When Jim Cravey nervously walked on stage to address the annual meeting of the Alabama Farmers Federation in 1964 as state FFA president, he had no way of knowing he would return to the podium 40 years later to accept the highest honor that organization bestows on a current or former employee–the Special Service to Agriculture Award.”I didn’t realize anything this big existed,” Jim recalled of his FFA experience. “I thought, what a wonderful group of people.”Four decades later, Jim, who will retire in February as senior director of the Federation’s Commodity Department and director of its Dairy Division, still praises the farmers he’s worked with for the past 34 years. “One of my greatest blessings has been learning about the agricultural industry and having a close working relationship with the producers within that industry,” he said.Based on the standing ovation Jim received from the 2,000 Federation members on hand for his award presentation, it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual.Over the years, Jim has worked tirelessly to cultivate relationships within the Farmers Federation and the agricultural community as a whole. Federation President Jerry Newby said Jim’s friendly attitude and generous nature have made him an effective advocate for farmers.”Jim is a true people person,” Newby said. “He has used his diplomatic skills to unite Alabama and Southeastern dairy farmers as they worked together to achieve common goals. He also has won the hearts of Federation members from every commodity division by being not only an advocate for agriculture, but also by being their friend.”A native of Covington County, Jim grew up on his family’s cattle and row crop farm near Florala, but it wasn’t until high school that he made the decision that began shaping him into an agricultural leader.”In ninth grade, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about agriculture, so I didn’t sign up for vo-ag (vocational agribusiness) class,” Jim said. “I figured Dad could teach me everything I needed to know.”But Florala High School ag teacher William F. Rasberry wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He visited the Cravey farm and made such an impression on the young man that Jim soon was working hard to excel in FFA and please his teacher.In March of 1970, Jim graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from Auburn University where he served as president of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. He joined the Alabama National Guard and was called to active duty shortly after graduation. At that time, he was working for Con-Agra Poultry in Dalton, Ga. But in October of that year he returned from Fort Bragg, N.C., got married, was hired as the Federation’s first full-time Young Farmers director and bought a house–all in one month.Jim, who was trained as a tanker with the National Guard in Florala, requested reassignment to the Air National Guard in Montgomery where he served as a photographer until he left the service in 1976.Meanwhile, his career with the Alabama Farmers Federation was taking off. Four years after joining the staff, he was promoted to director of the Commodity Department and took on the added responsibility of directing the Dairy Division.Former State Dairy Committee Chairman James Cook of Conecuh County remembers Jim as being eager to learn and enthusiastic. “He was energetic and gung ho. He didn’t know anything about milking cows, but he learned a lot about pulling the organization together and staying out of the politics of it. Jim always wanted everything we did to be top-notch.”Although Jim has friends in every commodity, he’s remained particularly close to the dairy farmers who took him under their wings.”The dairy committee took me in. They knew I would do what they wanted me to do, within reason,” Jim said. “I’m still a student, and the dairy farmers are my teachers. I always felt my job was to gather information and present both sides of every issue, but the farmers always made the decisions.”Among Jim’s teachers were State Dairy Committee chairmen James Cook, Buddy Buckner, Charles Williams, Don Whorton, Hubert Goode, Garry Henry, Mickey Childers and Jimmy White. All were outstanding leaders, Jim said, but he had a particular fondness for the late Charles Williams because they shared not only professional success but also personal heartache.Williams was one of the first people Jim talked to in Sept. 2000 when Jim’s wife of 30 years, Paula Daniel Cravey, died from complications following a bone marrow transplant. Williams, who also had lost a wife, was a source of encouragement for Jim. Today, Jim remembers how Paula supported him throughout his career–even going so far as to make a sandwich board for a dairy cow when he had a particularly creative promotion idea.”I was extremely blessed and fortunate to marry Paula Daniel. She was a strong, intelligent mate, mother and friend,” Jim said. “We faced problems together, which made them seem like only 50 percent of a problem because you had someone to help carry the load with you. And, when we had joy, it was magnified by 100 percent.”During his career, Jim has had many opportunities to celebrate success. Under his leadership, the Commodity Department has grown to include 16 commodity divisions composed of more than 500 county commodity committees throughout the state. But of all the projects Jim’s been a part of, three of the Federation’s accomplishments stand out: creation of the Catfish Division, increasing the hauling differentials for the dairy industry in Alabama by 78 cents per hundredweight and implementation of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program.”Our organization played a major role in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, from passing the legislation to implementation,” Jim said. “It gave Alabama cotton producers an opportunity to provide national leadership. It wasn’t an easy sell at first, but once farmers realized the potential benefits, it was a real pleasure to see our farmers take a leadership role.”Over the course of three decades, Jim has seen the Federation transform to meet the changing needs of producers.”When I first started, our organization placed a lot of emphasis on marketing programs,” Jim said. “At one time, we owned grain elevators and were involved in futures marketing and the direct marketing of grain and hogs. As private industry began to provide those same services, we focused our attention on other programs.”We became more active at the national level, and for a single state, the Federation has had a tremendous impact–especially in peanuts, cotton, soybeans, feed grains and dairy,” Jim added. “Our members across the state have developed a close working relationship with the congressional delegation and their staffs. They provide accurate, timely information so the congressional delegation has the information it needs to make decisions.”Jim also has provided national leadership as a member of the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching. In Alabama, he serves on the Auburn University College of Agriculture Dean’s Advisory Council and is president of the Alabama Agribusiness Council. Jim said he plans to stay involved in agriculture when he retires.”I’m looking forward to moving from the employee side to the volunteer side,” Jim said. “I will always work to help strengthen agriculture, and I have a love for Auburn University and look forward to working closely with it to ensure extension and research activities are strengthened.”Jim said he’s also been blessed to meet and fall in love with Cindy Kabase, and the couple is engaged to be married. Meanwhile, retirement will give Jim a chance to spend more time with his children and grandchildren. Son Chad and his wife, Maggie, have two children Blake, 4, and Mary Ellis, 2, and live in Mississippi. Daughter Ashley is married to Will Gregory, and they live in Birmingham.Jim said he also is looking forward to helping his brother, Albert, with their cattle, timber and hunting operation.
Cultivating Relationships – Cravey Honored For 34 Years of Service To Alabama Farmers