By Chip Blalock

For the 34th consecutive year, the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition is honored to salute the agricultural community and industry with the Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award. 

How exactly did the Farmer of the Year program get started? In the late 1980s, Swisher International tobacco company CEO Tom Ryan and Regional Sales Manager Bobby Batson wanted to do something to “Salute the American Farmer.” They participated in Ag trade shows but wanted to do more than just a promotional exhibit. Tom and Bobby had a conversation with the Sunbelt Ag Expo Director Ed White about the possibility of doing a regional program that recognized farmers. 

In 1990, Swisher and the Expo began the Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo SE Farmer of the Year program. Participating states included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Nelson Gardner, a Dairyman from Bridgewater, VA was selected as the first ever SE Farmer of the Year.  The program has evolved into the most prestigious honor in the southeast with 296 outstanding agri-business leaders being honored for their “excellence in agriculture.”

***Note – Over the next several weeks, we look forward to taking you on a journey of the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Program.  This is the first blog in the series.

Sunbelt Ag Expo 1990 Southeastern Farmers of the Year