When John DeLoach travels to the Sunbelt Ag Expo this month to compete for Southeastern Farmer of the Year, he will take a 200-year agricultural heritage, record-setting productivity and a plan for the future.
“What an honor it is to have the opportunity to take care of this land for a lifetime, and what a responsibility it is to pass that on to future generations,” said DeLoach, who farms corn, soybeans and wheat with wife Kate and son Jess.
The Shelby County family was named Alabama’s Farm of Distinction in April, earning the right to compete against nine other top farmers for the regional title. DeLoach traces his passion for farming back to his grandparents.
“Before he died, my grandfather gave me a deep appreciation for the land,” DeLoach said. “I was 13 when he passed away. Grandma talked about selling the farm, but I told her I’d come every day after school to help. At 16, when I graduated high school, I pretty much took over running the farm.”
At that time, the small cattle farm near Vincent had been in the DeLoach family since 1820 and was plagued by erosion and infertility. John and Kate set out to make a life and a living on the land.
“Early in our marriage, we worked around-the-clock on the farm,” recalled Kate.
The young couple began transitioning the farm to row crops in the late ‘90s. They also cleared land, established a 20-acre managed wetland and implemented other soil conservation measures.
“We were broke and didn’t have much equipment,” DeLoach said. “The first year, I planted corn with a two-row planter. I had a one-row ear snapper and a dump truck I built out of scrap material.”
Two decades later, DeLoach Farms is among the most productive in central Alabama. The 1,325-acre spread includes 700 acres of soybeans and 235 acres of corn. This spring, DeLoach exceeded 90 bushels per acre on 200 acres of wheat, which was double cropped with soybeans. He expects this harvest to surpass last year’s 180-bushel corn and 65-bushel soybean yields.
DeLoach credits a willingness to learn from his farm’s success. He plants test plots with seed companies and university researchers and participates in leadership development activities with the Alabama Farmers Federation and other groups. These experiences are shaping the farm’s future. Shelby County is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, so the DeLoaches are looking to diversify. Jess has expressed an interest in beekeeping and agritourism, and this year the family planted a variety of grapes in two test vineyards. They also have chosen a picturesque location for a potential on-farm wedding venue.
“We talk about sustaining agriculture, and we’re probably not going to be able to continue row cropping in Shelby County,” DeLoach said. “I’m excited to have Jess here, and he’s really interested in the vineyard and agritourism. There’s a huge learning curve involved, but we’re just going to start small, learn and grow from there.”
As Alabama’s Farm of Distinction, the DeLoaches received a John Deere Gator from Ag Pro, SunSouth and TriGreen dealers; an engraved farm sign from Alfa Insurance; a pole barn from Register Barns; and a $1,000 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative. At the Sunbelt Ag Expo, they’ll also receive $2,500 from Swisher International, a $500 gift certificate from Southern States and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
The Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year will be announced Oct. 16 in Moultrie, Georgia, and receives $15,000 and other prizes. n