Four farms as diverse as the regions of the state they represent are competing for the title of Alabama Farm of Distinction at the Alabama Farm-City Awards April 2 in Birmingham.
The winner will receive more than $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. 20-22 in Moultrie, Georgia.
Alabama Farm-City Committee Chairman Jeff Helms said the contest recognizes sustainable farm businesses that exhibit sound management, environmental stewardship and innovation.
“Alabama’s Farm of Distinction is the highest honor an agricultural operation can receive,” Helms said. “The Farm-City Committee created the award to showcase exceptional farms as it seeks to improve understanding and cooperation between farmers and their urban or suburban neighbors.”
Each finalist will receive a plaque and $250 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC). Prizes for the overall winner include a John Deere Gator from SunSouth, TriGreen and Snead Ag dealers; a $1,000 gift certificate from AFC; $2,500 from Swisher International and an engraved farm sign from Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance.
Judges Jim Allen of AFC, Jay Hamlett of TriGreen Equipment and Emery Tschetter of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System visited the finalists Feb. 11-12.
Finalists are Lance and Heather Whitehead of Fayette County, Mitch and Dawn Lazenby of Lee County, Rickey and Connie Cornutt of Marshall County and Joe and Edria Todd of Henry County.
Rickey Cornutt, 52, has traveled to Washington, D.C., and other big cities as a leader in the Marshall County Farmers Federation, but his heart will always be on the family farm near Boaz.
“I have always loved being outside and helping my father work,” Cornutt said. “During high school, I was able to co-op and come home and work. When I finished high school, my desire was to be a full-time farmer. I went to college for one year, and then realized that farming was where my heart was.”
That was 1981. Today, Cornutt Farms LLC covers 2,050 acres and includes 600 acres of corn, 600 acres of soybeans, 250 acres of wheat, 600 acres of pasture land and hay, 250 beef cows and 90 head of stocker calves.
In addition to being president of the county Farmers Federation, Cornutt is supervisor of the Marshall County Soil and Water Conservation Committee and serves on the Federation State Soybean Committee.
The Cornutts have two children, Leslie Baugh, 26, and Cara, 19.
Mitch Lazenby, 42, grew up knowing one day he would be a farmer.
“I worked with my dad through high school and into my freshman year in college,” Lazenby said. “When he suffered a detached retina and had emergency eye surgery, the responsibility of the farm was placed into my hands. I finished the year with an average yield, the confidence to start farming on my own and the courage to grow it into what we have today.”
The farm now spans 1,500 acres and includes cotton, peanuts, wheat, sesame, corn, 100 beef cows and 120 Angus-Simmental bulls in a development program. Each fall, the Lazenbys open the farm to the public as a pumpkin patch. Last year, they also hosted about 40 events including weddings, receptions and corporate meetings.
Lazenby serves on the Lee County Farmers Federation Board of Directors and is a former member of the State Young Farmers Committee.
The Lazenbys have three children, Jamie Claire, 7, Jamison, 6, and Jonah, 4.
Joe Todd, 79, has steered people back on the straight and narrow as a police officer and prison warden, but today he helps keep students and adults on the right path by sharing his love of farming.
The Todds’ 76-acre agritourism operation in Henry County centers around nine acres of sugar cane, but it also includes an orchard, vineyard and produce business.
“We have a retail store, syrup making operation, certified canning kitchen and museum containing over 600 items of family farming history dating back to 1768,” Todd said. “We have given tours to visitors from China, Russia, England, Morocco, Tunisia, Romania, all Caribbean Islands, Central and South America and all 50 states.”
The Todds also give syrup making demonstrations at Landmark Park and the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, and they are relocating the Henry County Farm-City Petting Zoo to their farm. In addition, the Todds give a scholarship each year to a student seeking a degree in agriculture. The Todds have three children, Dewey, 52, Debra Roulaine, 54, and Joe Goldman, 39.
Lance Whitehead, 42, built his 2,500-acre farm from the ground up. He began farming at age 15 on land he rented from neighbors. After earning a degree in agricultural economics from Auburn University, the young entrepreneur worked as a farm manager while saving money and gaining experience.
In 2003, he struck out on his own with 1,300 acres of row crops near Fayette. Today, the operation stretches into Pickens County and includes 1,350 acres of cotton, 525 acres of corn, 385 acres of peanuts and 225 acres of soybeans.
“We pride ourselves on sound management and good stewardship of the land,” Whitehead said.
In addition to farming, Whitehead operates CLT Farms LLC, which hauls commodities and fertilizer for his farm and others in the area. He also is a leader in the farming community, serving on the Fayette County Farmers Federation Board of Directors, Alabama Cotton Commission and National Cotton Council, among others.
The Whiteheads have two children, Alex, 12, and Laci, 8.