Paul Rogers, Jr., of Wakefield, Va., has had a long and successful farming career, and an equally extensive and rewarding avocation as a youth league and high school baseball coach.
As a result of his success as a crop farmer, Rogers 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.
He’s a modest individual. “I’m just a humble man who tills the soil,” he says. Yet his farm encompasses 1,680 acres of open land. He rents 1,122 acres, owns 558 acres of open land and also owns 499 acres of timber.
Last year, his per acre yields were 183 bushels of corn from 468 acres, 1,322 pounds of cotton lint from 549 acres and 5,136 pounds of peanuts from 159 acres. His soybeans yielded 53 bushels per acre for both full season beans on 91 acres and double-cropped soybeans on 374 acres. His double-cropped beans followed wheat yielding 76 bushels per acre. Only 5% of his cotton, 10% of his corn and 25% of his peanuts were irrigated.
In marketing, he works with his son using basis contracts, forward pricing, cash contracts, options and other contracts. They rely on a marketing firm for pricing advice, and have used a consultant for managing and selling timber.
Rogers also provides custom cotton harvesting on 250 acres for a neighbor. This year, he’s growing double-cropped cotton after wheat. He increased cotton acreage this year due to stronger prices.
While he adopts new seed and equipment technology, he says his yields are due to crop rotation and conservation tillage planting.
Rogers grew up on a farm, but his father died when he was 15. The farm was rented out until he returned after graduating from a two-year agriculture program at North Carolina State University. After his father died, his mother sold most of the farm equipment, so he had to build up the equipment inventory. He relied on advice from other farmers, and bought a farm from one of his father’s lifelong friends.
Rogers has sold timber three times during his career. The first was to help settle his father’s estate with his sister who also inherited the farm. His other timber sales were timed to invest in capital such as purchasing additional farmland. Much of the lumber from his most recent pine timber sale was shipped to Italy and made into burial coffins.
He grows Virginia type ‘ballpark’ peanuts, and he receives premiums for jumbo and fancy peanut kernels. Rogers says the loss of the peanut quota program was a blessing, because it allowed him to use longer rotations to increased yields. “I’m making more peanuts on less land,” he says. Some peanuts are on six-year rotations, and most are planted after four or five years out of peanuts.
Having coached baseball for more than 50 years, it’s appropriate that Rogers grows ballpark peanuts. A baseball coach at Tidewater Academy since 2005, his team won a state championship in 2013. He has long been active as a coach and director of youth baseball in Wakefield.
Recently, the town named its youth league baseball fields after Rogers, and in 2004, his former players placed a plaque in his honor at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“If you have a passion for something like coaching baseball, and if you have family support, you find time to do it,” says Rogers. “I’ve been fortunate to have good help on the farm. That has allowed me to spend time away from the farm in coaching.”
He also spends time serving the agricultural community.
Rogers has chaired an advisory board for the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center. He’s on an advisory board for Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) and served on an advisory board for groundwater management in eastern Virginia. He served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors while president of the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He has been a director of the Peanut Growers Cooperative Marketing Association, the Virginia Crop Improvement Association, the Virginia Cotton Board, the Virginia Corn Board, the Virginia Corn Growers Association, the Colonial Agricultural Education Foundation and the Virginia Agribusiness Council. He also took part in leadership programs offered by the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute.
Rogers is a member of the USDA Peanut Standards Board. He’s a board member and is a past chairman of Colonial Farm Credit. For ten years, he chaired the AgFirst Farm Credit District Advisory Committee.
Rogers says he has matured as a farmer and business owner by serving on many boards and organizations. He appreciates his family for keeping the farm running during his absences.
“My professional goals are more than the bottom line,” he says. He keeps his farm profitable, but says, “I am guided by my passion to be a role model as a father, coach and mentor, and to give back to the field of agriculture. My wife Pam and I have incorporated this passion into our lifestyles.”
Pam grew up in a military family. Paul and Pam are active in Rocky Hock United Methodist Church. Pam was a teacher when she met Paul. She left teaching for several years and worked beside him driving tractors, trucks and picking peanuts. In 1987, she went back and taught for 25 years before retiring. She also served as Tidewater Academy’s business manager and cheerleading coach. Today, she essentially works as the farm’s chief financial officer. She has kept books for the farm since 1980.
Paul and Pam have two adult children. Their son Paul “Little Paul” Rogers, III returned to the farm in 1997 after graduating from Old Dominion University, and in 2005 became a partner in Rogers Farms. Paul, III handles crop marketing, serves on a number of agricultural organizations and has also been a baseball and basketball coach. His wife Dawn is a stay-at-home mom to their daughter and two sons.
Making the transition to include his son in management of the farm was not easy, according to Paul, Jr., mainly because he experienced no transition period after his father died, so it became more of a trial and error process with his son.
Paul and Pam have a daughter, Sharon. An athletic training expert, Sharon patented a weight monitoring system for athletes and works as an associate professor in sports medicine and athletic training at East Carolina University. Her husband Brian is a special agent with the Virginia State Police, and they have one daughter.
Bobby Grisso, associate director of Virginia Cooperative Extension, coordinates the Farmer of the Year awards in Virginia. Rogers was nominated for the honor by Michael Parrish, a senior Extension agent in Dinwiddie, Va. Parrish admires Rogers for being a great role model for other farmers, and he appreciates how Rogers has included his son as a partner in running the farm.
As the Virginia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Rogers will 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 Southern States cooperative and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, 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 Virginia include: Nelson Gardner of Bridgewater, 1990; Russell Inskeep of Culpepper, 1991; Harry Bennett of Covington, 1992; Hilton Hudson of Alton, 1993; Buck McCann of Carson, 1994; George M. Ashman, Jr. of Amelia, 1995; Bill Blalock of Baskerville, 1996; G. H. Peery III of Ceres, 1997; James Bennett of Red House, 1998; Ernest Copenhaver of Meadowview, 1999; John Davis of Port Royal, 2000; James Huffard III of Crockett, 2001; J. Hudson Reese of Scottsburg, 2002; Charles Parkerson of Suffolk, 2003; Lance Everett of Stony Creek, 2004; Monk Sanford of Orange, 2005; Paul House of Nokesville, 2006; Steve Berryman of Surry, 2007; Tim Sutphin of Dublin, 2008; Billy Bain of Dinwiddie, 2009; Wallick Harding of Jetersville, 2010; Donald Horsley of Virginia Beach, 2011; Maxwell Watkins of Sutherland, 2012; Lin Jones of New Canton, 2013; Robert T. “Tom” Nixon II of Rapidan, 2014; Donald Turner of North Dinwiddie, 2015; Tyler Wegmeyer of Hamilton, 2016; and Robert Mills, Jr., of Callands, 2017.
Virginia has had three overall winners, Nelson Gardner of Bridgewater in 1990, Charles Parkerson of Suffolk in 2003, and Robert Mills, Jr., of Callands in 2017.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Rogers farm and the farms of the other nine finalists during the week of Aug. 6-10. The judges 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.