By MARTY STEINER
MOULTRIE, Ga. — At the same time of year the World Series and sometimes even national elections compete for attention in recognizing a winner, where is the farmer recognized?
At the annual 2012 Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, the Southeastern Farmer of the Year was the winner. Jim Sidebottom, Kentucky’s Farmer of the Year, and Steve Dixon, Tennessee’s Farmer of the year, each traveled to Moultrie in mid-October with the thought they might be coming home with more than $20,000 in cash and prizes as the Southeastern Farmer of the Year.
Though neither won – that honor went to the Florida candidate – Sidebottom and Dixon, along with eight other states’ winners, were selected by their state Farm Bureaus for this recognition. For the last 23 years, a Farmer of the Year from each of the participating states is recognized; then, a single Southeastern Farmer of the Year is selected from that group and presented at the Expo’s opening day luncheon.
Kentucky first participated in 2009 and has not yet taken the coveted overall title. Tennessee has had nominees since 1990 and won the top spot in 1998 and 2006.
To emphasize the importance of agriculture, and specifically this honor, two governors – Georgia’s Nathan Deal and Alabama’s Robert Bentley – were present for the announcement of the winner. They were joined by their respective commissioners of agriculture, Gary W. Black and John McMillan.
Also in attendance were Georgia U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Both have been active in the drafting and support of farm bills in Congress. A number of House representatives were also present.
The Southeastern Farmer of the Year event’s primary sponsor is Swisher Sweets, International, Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla. It is the manufacturer and distributor of a variety of tobacco products. Other sponsors include Massey Ferguson, Southern States, Columbia PFG, Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supplies and Dow AgroSciences.
Criteria, in addition to full-time occupation in agriculture, includes participation and leadership in the industry and in community service. Nominees have been active in church, government, conservation, education, Future Farmers, product boards, military, Chambers of Commerce, fraternal and civic organizations.
The 2012 Southeastern Farmer of the Year was Dale McClellan of Florida. In addition to growing hay, corn and oats, he is primarily a dairy farmer in west-central Florida. He was raised on his grandparents’ dairy farm near Tampa.
In 2003 they moved the operation to Citrus County. He was instrumental in helping start a milk-marketing coop in Ocala. His operations now include the dairy farm in Citrus County, a hay farm near Tampa and his own milk and juice processing plant, M&B Products.
M&B has developed reduced-fat and -sugar products. These are marketed to schools, hospitals and prisons. McClellan is the seventh Southeastern Farmer of the Year from Florida.
The competition for the 2013 Farmer of the Year across the 10 participating states has already begun. This year’s Sunbelt Agricultural Expo is scheduled for Oct. 15-17, on the Expo grounds at Spence Field in Moultrie.
The annual Field Day date for 2013, usually in July, has not yet been set. For additional information about next year’s events, see www.sunbeltexpo.com or call 229-985-1968.