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August 27, 2015

Clockwise from left, Gene Renfroe discusses his TREASURE Forest; Chuck Caraway of Southern Classic Foods of Brundidge, left, talks with Alabama Farmers Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan and Federation Horticulture Director Mac Higgingbotham; and bottom, Wiregrass farmers outside Goden Boy Peanut Butter Plant in Troy.

Nearly 40 Wiregrass farmers visited Pike County Thursday to learn about the area's diverse production agriculture and related industries, which included stops at manufacturing plants and a forestry and wildlife utopia.

Agriculture is the county's leading industry, responsible for an annual economic impact of $2.7 billion, according to a recent Auburn University survey. Peanuts have a prominent place in the county and its farming history. A tour at Golden Boy Peanut Butter Plant showed many farmers how peanuts they grow are made into the delicious food staple.

Breathtaking views and close contact with native plants and wildlife were the backdrop for the tour of Gene and Jana Renfroe's farm near the Hepzibah Community. The Renfroes both serve as directors for the Alabama TREASURE Forest Association. Their efforts combine timber management, stewardship and education on their farm.

"We have a lot of groups tour our farm," Gene Renfroe said. "It's important for us to allow people who don't have access to the outdoors, the woods and wildlife to come here and appreciate those things. I would encourage any of you who are farmers and landowners to think about inviting groups to your farm."

While at the Renfroes' farm, tour participants heard from Pike County's Mike Chirico, who discussed his tilapia fish farm in nearby Coffee County.

The final tour stop was in Brundidge at Southern Classic Food Group LLC and the future home of Magnolia Vegetable Processors under construction nearby. Plant Manager Chuck Caraway told farmers he was looking for farmers to grow the cucumbers, okra and other vegetables he'll need for the new plant.

Pike County Farmers Federation President Steve Stroud the new vegetable processing plant is a good fit for area farmers.

"It think it's wonderful that we have a company right here in Pike County that is willing and able to buy locally grown farm products," Stroud said. "Farmers have a great opportunity to diversify into the produce industry like never before. Cucumbers and okra are a good fit for our area farmers."

The group toured Covington County farms Wednesday, visiting row crop, livestock and poultry operations highlighting that county's diverse agricultural industry and made a stop at PowerSouth's electricity generating plant.

While most of the farmers on the tour live only a short drive from Pike County, tours like the one Thursday offer them the opportunity for a closer look at what Pike County farmers are doing  to make their farms successful. 

"Farmers are constantly looking for ways to improve what they do and become more efficient," said Federation Area 8 Organization Director Boyd Deal, who organized the tour. "The cost of land, equipment, seed, feed and fertilizer has gone up drastically in recent years, and the price the farmer is paid for what he grows hasn't kept an even pace. So the best farmers can do is try to find ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency."

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