Six months after capturing Alabama’s 2007 Farm of Distinction Award from the Alabama Farm-City Committee, the Gilley family of Cullman County moves into yet another round of competition at the 30th annual Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., Oct. 16-18.This time, Billy Gilley will be representing Alabama for the title of Southeastern Farmer of the Year in a contest with farmers from eight other Southeastern states.”I feel that God has truly blessed me to be able to earn a living doing something that I truly love and enjoy — farming,” said Gilley, who oversees the farm’s 200-head purebred Charolais while his wife, Terri, is in charge of the couple’s six broiler houses.Daughter Angela, who works for the Farm Service Agency and is now working on her master’s degree at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, also grew up working on the farm and winning awards in livestock shows. Also helping out on the farm is Billy’s cousin, Jennifer Dias.The Gilleys took a leap of faith 16 years ago when Billy decided to trade the steady hours and dependable paycheck of a factory job to build their first four 40- by 500-foot broiler houses with Ingram Farms. There’s been no looking back since.”Well, I guess I enjoy the challenge,” Billy said prior to the family’s Farm of Distinction win last April at the annual Farm-City Awards in Birmingham. “You know, the challenge and at the end of the day being able to look back and see what we’ve accomplished. Each day I try to do something to improve our operation and make it more efficient or improve the appearance of it. And I enjoy that and by the end of the day, if there’s something you’re not satisfied with, by then you’re too tired to worry about it anyway.”While Terri stays busy in the poultry houses, which produce 1,072,500 birds (4,500,000 pounds of meat) annually for Tyson Foods, Billy stays busy building up his cattle operation. “I sell my purebred Charolais bulls private treaty to purebred and commercial cattlemen,” said Billy. “My purebred Charolais heifers go back into the herd, or I sell them for show heifers and club calf projects. All commercial cattle are sold through auction barns.”Currently, Gilley Farms covers 350 acres, up from the 30 acres he purchased in 1989. But Billy hopes to expand the operation by purchasing more land as it becomes available.The family’s Farm of Distinction Award was based on their management, conservation and environmental practices as well as the overall aesthetic appearance of the farm and leadership of the farm owner.As the Farm of Distinction winner, the Gilleys received a John Deere Gator CX valued at more than $5,000 donated by Alabama SunSouth dealers in Abbeville, Andalusia, Brundidge, Clanton, Dothan, Montgomery, Samson and Tuskegee and Georgia SunSouth dealers in Blakely, Columbus, Donalsonville and LaGrange. In addition, the Alabama Farmers Cooperative presented them with a $1,250 gift certificate, redeemable at any of its member Quality Co-op stores.In addition, the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Health awarded the Gilleys an engraved farm sign valued at more than $1,500.As the Alabama state winner, Gilley also received a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Ag Expo from Swisher International, a jacket and a $200 gift certificate from the Williamson-Dickie Company, a commemorative fireproof home safe from Misty Morn Safe Co., and a $500 gift certificate from Southern States.He is also now eligible for the $14,000 that will go to the overall winner and the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America.Alabama has had one overall winner — Raymond Jones of Huntsville was 1996 Southeastern Farmer of the Year.
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