will take place during the week of Aug. 12-16. During the week, they will visit the farms of the ten state winners. This year’s state winners represent the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

“We are pleased and honored to welcome John Woodruff to our distinguished team of judges, and we look forward to having his experience and insight for the next three years,” says Chip Blalock, director of the Sunbelt Expo farm show. The Farmer of the Year judges typically serve for three years before rotating off the judging team.

“I have been following the Farmer of the Year awards since it began,” says Woodruff. “I have admired the selection process and the farmers who have been named state and overall winners. It is an honor for me to now be a part of this process, and I am really looking forward to meeting the ten state winners and seeing these operations that represent the wide variety of farming in the Southeast.”

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the awards for the 24th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $924,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award began in 1990.

Woodruff worked many years as Extension soybean specialist for Georgia. He began his career as Extension soybean specialist in 1972 and retired for the first time in 1998. He was then hired back several times to work for Georgia Extension. Also in retirement, Woodruff worked several years as an educational consultant for the Southern States cooperative, one of the Farmer of the Year prize sponsors.

He has a long association with the Sunbelt Expo farm show. During the early years of the farm show, Woodruff was one of several Extension specialists who realized the full potential of the Expo farm to serve as a year-round testing ground for new crops and agricultural production technology.

In 1983, he planted high-yield soybean plots on the Expo farm that produced yields of 77 bushels per acre. Over the years, Woodruff worked closely with the late Darrell Williams, longtime manager of the Expo farm. The Expo research farm is now named in memory of Williams. During 2008, the last year Williams managed the Expo farm, Woodruff helped supervise high-yield soybean plots that produced 92 bushels per acre. “This yield was from a one-acre plot,” Woodruff recalls. “The average yield of all those high-yield plots that year was 84 bushels per acre.”

In 1985, Woodruff convinced the Georgia Soybean Association to recognize farmers for their production efficiency. In previous years, Georgia soybean farmers were recognized for their high yields. Woodruff’s initiative led the organization to make their awards program more meaningful by recognizing farmers who produced soybeans for the lowest cost per bushel.

Woodruff believes farmers need to produce high yields of 65 to 70 bushels per acre for soybeans to be competitive with more widely grown southeastern crops such as peanuts, cotton and corn.

Throughout his Extension soybean career, Woodruff helped to introduce farmers to then-new production concepts such as trap crops for insect control and conservation tillage. He conducted plot studies on row spacing, weed scouting, dwarf varieties and early maturing varieties. His advice helped soybean farmers overcome potentially destructive problems—stem canker, leaf scorch, manganese deficiency and improper seed inoculation, to name a few.

Though he specialized in soybeans, Woodruff also championed the cause of crop diversity during his Extension career. For instance, he helped introduce Georgia farmers to canola as a potential new crop. At the Expo farm, he supervised the planting of rice, pearl millet and kenaf plots. Pearl millet is grown as a grain or forage while kenaf is a tall-growing plant evaluated for its fiber potential. Also at Expo, Woodruff oversaw some of the first plantings of University of Georgia-developed alfalfa varieties bred to survive and thrive in the lower southeastern states. Woodruff says the Expo alfalfa stands persisted for seven years and demonstrated the potential of alfalfa as a cash forage crop in the region.