MARIANNA — Thirteen Innovative Farmers and Ranchers were recognized by University of Florida IFAS Extension and Farm Credit of Northwest Florida at the Jackson County Agriculture Conference Center in Marianna on Friday, Aug. 9.

MARIANNA — Thirteen Innovative Farmers and Ranchers were recognized by University of Florida IFAS Extension and Farm Credit of Northwest Florida at the Jackson County Agriculture Conference Center in Marianna on Friday, Aug. 9.

This is the third year these two organizations have teamed up to honor an elite group of innovative farmers and ranchers in the Florida Panhandle. 

The Ken Barton family was recognized as the Holmes County Agriculture Innovator of the Year by Shep Eubanks, Holmes County Extension. 

The Barton family operates Barton Farms located near the Bethlehem Community. Barton Farms is a family business that produces cotton, peanuts, oats, cattle, and hay on approximately 1,200 acres.  The Barton farm is an excellent example of utilizing best management practices including crop rotation and integrated pest management in an agricultural operation.

In 2003, in addition to his farming activities, Barton became the Executive Director of the Florida Peanut Producers Association where he represents the peanut farmers of the state of Florida in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.  He has provided strong leadership to the organization and is heavily involved in research, promotion, and education as it relates to Florida peanut production, leading to innovation in varieties, cropping systems, and youth education.  Ken and Rhonda Barton are members of the Florida Peanut Producers Association, the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, and Florida Farm Bureau Federation.

Barton has a distinguished history of working with Extension to promote timely research in peanut production, provide and facilitate funding for research, and participate in planning, promoting, and conducting producer field days and short courses.  Barton is a long-time member of the Panhandle Peanut Short Course planning committee and the Panhandle Row Crop Short Course planning committee and has served in an advisory capacity for Extension Agents in most of the counties across the Panhandle who are involved in crop production Extension activities. 

Locally in Holmes County, Barton has participated in Cotton Variety Trials over the years, and has been a strong supporter of local Holmes County Extension educational programs.  Barton has also supported and participated in youth educational activities in Holmes County including the annual Ag in the Classroom for Holmes and Washington County 5thstudents. 

He is also very active representing the peanut industry across the state with FFA and 4-H at events such as the Florida State Fair.  Ken Barton has been a leader in the peanut industry locally, statewide, and nationally since 2003.  He has worked closely with state and federal legislators in promoting the peanut industry, diligently working to insure the viability of agriculture in our local region and across the state of Florida.  He has also hosted international delegations for tours of the peanut industry working to improve economic opportunities for area farmers. 

From this distinguished pool of 13 farmers, an “Innovator of the Year” was selected to represent Northwest Florida.  This year Stephen and Tracie Fulford, from Jefferson County, were selected as the Farm Credit of Northwest Florida Agriculture Innovator of the Year. 

The Fulford family operates a commercial row crop farm in Jefferson and Madison Counties.  They combine precision farming, sod based crop rotation, and conservation tillage to decrease soil erosion, reduce weed pressure, reduce nematode and disease pressure, and lower fuel use because they make fewer trips across fields.  Steve Fulford has worked closely with UF/IFAS Extension: volunteering for on-farm cotton variety trials and weed control tests, hosting field days, serving on advisory committees, and participating in agriculture awareness programs in Jefferson County. 

They are actively involved in Florida Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Program, which works to share the positive story of agricultural business in Florida.  Stephen  Fulford says, “I cannot sit on the sidelines and expect someone else to speak for me.  I must step out and be a leader.”  Tracie Fulford has a blog, “The Farmer Takes a Wife,” and coordinates the Ag in the Classroom program in Jefferson County.  Stephen Fulford received the Commissioner of Agriculture’s Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award.  Truly the Fulford family is well deserving of this honor because they combine environmental stewardship, technology, and innovation to make Fulford Farms successful.

The purpose of the Agriculture Innovator Recognition Program is to annually recognize innovative farmers and ranchers from 16 Florida Panhandle counties, from Jefferson west to Escambia County.  Bringing these top-notch farmers together to meet each other will foster further innovation.  Highlighting these creative and successful farmers will also help increase public awareness of the diversity and innovation of today’s modern agriculture.