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 of my crop off the farm as deer corn in 50 lb. bags. This allows me to gain 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, was formed to build farm structures and has four employees. Nunn noted, “My full-time crew foreman is in charge of this enterprise. We build 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. And when I have the time, I try to be of help to some of my farmer friends when they need it.”
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. She is also an active member of the Gibbs Memorial Baptist Church.
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 involved with our church in numerous outreach and missionary activities as well as being a leader with Young Life Christian Club. 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. Nunn observed, “Just recently he ran a combine harvester by himself; that was a proud moment for me.”
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 and a regular attendee of the Beltwide Cotton Conference as well as the Ag Tech Expo in Indianapolis, IN.
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 the five-year contracts. He uses GPS guidance to be more precise in application of sprays and in planting. He also takes soil and tissue samples that let him know how to apply the nutrients needed by the crops.
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 such as quail, rabbits, and other species.
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, “In my early career, the most serious challenge was finding available quality farm land and access to capital with which to purchase equipment. Because I didn’t inherit a farming operation and am located within sixty miles of Atlanta, land commands a premium price. But, little by little, I was able to acquire fields as other producers went out of business or retired. By putting a lot of work into increasing the fertility and productivity of the land, I’ve been able to make the land profitable.”
He added, “For several years I partnered with another local farmer to help with these early financial challenges. Eventually I became secure enough to operate on my own. I make it a point to ensure that every significant business decision is something that ‘pencils out’ before I put it into practice. I do annual crop market analysis before making choices on what to plant each year. 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.”
Nunn commented, “My future plans for expansion include adding storage capacity for my grain. Being able to store more of the crop will help with pricing flexibility and the chance to continue harvesting the crop when buying points are at times unavailable. In other words, if you can afford to hold commodities, that makes for better pricing opportunities.”
In addition, Nunn has always tries to pay off debt as quickly as possible and wants to explore the option of specialty crops and agri-tourism in the next few years. He noted, “Our area is ideally located for agri-tourism 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 new options available in 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 rent the same condo each year, kick back, and enjoy some beach time. Nunn said, “I’m lucky that my wife and I also 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.”
One year he and some farmer buddies flew to St. Louis, rented a Suburban, and meandered on highways all the way down the Mississippi River to Venice, Louisiana. “It was a Mark Twain kind of experience,” he observed with a laugh. 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 their bucket list as well.
Throughout his farming career, in good times and in difficult times, 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 cover crop research trials on his farm that have proved to be very beneficial. He’s always willing to jump in and contribute his time and financial resources to strengthen our local agricultural community.”
As the Georgia winner of the Swisher/Sunbelt Expo award, Lee Nunn will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Florida. A Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply will be given to each state winner and nominator. Syngenta will donate $500 to the state winner’s charity of choice. Nunn is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize awarded to the overall winner by Swisher. Massey Ferguson North America will provide each state winner with a gift package and the overall winner with the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year or 250 hours (whichever comes first). A Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply will be given to the overall winner. Syngenta will provide a $500 donation to the charity of choice for the overall winner who will also receive a Hays LTI Smoker/Grill. In addition, the overall winner will receive a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute Edition rifle from Reinke Irrigation.
Swisher International, through its Swisher cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 31st consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,204,000 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; John McCormick of Sylvania, 2016; and Everett Williams of Madison, 2017; James Vaughn of Forsyth, 2018, Robert L. Dickey of Musella, 2019.