Meet our second half of our state winners for the 2020 Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year contest. These five farmers share a passion for the land, the spirit of perseverance, and the ability to see the long-term vision.
Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo, said, “One of the things that has stood out over the last 30 years of the Farmer of the Year program is the people. We have had the opportunity to give recognition to the most ‘salt of the earth’ farm families in agriculture. It is our honor to give them the recognition that they so richly deserve.”
Through their dedication to the industry, environment, and community, they have been selected to exemplify agricultural innovation.
Joe Edmondson of Vardaman, Mississippi, took responsibility for the family farm at an early age allowing him to learn and grow alongside his business. Despite the various setbacks he has experienced over the years, from labor challenges to natural disasters, Edmondson’s family operation has not only survived but thrived. His experiences led him to diversify production and add a packing business. He now has a cow-calf enterprise alongside his sweet potato, corn, and soybean crops. As a leader and environmentalist, Edmondson makes giving back to his community and land a priority.
In Morgan County, Georgia, Samuel Nunn keeps the family tradition of farming alive through three separate business entities. As a community leader, Nunn saw the need for a variety of farming services and decided to diversify his operation by adding his own custom farm service company, agricultural construction company, and trucking service. Additionally, he grows wheat, corn, peas, soybeans, and cotton in an environmentally friendly way through the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program. By using best management practices on his farm, Nunn has reduced inputs, boost soil health, and increased yields.
For Raymond “Rick” Roth of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the most important lessons he inherited along with the family operation was how to treat and listen to your employees. By doing this, Roth has been able to form new partnerships and expand the business to include a vegetable packing house. This addition has increased efficiency, yields, and soil conservation efforts. Roth is as diverse in his crop endeavors as he is in his leadership roles, taking part in various local, state, and national organizations.
I.F. Anderson Farms, the largest baitfish hatchery in the world, is co-owned and operated by state winner Jamie Anderson of Lonoke, Arkansas. This hatchery covers 3,334 water acres and is the top national producer of golden shiner minnows. Anderson wears many hats in his role since he oversees everything from permitting requirements to the management of their 52 workers. Over the years, the company has had to change its marketing approach to overcome industry challenges and keep up with the times. Anderson and his wife have been directly involved in their community through expanding career training programs and taking part in programs to reduce their environmental impact.
Third-generation farmer Thomas Ellis has created a state-of-the-art operation in Lowndes County, Alabama, where he raises broilers, cattle, and forage. Ellis and his family also work together in their pecan processing and manufacturing enterprise, which has been in the family since 1935. Ellis is devoted to proper land stewardship and regularly makes management decisions that lower his operations’ environmental impact. He not only looks to boost success within his business enterprises but in the industry, local and state communities.
Within each state, candidates are nominated, and from the nominations, a winner is chosen. Each state winner receives a $2,500 cash prize alongside an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Ag Expo and a variety of other gifts. Out of the ten state winners, an overall Farmer of the Year winner is chosen. Each winner demonstrates excellence in agriculture and shows a commitment to the betterment of the agriculture industry.