Five leaders in Alabama agriculture, including four with close ties to the Alabama Farmers Federation, were inducted into the Alabama Agricultural Hall of Honor Feb. 13 in Auburn.
The honorees included SunSouth LLC Board Chairman Lester Killebrew, former Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Albert McDonald and Auburn University Trustee and cotton industry leader Jimmy Sanford. Former Chambers County Farmers Federation President James Collins and former Auburn University Poultry Science Department Head Dale King were honored posthumously with the Pioneer Award.
The Hall of Honor banquet was hosted by the Auburn University Agricultural Alumni Association. Federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan serves as vice president of the group.
“It is a pleasure to honor these men for their service to Alabama farmers,” Pinyan said. “Their work in production agriculture, agribusiness, education and government continues to benefit our state. We appreciate their courage, innovation and generosity as agricultural leaders.”
Killebrew and SunSouth are perennial supporters of Federation programs including the Farm of Distinction and Outstanding Young Farm Family awards. A native of Abbeville, Killebrew began Henry Farm Center in 1969 after graduating from Auburn with an engineering degree. During the next three decades, the John Deere dealership expanded as Killebrew acquired more locations and launched a successful computer business, ValCom. In 2006, Henry Farm Center merged with four other dealerships to form SunSouth.
McDonald farms in Madison County, where he serves on the county Farmers Federation board of directors. In 1974, he was elected to the Alabama Senate and served two terms before being elected commissioner of agriculture. He later served as state executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. McDonald was a leader in efforts to eradicate the boll weevil and is credited for securing passage of key legislation important to the state’s farmers.
Sanford is chairman of the board for HOME Place Farms LLC in Autauga County, where he serves on the Federation State Cotton Committee. He is former president of the National Cotton Council and served in multiple leadership positions for the organization. A fifth-generation farmer in the McQueen-Smith family, Sanford says the farm has survived by responding to changes in technology and market conditions. “We have been able to transition,” he said. “We had the willingness and ability to adapt.”
A former Federation State Beef Committee chairman, Collins passed away in 2009 but left an indelible mark on the lives of students who worked at his Cusseta beef and hay farm. Although Collins was respected for his Angus beef cattle and expertise as a ProLix feed dealer, he’s often quoted as saying, “Growing people is as important as growing cattle and hay.” To that end, he provided real-world experience for more than three dozen Auburn students from 1973 until his death.
King passed away in 1983. His nomination noted he “helped usher in modern-day poultry production — replacing the backyard-chicken business and turning poultry into Alabama’s most successful industry.”
A native of Oregon, King joined the staff at Auburn in 1930 before being named department head in 1947. His research led to the development of broiler management systems still used today.
Ninety-one Alabama ag leaders have been inducted into the Hall of Honor since 1985. Thirty-eight were honored with the Pioneer Award. For a list visit, ag.auburn.edu/alumni/hall-of-honor/.