Samuel L. (“Lee”) Nunn has always been around farming. His grandfather owned and operated a dairy and row crop operation in Morgan County until 1986 and, after retiring, continued to keep a small beef cattle herd. At 87, he is proud that his grandson followed in his footsteps.
Nunn said, “As a boy, I used to watch my grandfather get up before dawn to milk cows, work all day in the fields tending his row crops, and then do the milking again in the evenings. His work ethic was something I admired greatly, a high standard I would strive to live up to.”
Nunn attended Athens Technical College and afterward went to work as an assistant manager on a large cattle and recreational hunting plantation for three years. He recalled, “That was when I started my ag construction business,” part of a three-pronged agricultural operation he now owns. “In 2005,” he added, “a portion of my wife’s family farm became available, so I rented 50 acres to plant my first crop of wheat and never looked back.”
Today Lee Nunn Farms consists of Custom Farm Service, Ag Construction Company, a private trucking company, and 1530 leased and owned acres under cultivation with yields as follows: 750 acres of wheat yielding 67 bushels/acre; 440 acres of soybeans yielding 38 bushels/acre; 380 acres of cotton yielding 985 lbs./acre; 360 acres of corn yielding 128 bushels/acre; and 140 acres of winter field peas yielding 42 bushes/acre.
Nunn said, “My cotton, which I’ve been growing for the last three years, is marketed solely with Staplcotn, a co-op that prices the crop throughout the year to achieve the best possible price for the producer. My wheat is forward contracted with Godfrey’s Warehouse in Madison, Georgia.”
Nunn’s soybeans are direct marketed and sold to the end use of Cargill Grain. He forward contracts bushels during the growing season. His corn is sold through three local buying points in Morgan County: Godfreys Warehouse, Rose Acre Egg Farm, and Wildlife Foods.
Nunn commented, “I forward price the crop during the growing season. The last two years I’ve sold about 25 percent off the farm as deer corn in 50 lb. bags, allowing for a substantial profit margin over wholesale price.” His winter field peas are sold directly to Diamond Dog Food in Gaston, South Carolina for a predetermined, set contract price before the growing season.
Besides his own farming, Nunn owns a custom farm service company and an agricultural construction company as well as a small trucking service. He and his four employees provide services to operations inside and outside of Morgan County. Nunn explained, “This business was created to help other local farmers who needed planting, spraying, tillage, crop rotation plans, soil testing, fertilizer application, and harvesting. These operations provide my farm with additional income and eliminate the need for other producers to own expensive pieces of equipment.”
The Ag Construction Company, founded in 1997, builds farm structures and has four employees. Nunn noted, “My full-time crew foreman is in charge of this enterprise. We construct horse, feed, seed, equipment, pole, and RV barns as well as fencing and projects for USDA grants such as stack houses.”
Nine years ago, Nunn became aware of a need for local agriculture transportation and started his own trucking service. He now owns two 18-wheelers and about a dozen and a half trailers. “I don’t do any commercial hauling,” he said, “but just wanted to alleviate the problem of delivering my own grain to market in a timely manner.”
Nunn met his wife, Sally, in high school, and they started dating after she graduated from the University of Georgia with a BA in Early Childhood Education. Degree in hand, she began a seventeen-year career as a kindergarten teacher. Sally now works as a teacher/advisor at Foothills Charter High School and is a past Women’s Chair of the Morgan County Farm Bureau.
Nunn said, “My seventeen-year-old daughter, Claire, has been involved with FFA since the seventh grade. She entered and won the state competition for project achievement. She’s active with our church in numerous outreach and missionary activities. My thirteen-year-old son, Mason, plans to be involved with FFA when he enters high school. He’s currently participating in church activities, football, golf, baseball, and Wyldlife Christian Club.”
On the county level, Nunn is a board and past president and current treasurer of the Morgan County Farm Bureau, current board member and chairman of the Farm Service Agency, board member of Farmers Fire Insurance, member of the Morgan County /UGA Extension Ag Advisory Board, president and founder of the Morgan County Row Crop Association, member of Gibbs Memorial Baptist Church, and councilman of the City of Bostwick. On the state level, Nunn is a member of the Georgia Cotton Commission and a member of the Georgia Corn Growers Association. On the national level, he is a member of the National Corn Growers Association.
In 2011, Nunn applied and was accepted into the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program. It sets up guidelines specific to his farm to be implemented throughout five-year contracts. He uses GPS guidance in applying sprays and in planting. He also takes soil and tissue samples that let him know how to apply needed nutrients.
Nunn practices crop rotations that break the cycle of pests, nematodes, and diseases and employs controlled traffic patterns to decrease soil compaction across fields. One hundred percent of the farm land is fertilized with local poultry litter to meet crop nutrient needs. Biannual soil testing and plant tissue testing and crop scouting have reduced fertilizer and pesticide use by 30 percent. He also leaves borders for wildlife habitat.
Nunn added, “Importantly, I’ve implemented minimum till and no-till practices on 75 percent of the land to decrease soil compaction, erosion, and runoff into waterways. These methods have benefitted my farm by lowering input costs, improving soil health, increasing yields, and generating profit potential.”
As to the inevitable problems that come with farming, Nunn observed, “Early on, the most serious challenge was finding available quality farm land and access to capital for equipment. Little by little, I was able to acquire fields as other producers went out of business or retired. Then the hard work began of increasing their fertility and productivity.”
He added, “I make it a point to ensure that every significant business decision is something that ‘pencils out’ before I put it into practice. Efficiency is the name of the game on every conceivable level—from spending early morning time in the office dealing with paperwork to checking on all the farm equipment in the evening. My future plans for expansion include adding grain storage capacity. If you can afford to hold commodities, it makes for better pricing opportunities.”
Nunn also wants to explore the option of specialty crops and agritourism in the next few years. He noted, “Our area is ideally located for agritourism because we are near Lake Oconee and a short drive from Athens and Atlanta. We may also explore the areas of sweet corn and other vegetables as well as hemp production.”
For some much well-earned relaxation, the Nunn family likes to take a trip in July with his wife’s family to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, where they wind down and enjoy some beach time. Nunn said, “I’m lucky that my wife and I share a love for travel throughout the US. We like visiting the Northeast—Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire—and usually take a spring break trip some place with the kids.”
Nunn is also a huge baseball fan and said, “My goal is to visit every major league baseball stadium in the country, hopefully when there’s a home game.” Trips to Europe and Alaska are on the bucket list as well.
Throughout his farming career, Nunn has developed a wise acceptance about his chosen profession. He said, “No matter how hard you work, especially in dry land acreage like ours where irrigation’s not a viable option, Mother Nature has you in her grip. You fail a lot in farming, and commodity prices fluctuate unpredictably. That’s why keeping your eye on the radar and being conscientious about input and outgo are so important. But there’s nothing more rewarding in life than growing and building things.”
Lee Nunn was nominated Georgia Farmer of the Year by Lucy Ray, Morgan County Extension Coordinator and Natural Resources Agent. She commented, “I feel privileged to have had the experience of working closely with Lee Nunn over the past seven years. He is one of the most motivated and selfless individuals in our extended farming community. He came to me in 2015 and proposed starting a Row Crop Association for our area, a resource where row crop farmers could access educational and timely industry information specific to their needs.”
The self-funding association now serves row crop farmers in five counties and hosts roundtable discussions on a quarterly basis for its members. Ray added, “Whenever I’ve needed assistance with a group tour or with a Youth Livestock Program event, Lee has been there to lend a hand. We’ve also conducted beneficial cover crop research trials on his farm. He’s always willing to contribute time and financial resources to strengthen our local agricultural community.”
A distinguished panel of judges will visit Lee Nunn, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, the week of August 10–14. The judges include John McKissick, long-time University of Georgia agricultural economist at Athens, Georgia; David Wildy, Manila, Arkansas, the overall winner of the award in 2016; and Cary Lightsey, Lake Wales, Florida, the overall winner of the award in 2009.