Auburn University’s College of Agriculture and Agricultural Alumni Club recognized five industry leaders for their contributions to Alabama agriculture through the years during the 2021 Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor Banquet, held Sept. 16 at the Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel and Conference Center at Grand National.
Homer Tate of Meridianville; Bill Gilley of Philadelphia, Mississippi; and Ron Smith of Auburn were inducted into the Hall of Honor. The late David Yow Pearce and the late James Plaster were honored with the Pioneer Award.
Tate, representing the production sector, began managing his family’s 50-acre farm at age 18, eventually growing it to an 18,000-acre operation that today includes cotton as well as corn, wheat and soybeans. Over the years, Tate Farms has continually diversified and advanced its use of new farming technology. It remains in family hands to this day. Tate Farms has also expanded over the years to include an agritourism site, Cotton Pickin’ Pumpkins, which attracts about 60,000 visitors each fall.
Gilley, Hall of Honor inductee in the agribusiness sector, spent much of his career with Conagra Foods, where he served as bird health director for all Conagra operations in Alabama and Georgia, among other roles. In one of his earliest positions with the company, he developed an environmental-controlled house for growing broilers and replacement pullets, producing management procedures that are still in use across the poultry industry today.
Education/government sector inductee Ron Smith spent 50 seasons developing applied research and educational programs on insect management and control. He also influenced the early adoption of new technology and developed scouting techniques and economic treatment thresholds for new pests as they emerged. Smith has also been a leading scientist in designing successful insect management programs for cotton growers in Alabama and other cotton-producing states.
Without a farming background, Pearce and his wife, Fran, moved to a cattle farm in the Dallas County community of Browns, but it was the farm’s five catfish ponds that soon became his passion. Pearce worked to turn the five ponds into a thriving business that now includes 121 ponds. Fifty years since the company’s inception, Pearce Catfish Farm today is one of the nation’s leaders. In addition to operating his farm, Pearce and a dozen other farmers built the Alabama Catfish Feed Mill in Uniontown, where Pearce served as president.
Plaster was known for his numerous roles as an Alabama public servant while maintaining his family farm in Autaugaville. As a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, he was an influential member of several committees, including the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, which he co-chaired. He was also instrumental in establishing the Catfish Diagnostic Laboratory in Greensboro and the Alabama Crop Improvement Association Seed Technology Lab in Auburn.
For more information on the Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor, visit agriculture.auburn.edu/alumni/hall-of-honor.