Being flexible has paid off for Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek, Ky. His farming operation has evolved over the years, from an early emphasis on livestock to a current focus on crops—burley tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, straw and pumpkins.
As a result of his success as a diversified crop farmer, Travis has been selected as the Kentucky winner of the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Travis now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
Travis was previously named the Kentucky Farmer of the Year in 2007. Since then, he has almost doubled the amount of land he farms.
A farmer for 28 years, Travis currently farms 3,519 acres, with 2,557 acres of rented land and 962 acres of owned land. He farms this land with the help of family members and only one full-time employee.
His yields last year included tobacco on 12 acres producing 2,404 pounds per acre, corn on 1,056 acres yielding 106 bushels per acre, full-season soybeans on 1,912 acres yielding 42 bushels per acre, doublecropped soybeans on 146 acres yielding 38 bushels per acre, wheat on 146 acres yielding 40 bushels per acre and hay on 14 acres producing four tons per acre.
Drought depressed his corn yields last year, but high grain prices made 2012 his best year of farming.
The key to being successful in farming is being flexible and changing with the times.”
Careful research helps inform his marketing decisions. Travis checks weather, exports and prices daily. As prices reach acceptable levels, he consults with his grain buyer, and takes positions in the futures markets. With the help of technical and fundamental price analysis, he uses forward contracting to get higher prices. During late spring and early fall, he uses options contracts to protect against price swings. He often sells his grain crops to Consolidated Grain or to local farmers.
He sells his tobacco on open markets in Danville and Springfield, Ky. “I haven’t contracted tobacco since 2011,” he adds.
“We grow pumpkins and winter squash or cushaw on four acres,” he says. “We grow additional pumpkins that we give away. I sell my pumpkins, gourds, corn shocks and similar products from a roadside stand across from an elementary school. We sell these on the ‘honor system’ and trust our customers to pay the right amounts.”
Over the years, he has raised cattle, hogs, rabbits, chickens, peppers, sugar beets and popcorn. At one time, he had 700 hogs, but cut back on hogs during the 1990’s as he increased burley tobacco acreage.
As he reduced livestock and increased grain crops, Travis added larger equipment. His equipment now includes three planters, two combines and five grain carts. He hires trucking to haul his crops and occasionally hires custom spraying and harvesting. His plans also call for upgrading his grain storage system.
He relies on crop insurance and reduces drought risk by spreading maturities for the corn and soybeans he plants. He plants seed with insect and herbicide resistance traits, along with newer traits for drought tolerance.
He prepays expenses for crop inputs and land rent. Early on, he had trouble finding land to rent, but his work in the community has allowed him to build relationships with landlords who now seek him out to farm their land.
In 1985, he had one landlord, but now has 30. He says that being a good steward allows him to rent much of the same land year after year. He controls erosion by relying extensively on no-till planting, by establishing and maintaining grassed waterways, and by building retention basins.
With low interest rates, he has bought farmland, and hopes to continue doing so. Buying land close to his home would allow him to give up rented land away from the home. “This would give younger farmers the opportunities I had early in my career,” he explains.
As part of a long-term growth and diversification strategy, Travis has invested in residential and commercial real estate. He uses his own equipment to build roads and to help landscape the property. This property is in an ideal location, in one of Kentucky’s fastest growing counties and across the street from two new schools. And until all of the lots are sold, Travis continues to farm this land.
Travis raised his first tobacco crop at age six. At age 14, he bought six gilts that began his hog operation. In 1985 at age 17, he rented 320 acres with a friend. He bought his first land in 1987 where he now makes his home.
Travis is active in Waterford Church of Christ. He is an Extension volunteer and does volunteer work on school athletic fields. He has also been a member of the Spencer County School Board.
He has served as president, vice president and treasurer for the Spencer County Farm Bureau. He also served on the Spencer County Ag Development Board. He was named the Spencer County Master Conservationist in 2007 and received a soil conservation award from Goodyear Tire in 1993. He has also hosted agricultural field days for school children visiting his farm.
At Kentucky Farm Bureau, Travis serves on the state board, a tobacco advisory board, and on the organization’s insurance company board. His other Farm Bureau activities included service on a legislative conservation committee, meeting with legislators, taking part in discussion meets, touring the Chicago Board of Trade, participating in leadership classes and being a voting delegate at American Farm Bureau conventions.
Nationally, he has represented tobacco farmers in stakeholder meetings with the Food and Drug Administration. He has been a speaker at the U.S. Tobacco Forum. And in 1994, he received the Philip Morris Excellence in Tobacco award.
Scott and his wife Robbie have three children, sons Collin and Conner and a daughter, Cameron. They all contribute to making the farm run smoothly. “We are able to set and harvest our tobacco with very little hired help,” says Scott. “Last year, the three children farmed their own patch of tobacco. Also, we bale wheat straw, and the children help out with that.”
Robbie works as an elementary school librarian. She is active in Waterford Church of Christ and has been active in the Spencer County Education Association. She also volunteered for the Spencer County Youth Baseball Association and organized agricultural field days for school children. She has been active in both the Louisville and Kentucky Bar Associations and the 53rd Judicial District Bar Association. During 1992 and 1993, she edited the Journal of Law and Education. She also worked as technical manager for the Spencer County Law Library. She has been a voting delegate for the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee and is a former member of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.
Scott says, “The key to being successful in farming is being flexible and changing with the times.”
Mike Tobin, Commodity Division director with Kentucky Farm Bureau, chairs the Farmer of the Year awards in the state. “We’re proud to have Scott represent Kentucky as Farmer of the Year,” says Tobin. Travis was nominated for the award by Scott Williams, Spencer County Farm Bureau president. “Scott is very active in the community and has served on numerous boards and committees to make Spencer County a better place to live,” says Williams. “In everything he does, Scott gives 100 percent.”
As the Kentucky state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Travis 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, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize that goes 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 and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 24th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $924,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Kentucky farmers became eligible to compete for the award in 2006. Previous state winners from Kentucky include Sam Moore of Morgantown in 2006, Scott Travis of Cox’s Creek in 2007, Loretta Lyons of Tompkinsville in 2008, Doug Langley of Shelbyville in 2009, Joe Nichols of Cadiz in 2010 and Jim Sidebottom of Greensburg in 2012.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Travis farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 12-16. The judges for this year include John McKissick, a longtime University of Georgia Extension ag economist from Athens, Ga.; farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; and John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years.