Six outstanding family farms will be showcased April 7 as they compete for the title of Alabama Farm of Distinction at the Alabama Farm-City Awards in Birmingham.
The winner will receive over $12,000 in cash and prizes and will represent Alabama in the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year contest at the Sunbelt Ag Expo Oct. 18-20.
Alabama Farm-City Committee Chairman Jeff Helms said the competition recognizes farms of all types and sizes that excel in production, management, stewardship and innovation.
“This will be the 30th year we’ve honored an exceptional agricultural operation with the Farm of Distinction Award,” Helms said. “The list of past recipients includes some of the finest farms in the Southeast, owned by families who are among Alabama’s greatest agricultural leaders.”
Alabama’s Farm of Distinction will receive a John Deere Gator from SunSouth, TriGreen and Snead Ag dealers; a $1,000 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC); $2,500 from Swisher International and an engraved farm sign from Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance. All six finalists will receive a $250 gift certificate from AFC.
Judges Jim Allen of AFC, Lynne Morton of TriGreen and Danny Ray of First South Farm Credit visited the six farms Feb. 11-12.
Pike County farmer Steve Stroud knew he’d found his calling the first time he rode a tractor. Today, not only does he have a successful poultry and hay business, he’s also helping preserve the farming way of life for future generations.
“I’ve always had the desire to farm, and I love what I do,” he said. “I bought my first herd of cattle when I was 16 years old and started raking hay for my dad when I was 10 or 11. I’ve been on a tractor all my life, and I love it.”
Today, Steve and wife Valorie have eight broiler houses, where they raise more than a million chickens a year. They have 145 acres of hay, which produce about 1,500 large round bales a year.
Steve also is working to help other farmers be successful. He is president of the Pike County Farmers Federation and recently was elected to the Federation’s state board of directors representing six counties.
The Strouds attend Springhill South Baptist Church and have one daughter, Abigail.
Hale County farmer Randy Hollingsworth fell in love at the age of 13 — not with a girl, but with catfish farming.
“I’ve always loved it. It’s hard work, but I still feed fish, and I love to see them grow,” he said. “It’s always amazed me how they can go from a fry — something you can see through — and you can raise them up to a food fish.”
Although he later met Emily, the true love of his life, Randy discovered his passion for catfish while working in a Greensboro processing plant, feeding a 25-acre pond for the plant manager and running a catfish hatchery.
Today, the Hollingsworths have 600 acres of water where they produce more than 4 million pounds of catfish a year. Randy said skyrocketing production costs and competition from imported Asian fish left many catfish farmers swimming up stream in recent years.
“It was tough, but things are looking better this year,” he said.
The Hollingsworths are active in the Alabama Farmers Federation, Catfish Farmers of America and Greensboro Baptist Church. They have two daughters, Frances and Kathryn.
Washington County is better known for forestry and wildlife than corn and cotton, but over 70 years and three generations, the Richardson family built one of Alabama’s most distinctive row crop farms in one of the least likely places.
Today, the farm covers 2,000 acres and includes 740 acres of cotton, 340 acres of corn, 520 acres of peanuts and 320 acres of wheat. The Richardsons also have a 75-cow beef herd.
Rod Richardson attributes recent growth of the farm to his sons, Walt, David and Will.
“Before they started, I was growing 1,300 acres of row crops using four-row equipment,” he recalled. “Right after they started farming with me, we went to an eight-row planter and then a 12-row. We bought tractors with GPS technology. I don’t think I would have done that had it not been for them.”
The Richardsons are active in the Washington County Farmers Federation, Cattlemen’s Association and Soil and Water Conservation District. Rod and wife Anna attend Pine Grove United Methodist Church. They have four children, including the three sons and daughter Dana.
As one of the nation’s leading producers of SimAngus bulls and heifers, Gibbs Farms of Cleburne County is driven by a commitment to excellence.
“I want everybody to know we’re real and know we’re trying hard to be as good as we can be. We’re trying hard to be the best,” said Doug Gibbs. “Any cattle I place in a customer’s pasture I want to know they’re 100 percent successful.”
Founded in 1961 by Wendell and Nan Gibbs, the farm spans three states and includes 750 acres of owned land and more than 1,000 acres of leased and rented pastures.
Each year, the Gibbs market close to 500 SimAngus bulls and heifers through its state-of-the-art sale barn and ships two or three 50,000-pound loads of feeder cattle to Kansas. In addition, the farm has 26 bulls leased to major bull breeding companies and sells semen from 13 other bulls.
Wendell Gibbs is past president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association and Beef Cattle Improvement Association. The Gibbses have three children, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
In 68 years, Tate Farms in Madison County has grown from 40 acres of rented land and a dream to a 5,000-acre family business that’s a national model for innovation.
Last year, the family planted about 1,500 acres of corn; 2,000 acres of soybeans; 1,400 acres of cotton; 1,400 acres of wheat; and 75 acres of pumpkins, which were used in their agritainment business — Cotton Pickin’ Pumpkins.
“There’s a lot of kids in the city and even in the county who’ve never been exposed to agriculture,” said Jeff Tate. “We try to bring them in and teach them a little bit about agriculture. They have fun and get to pick a pumpkin, but it also helps us build a relationship with them.”
Each fall, about 50,000 people visit Tate Farms. The family also hosts as many as 23 weddings a year, plus dozens of corporate events for companies like Boeing.
Tate Farms is a partnership among founder Homer Tate; his sons Mike, Steve and Jeff; and nephew Pat Brown.
The partners are leaders in county, state and national farm organizations, as well as their churches and community.
For Trantham Farms in Calhoun County, diversification is the name of the game.
“We grow wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton, and we have about a 150-cow beef herd,” said Doug Trantham. “We also run a small feed business and a trucking company that primarily hauls feed for the poultry industry.”
Farm partners include Doug Trantham, daughter Page, son Daniel, brother David, and nephew Troy. The operation includes 1,700 acres of row crops and a fleet of 70 trucks. The feed mill markets whole grains as well as horse, hog, chicken and goat rations through co-ops within a 60-mile radius of the farm.
“Even with its up and downs, farming has been good to me and my family,” Trantham said. “It’s been a good life. We’ve enjoyed it very much and wouldn’t take anything in the world for it.”
The Tranthams are active in their churches and have held leadership positions in the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.