CHIPLEY — Hundreds of Washington County farmers, families and friends turned out for the 51st annual Washington County Farm-City Day Banquet on Thursday, Nov. 21.
Held at the Washington County Agricultural Center, the evening featured food, music, fellowship, and a chance to honor the best and the brightest in agriculture.
Five prestigious awards were handed out during the evening, and those awards were:
Tree Farmer of the Year – Ty Peel
Ty and Nancy Peel have lived on the Peel Homestead, located at 1691 Peel Road in Chipley, Florida, for the past 31 years. The 160 acre farm was originally settled in 1901 by Ty’s great-grandfather, James Iverson Peel, and was recognized by the Florida Department of Agriculture as a Centennial Farm in 2009. This designation recognizes the farm for remaining in the Peel family over 100 years.
Over the past 115 years, corn, cotton, timber, sheep and cattle have all been raised on the homestead. There are currently 110 acres in timber and watermelons have also been grown the past four years. Cattle are grazed throughout the timberland and some pastures as well. Rotational burning assists in the control of hardwoods and promotes the growth of Florida grasses. Both long-leaf and slash pines are established on the farmland along with some very mature hardwoods and cypress. An abundance of wildlife including deer, quail, turkeys and ducks also prosper on the farmland due to controlled burning practices.
When available, the Peel’s two sons, Jaime and Jed, assist Ty and Nancy with the upkeep of the Peel Homestead. Ty is the Vice President of Engineering & Operations at West Florida Electric Cooperative and has been employed with the cooperative for 32 years.
Conservationist of the Year – Dr. Ron Harrell and Dr. Les Nichols
Drs. Harrell and Nichols established H & N Farms after the passing of their father and uncle, respectively. They began to convert the commercial cattle operation to a grass fed beef operation. Key components have included revitalizing the pasture soil, culling undesirable cows from the herd and using holistic farming practices including application of fish oil spray, spreading wood ash and other natural supplements to improve the soil. Active conservation of natural resources is also practiced as well as hard work, continued study and learning from other farmers to make changes to improve the land and grow grass fed beef.
Dr. Ron Harrell grew up in Chipley, Florida, the son of JT and Edna Harrell. After graduation from Chipley High School, he received a B.S. degree from Emory University in Atlanta, GA. In 1968, he received an MD from the University of Miami and completed a medical internship and residency and a cardiology fellowship at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He served 2 years as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, including 1 year in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service. In 1975, he established a cardiology practice in Dothan, AL and co-founded Dothan Specialty Clinic.
Dr. Les Nichols grew up spending a lot of time on Edna and JT Harrell's farm in Chipley although he lived and worked in Pensacola. He and Ron are cousins; they have been like brothers for the past 50+ years and Les feels fortunate to have been treated as a second son. After high school, Les met his wife and moved to Birmingham where he began working for the University of Alabama Birmingham in the computer department while also taking classes and working towards admission into the UAB dental school. Les finished dental school in 1977 and immediately applied to a residency in periodontics and finished in July 1979. He and his wife live in Decatur, Alabama, where he has a periodontal practice.
Cattleman of the Year – George Owens Family
The 2013 Washington County Cattleman of the Year award goes to the George Owens Family. The Owens Family is comprised of George, his wife Pat and their daughter, Jane, and son, Thomas. The George Owens family has been raising cattle in Washington County since 1971. They have been advocates for agriculture and diligent supporters of extension programs and agricultural education here in Washington County for many years.
The Owens’ commercial cow/calf operation is based on the family ranch, just south of Chipley. For the last 33 years, the operation has had a rather distinct look. The Owens family has mastered the production technique known as silvopasture. Silvopasture can be described as the simultaneous management of land for both pasture and timber production. The key word in this phrase is management; the Owens family excels in their ability to manage their operation.
Timber is planted using a 4’x8’x40’ spacing system which research has shown as the most effective system for silvopasture operations. From planting to harvest there is a plan in place -when calves can graze, when cows can graze, when to thin the timber – a plan that is based on research and trial and error.
The Owens family utilizes a rotational grazing system that allows the forage to be more effectively utilized. The rotational grazing system allows the amount of forage removed at any one time to be managed. During the growing season only about 50% of the forage is removed in each grazing rotation. As the growing season winds down, the amount of forage removed is increased. This serves two purposes: 1) allows summer grown forage to last longer into the fall and 2) allows for the germination and growth of the persisting Crimson Clover that is present in the pastures. The fact that clover has persisted in a grazed bahiagrass pasture by naturally reseeding for 30 years is a testament to the level of forage management that occurs on the Owens’ operation.
A 110 day breeding season that pairs with the availability of high quality forage as well as a rotational breeding system designed to maximize heterosis are in place. Sound management decisions are made throughout the production cycle. Bulls are tested before turn-out, a vaccination program is in place for both cows and calves, and pre-established culling criteria is in place for underperforming brood cows. The Owens family understands how and where the cattle they produce best fit into the market and they utilize a marketing plan that maximizes the value of their calves.
The George Owens Family operation is successful because of their hard work, attention to detail and their willingness to make and implement management decisions based on facts.
Distinguished Service to Agriculture – Diane Webb
Diane Webb is no stranger to 4-H in Washington County. Diane's deep love of animals and children started early, as she was raised on a farm with seven siblings and participated in 4-H during her childhood. She first became involved in the Washington County Livestock 4-H Club to involve her children in a family-oriented social organization to help them build life skills and share the family love of animals. She is a dependable constant at every Youth Fair and many events. Diane's passion is being a 4-H Club Leader and helping the youth of Washington County to develop into responsible adults.
Throughout her years volunteering with Washington County 4-H, she has been involved in many aspects of 4-H. She assisted with judging teams for many years and took numerous teams to state and national competitions. Diane also coordinated the annual Youth Fair Livestock Show to ensure youth would have a place to exhibit their projects when the county was without a 4-H Agent. She has coordinated with 4-H Alumni to teach showmanship workshops to share their knowledge with 4-H’ers. One of Diane’s proudest moments was leading the Washington County Youth Fair 30th Anniversary which brought back 4-H veterans to share their 4-H memories with members old and new. The daughter of Marilyn and the late Rev. Dave Saye, Diane is very grateful to have been raised in a loving Christian home which paved a firm foundation to her own walk with God. Married to Wendell Webb for 36 years, they have lived 28 of those years in Chipley on a small, 20-acre farm where they raise Angus cows and a menagerie of cats, dogs and chickens. She has been blessed with three children of whom she is very proud: Rachel, Corey and LynnZee, and is the proud grandmother of Ariel and Colton. She is employed at One South Bank and is an active member of Blue Lake Baptist Church.
Farm Family of the Year – Dennis Gainer Family
The members of the Gainer Family are lifelong residents of Washington County and currently reside and have their blueberry operation on the family home place. Led by Dennis Gainer, Gainer Blueberry Farm is comprised of six acres of blueberry plants. While working for the railroad in Georgia, Dennis noticed dense plantings of blueberries and thought he could raise extra income by producing blueberries on small acreage. Originally, he planned to develop a traditional commercial blueberry operation of rabbit eye blueberries, but his work schedule got in the way of coordinating traditional harvesting. Instead, he developed a U-Pick operation and has become part of the Northwest Florida agro-tourism industry exceeding his own expectations. Individuals come to the Gainer Blueberry Farm not just for blueberries but for a day-long experience.
Along with blueberries, he offers his customers watermelon and sweet corn so they can make a visit to his farm a complete agricultural event.
Mr. Gainer has recently embarked on an expansion project to increase production to 10 acres. He is propagating many plants in his own private nursery but also purchases cultivars he needs. Gainer Blueberry Farm is home to five different blueberry cultivars. Ever the innovator, he developed a trimming machine that has increased the efficiency of his operation. It is made up of flail mower parts attached to a central apparatus placed on a backhoe and is used to trim the plants between rows. All members of the Gainer family actively participate in the operations of the Gainer Blueberry Farm. While Dennis is in charge of the production, his wife Connie is responsible for all paperwork, business details and advertising. His son, Mitchell, and daughter, Alicia, help during the picking season especially in transporting customers out to the field from the entrance.