Walter Dantzler of Santee, S.C., is a Vietnam War veteran who sincerely appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the heritage of his multigenerational farm.
A farmer for 45 years, Dantzler farms 4,487 acres. This includes 2,626 acres of rented land and 1,861 acres of owned land. He farms 3,975 acres of cultivated land and has 512 acres of timber.
As a result of his success as a crop farmer, Dantzler has been selected as the South Carolina state winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Dantzler joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
His major crops include corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and wheat. Last year’s per acre yields were 125 bushels of dryland corn from 1,410 acres, 190 bushels of irrigated corn from 356 acres, 1,005 pounds of cotton from 505 acres, 3,900 pounds of peanuts from 326 acres, 42 bushels of soybeans from 860 acres, and 48 bushels of wheat from 902 acres.
This year, he’s growing his first runner peanuts. He normally plants Virginia type peanuts. Georgia-09B, the runner variety, features high oleic chemistry resulting in longer shelf life for peanut products. It helps that contract prices are a bit higher for peanuts with the high oleic trait.
Strip tillage has become an important practice. It involves subsoiling under the row while maintaining plant residue on the soil surface. Dantzler says this practice has resulted in better weed control, less erosion and more efficient moisture use.
His center pivot irrigation covers 375 acres. He intends to install another pivot this fall, and one more in 2015. He has installed more than 25,000 feet of drain tile, and hopes to identify additional fields that would benefit from better drainage.
He uses grid-based soil sampling and variable rate fertilizer application on his irrigated land to maximize yield in fields with varying soil types.
Vertical tillage is a promising new practice for cutting and sizing crop residue while keeping most residue on the surface. Dantzler says the benefits include smoother land and better seedling emergence without drying out the soil.
His plans include adding more cover crops and expanding farming acreage as land becomes available.
“I grew up on the family farm,” he says. The 4-H Club introduced Dantzler to showing beef cattle. After serving in Vietnam, he returned to the farm and focused on managing the cattle. The farm also had a hog operation. As the crop enterprises grew, the family phased out of livestock. “We now have the seventh generation of our family participating in the production and conservation efforts on our farm,” he says.
“We use hedging, puts, calls, forward contracts and spot sales in marketing our crops,” says Dantzler. “We use a brokerage service for pricing information, and we attend marketing seminars and try to stay abreast of market influences.”
Dantzler is also a partner in Holly Hill Grain LLC, a facility for shipping grain by rail. “This gave us another option for marketing our wheat,” explained Dantzler.
“I’m proud of my military service,” he says. He received the Army Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star. “I came home from Vietnam in good health and to the structured environment of the farm,” he says. Dantzler also supports an American Farm Bureau initiative aimed at finding work on American farms for war veterans, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan
Dantzler is a lifetime member of Providence United Methodist Church. He has been active in the church on its administrative board and board of trustees, as a choir member and as a youth group counselor. He is also a young adult Sunday school teacher at the church.
He served as a Little League baseball coach during the early 1980’s. At Holly Hill Academy, he was the girls’ varsity basketball coach during the 1980’s and the junior varsity boys’ basketball coach during the 1970’s. From 1983 until last year, he served on the board of directors for Holly Hill Academy, and for most of that time, he served as treasurer for the school’s board.
Dantzler served as president of Orangeburg County Farm Bureau during the 1990’s. He is a member of the county Farm Services Agency committee. He serves on the board of First National Bank of South Carolina. He is a past president of the Orangeburg County Cattlemen’s Association.
On the state level, Dantzler is a proud Clemson University graduate. He served as president of the S.C. Young Farmers Association in 1980. He is a past chairman of the S.C. Independent School Association, and served on this Association’s board of directors and chaired its Athletics Committee. At S.C. Farm Bureau, he serves on the Executive Committee and as a district director-at-large.
Dantzler was chairman of the S.C. Pork Board during the 1980’s. He was on the Clemson University Board of Visitors from 2007 until 2010. He was named S.C. Young Farmer of the Year in 1980. He received the S.C. Farm Bureau Distinguished Service award in 2011. He also was recognized on the district level as a S.C. Farm Bureau Young Farm Family. He was a S.C. Pork All American and Spokesman for Agriculture. And he also served on the S.C. Commodities Board.
He has been a voting delegate to American Farm Bureau Federation conventions, and has met with S.C. elected officials during Farm Bureau trips to Washington, D.C.
His wife Maida had a distinguished career as a science teacher. She is also active in Providence United Methodist Church. She taught at Holly Hill Academy from 1970 until 2009, and served as head of the school’s Science Dept. She currently reviews online biology courses for Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
Maida enjoys horseback riding and is recognized as a butterfly and gardening expert. She has served as president and in a number of other roles for The Garden Club of South Carolina. She serves in several volunteer leadership positions for the National Garden Clubs.
Walter and Maida have three adult sons, Bryan, David and Brook.
David received B.S. and M.S. degrees in forestry from Clemson University. He works for the Coastal Regional Commission of Georgia where he uses his expertise in geographic information systems (GIS). Brook works as a manager of Dorchester County Farm Bureau Insurance.
Bryan is a partner in the farm. Bryan’s wife Gina is office manager for the farm and their 11-year-old son Dyson has shown a strong interest in joining the family farm.
Brian Callahan, assistant director of field operations with Clemson Extension, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Jonathan Croft, Extension agent in Orangeburg County, nominated Dantzler for the award. “I’ve known him for one and a half years,” says Croft, “and I’ve heard of him and his reputation even before that. Walter is active in the farming community and very deserving of this award.”
As the South Carolina state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Dantzler will 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 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 that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include 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 25th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $964,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous state winners from South Carolina include: Earl Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 1990; Charles Snowden of Hemingway, 1991; Robert E. Connelly, Sr. of Ulmer, 1992; Henry Elliott, Sr. of Andrews, 1993; Ron Stephenson of Chester, 1994; Greg Hyman of Conway, 1995; Randy Lovett of Nichols, 1996; David Drew of Mullins, 1997; Jerry Edge of Conway, 1998; Blake McIntyre, III of Marion, 1999; Raymond Galloway of Darlington, 2000; W. R. Simpson of Manning, 2001; Gill Rogers of Hartsville, 2002; Harold Pitts of Newberry, 2003; Earl Thrailkill of Fort Lawn, 2004; Chalmers Carr of Ridge Spring, 2005; Steve Gamble of Sardinia, 2006; William Johnson of Conway, 2007; Kent Wannamaker of St. Matthews, 2008; Thomas DuRant of Gable, 2009; Marty Easler of Greeleyville, 2010; Kevin Elliott of Nichols, 2011; Monty Rast of Cameron, 2012; and James Cooley of Chesnee, 2013.
South Carolina has had two overall winners, Ron Stephenson of Chester in 1994 and James Cooley of Chesnee in 2013.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit the Dantzler farm, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 4-8. The judges this year include farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years; and Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.