Lynetta Griner

Lynetta Usher Griner’s life and career plans changed dramatically during 1989. That year, her brother Tommy Usher died in a boating accident on the Suwannee River. A seventh generation Floridian, Lynetta lives in Levy County, Fla., where she had been practicing law. With her brother’s unexpected passing, she found herself essentially in charge of Usher Land & Timber.

Usher Land & Timber based in Chiefland, Fla., is a logging and farming business started by her grandfather. Her parents, Etter and Helen Usher operated pulpwood harvesting crews, ran cattle and bought land when it was inexpensive. Lynetta still practices law but that is secondary to running her business which has established thriving timber and beef cattle enterprises.

As a result of her success as a beef cattle farmer, logging executive and timber producer, Griner has been selected as state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. She 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.

Usher Land & Timber has 9,500 acres of family owned land. Some 6,800 acres grows timber that produces an average of six tons per acre per year. The family also owns grazing land in Kansas and Nebraska. Crops that support the cattle include irrigated forage sorghum on 135 acres, non-irrigated hay on 120 acres and irrigated hay on 430 acres.

Her parents ran the beef herd as a hobby. As her brother took over, and then when she and her husband took up the reins, they converted the beef operation into a more profitable business.

The cow-calf operation has 827 cows. The farm’s cattle grow-yards have a capacity of up to 2,500 calves. She explains that a grow-yard is like a feedlot except that cattle also have access to pasture.

Her husband Ken also found his life changed by her brother’s death. Ken owned an automobile dealership, but now runs the beef cattle and related farming operations at Usher Land & Timber.

Ken raises about 40 beef bulls for sale each year. “He aims to build the perfect cow for our environment that is half Charolais and half Ultrablack,” says Lynetta. “Ultrablack is a Brangus-Angus cross.”

Calves are marketed through Florida Cattle Ranchers, a branded beef partnership. “We take cattle from ranches where they are born and add weight to them before they go to feedlots,” she says.

These cattle gain weight by grazing and by eating some non-traditional feeds such as dried distillers grains and bakery byproducts.

The farm’s silvopasture program allows forage grazing under pine trees. “This works great when forage is short during the winter,” she says.

Their farm also raises Wagyu Japanese beef cattle. They contracted with Imperial Beef of Nebraska to use Wagyu bulls on their female cattle to produce 200 to 300 head of F1 Wagyu calves each year.

“We buy timber from private landowners and we cut timber from our own land,” says Griner. She operates four logging crews and a trucking business to haul the logs. The company has 36 employees and delivers about 200 loads each week to wood mills in North Florida.

Early in the Trump Administration, she was invited to the White House for a Farmers Roundtable discussion. She was the only representative of the timber industry and one of two representatives from the cattle industry.

She served on the board and as president of Friends of Fanning, Inc., to support Fanning Springs State Park. She is a member of Suwannee Valley Rotary Club and is a director of Drummond Community Bank.

She was the first woman to serve as president of the Florida Forestry Association. Lynetta was named by Florida Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam as the 2013 Florida Woman of the Year in Agriculture. She served on the board and as chair of the Suwannee River Water Management District. She advises on potential state land purchases for the Florida Forever program. She serves on the board of Florida’s Nature Conservancy. She also advises the state forester for the Florida Forestry Council.

Usher Land & Timber received Logger of the Year recognition on the state, regional and national levels. The farm was recognized by the County Alliance for Responsible Environmental Stewardship (CARES) program for protecting the environment. The business also received recognition from the Audubon Society for sustainable forestry practices.

To honor her brother, she helps run the Tommy Usher Log a Load for Kids charity. It raises money for the Children’s Miracle Network and the University of Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital. “This is heavily supported by our friends and industries we work with, and last year the total we raised reached more than $1 million,” she says.

Ken is a cancer survivor who recently finished serving a term as president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. He also served on the board of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He was recognized by Farm Credit of Florida and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association as an Outstanding Rancher & Leader.

Ken and Lynetta have one son Korey who is a major contributor in developing heifers and managing the cattle. Korey says the cattle grow-yards allow the farm to act essentially as a stocker operation by raising cattle from 400 pounds up to 750 pounds. Korey says animal stress is reduced in handling facilities that were designed based on concepts developed by noted animal scientist Temple Grandin of Colorado State University.

Eric Handley works as forester for Usher Land & Timber. Handley buys timber, oversees logging and trucking, and is like a son to Ken and Lynetta. S. J. Fisher, a friend of Tommy Usher, runs the shop and keeps the timber and logging equipment running. Handling repairs in-house is a major contributor to the firm’s financial success, according to Lynetta. Safety director Kelly Hansen also plays a key role in the company’s success.

Six of her employees are certified as Master Loggers. “Many of our landowners are repeat customers because they know our work and want our crews to harvest their timber,” she says.

“The people who work for and with us are responsible for our company’s success,” says Lynetta. “We didn’t anticipate becoming farmers, but as our time in agriculture progressed, so has our love of all things connected to agriculture. We have become passionate advocates for our way of life.”

Jason Davison, director of the Field Services Division with Florida Farm Bureau, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Griner was nominated for the honor by Jared Lanier, district field representative with Florida Farm Bureau. Lanier admires how Griner redefined the role of farmer. “Almost everyone thinks of farmers as men, but she is a woman of integrity who represents the industry well,” says Lanier. “It is a blessing to work with her.”

As the Florida state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Griner 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.

She 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 the 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 Florida include: Ernie Nunez of Dade City, 1990; Ernie Nunez of Dade City, 1991; Wayne Wiggins of Plant City, 1992; Leroy Baldwin of Ocala, 1993; Billy Long of Apopka, 1994; Richard Barber of Ocala, 1995; Al Bellotto of Lakeland, 1996; Rex Clonts of Apopka, 1997; John Hoblick of DeLeon Springs, 1998; Doug Holmberg of Valrico, 1999; Damon Deas of Jennings, 2000; Gene Batson of Mount Dora, 2001; William Putnam of Alturas, 2002; Sonny Williamson of Okeechobee, 2003; Dale Sauls of Anthony, 2004; Louis “Red” Larson of Okeechobee, 2005; Damon Deas of Jennings, 2006; Alto “Bud” Adams of Ft. Pierce, 2007; Randy Strode of Longwood, 2008; Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, 2009; John Hundley of North Palm Beach, 2010; Ron St. John of Trenton, 2011; Dale McClellan of Thonotosassa, 2012; John Scott Long of Palm City, 2013; C. Dennis Carlton of Tampa, 2014; Vic Story, Jr., of Lake Wales, 2015; Paul DiMare of Coral Gables, 2016; and Mark Wilson of Homestead, 2017.

Florida has had seven overall winners: Ernie Nunez of Dade City, 1991; Leroy Baldwin of Ocala, 1993; Rex Clonts of Apopka, 1997; Doug Holmberg of Valrico, 1999; Louis “Red” Larson of Okeechobee, 2005; Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, 2009; and Dale McClellan of Thonotosassa, 2012.

A distinguished panel of judges will visit Griner’s farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 6-10. The judges for this year include Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist 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.