By Marlee Jackson
Tommy Brown has a penchant for helping people. A retired Alabama Extension agent, Brown spent decades cultivating community, investing in youth and improving farmers’ bottom lines.
For that and more, Brown received the Alabama Farmers Federation Cultivator Award Dec. 4 during the organization’s annual meeting in Montgomery. The award honors leaders who foster relationships to benefit farmers, Federation members and rural communities, said Federation President Jimmy Parnell.
“Tommy has had a tremendous impact on Alabama,” Parnell said. “He cares about making people, and their cattle, better. That’s worth recognizing.”
A self-described “educated cowboy” from Hackneyville in Tallapoosa County, Brown spent the bulk of his career in Chilton County.
Brown showed steers as a teen, and his homegrown passion fueled work helping youth raise functional, practical livestock. But lessons extending beyond the showring were Brown’s priority.
“Learning responsibility and learning to lose were more important to me than learning to win,” said Brown, a two-time graduate of Auburn University who served on the collegiate livestock judging team. “I’d rather have a blue-ribbon kid with a red-ribbon calf. We were developing people.”
As Brown’s career progressed, he zeroed in on cattle genetics. Brown was a pivotal leader in Alabama’s Beef Cattle Improvement Association (BCIA), touting the importance of performance data and record-keeping to generate higher-quality cattle.
His work helped increase average weaning weights from 400 pounds to more than 600 pounds, an industry-changing result, Parnell said.
“Farmers in this state and across the nation respect Tommy and have used his genetic program to improve their cattle herds,” said Parnell, a Chilton County cattle producer. “He has directly impacted farmers’ profit margins. That’s more important today than ever.”
Brown built a strong network across agriculture as he presented educational programs or judged cattle shows in nearly every Alabama county. Integral programming included BCIA heifer sales, the Herd Builder Replacement Sale and board sales for small feeder cattle producers.
An humble, honest man, Brown has earned accolades for his work. Brown is a lifetime director of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and member of its Alabama Livestock Hall of Fame; was inducted in the Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor; and served on the American Simmental Association board. One of his greatest achievements, however, was serving as president of the international Beef Improvement Federation.
Brown retired in 2003, serving his final five years as a regional animal science specialist at the Black Belt Regional Experiment Station. Since hanging up the Extension hat, he’s picked up several others, including serving as genetic and marketing director for Sunshine Farms from 2004-2013. He currently manages genetics for Next Step Cattle Co.
He also enjoys time with his children, Lee and Jill, their spouses and three grandchildren. His wife, Linda, passed in 2020.
Brown manages a small cattle herd with his son-in-law, Brad. It’s peaceful — and reminder of a career serving others.
“The main goal of Extension in the old days was to help farmers, get data that was proven and help them implement it,” he said. “If I could be out there helping people, that’s what I was going to do.”