Three finalists are vying for the title of Alabama’s 2018 Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) — and more than $70,000 in prizes — during on-farm judging this summer. The contest, organized by the Alabama Farmers Federation Young Farmers Division, spotlights members 18-35 years old who derive more than half their income from on-farm production. The OYFF will be announced at the Commodity Producers Conference in Montgomery Aug. 4.
The OYFF prize package includes $35,000 toward a new Ford truck courtesy of Alfa Insurance; a John Deere 825i Gator sponsored by Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit; and a lease on a John Deere tractor provided by John Deere, Ag Pro, TriGreen Equipment and SunSouth. New sponsor Register Barn Co. will provide the OYFF a 30-by-40-foot pole barn. Alabama’s OYFF also receives an expense-paid trip to the national competition in New Orleans in January 2019.
Runners-up each receive $500 from Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit. Finalists were selected after interviews at the Young Farmers Conference in March.
Chad and Heather Grant
Chad and Heather Grant love watching their kids play on a grassy hill next to six sprawling poultry houses on their farm in rural Butler County. For them, their farm is about as close to heaven as it gets.
“When I was in high school, if you had told me I would be a poultry farmer one day I would have laughed at you,” Chad said. “All I wanted to do was be a mechanic. But right now, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than raising my children on a farm.”
If not for the beautifully landscaped sign along the county road, it’d be easy to miss their Southern Comfort Farm and the broiler houses tucked behind the hill.
Their children — Abigail, 7, Levi, 5, and Will, 3 — enjoy spending time with their parents on the farm, fishing and at the ballfield.
The Grants said the farm provides the flexibility they wanted when they started a family.
“Last year, Chad helped coach Abigail’s softball team, and this year he’s helping coach Levi’s T-ball team. With most jobs, he wouldn’t be able to do that,” said the stay-at-home mom.
Chad and Heather bought four poultry houses from his dad, Craig, in 2014. Two years later, they bought two from Chad’s brother, Casey. Chad also does land clearing and bulldozer work for area landowners.
“We’ve made a big investment in technology on our farm, and it pays,” said Chad, pointing to computerized systems used to monitor the farm remotely. Updated water systems help their chickens gain weight and increase profits, he said.
The couple, who grow for Koch Foods, Inc. in Montgomery, said they want to expand their goat herd and eventually add beef cattle to the farm.
“I’ve got to continue to invest in my farm if I want to stay on top,” Chad said.
Gannon and Kristin Nunley
For Gannon and Kristin Nunley, FFA string band set the stage for loving more than music and each other.
FFA fueled their agricultural passion, and in 2012, the first-generation farmers bought six chicken houses in Vina in Franklin County.
“Poultry is a good business for people like us,” said 34-year-old Gannon, who grew up wanting to farm. “We’re not inheriting land or equipment. It’s a way to start carving out a multi-generational farm.”
They raise 9-pound broilers — about 456,000 annually — at Nunley Farms and have cleared land to pasture around 50 commercial and registered cattle.
“Since we don’t have a lot of acreage and we’re landlocked, we’re trying to get as much return per acre as possible,” said Gannon, who serves on the State Poultry Committee and Franklin County Farmers Federation board.
A former Franklin County Young Farmers chair, Gannon worked in plumbing and electrical wiring before approaching a local farmer about buying his operation. “I remember driving by and thinking, ‘Man, I’d like to have this place,’” Gannon said. “We kept pursuing and did a lot of praying and searching. When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Auburn University graduate Kristin carries farm experiences to Hamilton High School in Marion County, where she teaches agriscience and advises FFA.
“The students see that we’re not just reading about ag in a textbook,” said Kristin, 34. “I’m living it every day.”
Gannon and Kristin focus on the next generation by hiring high school help — and by investing in 7-year-old Cooper and 4-year-old Adalie.
“We try to show them the big picture as much as possible,” Gannon said. “We can lay our heads down at night knowing…someone got to eat today because we did a good job.”
The Nunleys are involved in music ministry at Red Bay Freewill Baptist Church, where Gannon chairs the board of trustees.
Chris and Jordyn Upchurch
When Chris and Jordyn Upchurch look at Rockin U farm, they see more than cattle and poultry houses. It’s a gift of heritage for the farm’s fifth generation, a son due in September.
“I like the challenge of starting with a chick or calf and seeing the growing process,” said 31-year-old Chris, a fourth-generation Clay County poultry farmer. “I enjoy farming as a family and look forward to raising our little boy on a farm and instilling in him the value of hard work.”
Chris started his cattle herd at age 13 with seven cows. He married fourth-generation farmer Jordyn in 2015, and today, their farm encompasses over 300 acres, 130 cows and three poultry houses.
They partner with Jordyn’s father on C&J Farm, a trucking and poultry house clean-out business. The business annually hauls around 600 loads of poultry house bedding and manure, a natural fertilizer.
“Few people work this closely with family. That’s special,” said Jordyn, 24, a Jacksonville State University graduate. “Getting to raise our kids on the farm is a big deal to me. If I worked in town, we wouldn’t get to do this together.”
Recent farm diversification includes baleage —over 3,500 bales in 2017 — and testing to improve hay quality.
“Coming out of a hard winter, our cows were in better shape this year, and our costs decreased tremendously,” said Chris, an Auburn University agricultural economics graduate. “We even had hay leftover to sell for extra income.”
Off the farm, they promote agriculture and small-town life in Lineville through the Clay County Young Farmers, county cattlemen’s association and Lineville Baptist Church. Chris also serves as State Poultry Committee second vice chairman.
“When I get up in the morning, I don’t have to go to work. I get to go to work,” Chris said. “It all goes back to working together as a family.”