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

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

 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.  

Paul Davidson of Davidson Farms was recognized as the Washington County Agriculture Innovator of the Year by Matthew Orwat and Mark Mauldin of UF / IFAS Washington County Extension.

Davidson is deserving of and proud to be the 2013 Washington County Agriculture Innovator of the Year. Davidson began his farming operation in 1988 with growing field peas on his long-time family property between Chipley and Vernon. He expanded to begin growing watermelon and cantaloupe.  That hobby soon extended to include growing a large variety of seasonal vegetables, hay and corn.

In 2008, while selling produce and various market venues and to traditional buyers such as stores and restaurants, he decided he could obtain a better marketing niche by opening up his own produce market. An unused site was available at a prime location in Chipley, at the intersection of U.S. 90 and State Highway 77. Thus Main Street Market was born.

Since then, he has been able to direct market his seasonal produce at a retail level while offering produce from other local farmers as well. His children have been active in the management of Main Street Market, with one of them becoming produce manager. The involvement of his children in his farming and marketing efforts has given them valuable life skills.

Two factors contribute to the innovative nature of his farming operations — The methods he uses to market his produce and techniques he uses to spread out yield so that he has a longer season. To increase the length of his watermelon and corn season, he staggers his planting dates and grows crops on both irrigated and non-irrigated ground. This is done so that produce is consistently ready to sell at this market over a long period of time. This technique was developed through field trials with Washington County Extension and UF Specialists.

Davidson also considers the addition if irrigation a major contributor to the success of his farming operations.

Today, Davidson uses his website and Facebook to increase awareness in his market and farming operations. He considers social media and internet technology to be a valuable component in generating a market for his produce.

Throughout his farming career, Davidson has utilized the expertise and assistance of Washington County Extension and assisted the office with many endeavors. He has done on farm melon trials and demos with state specialists and county agents. Also, he has cooperated with specialists and agents in identifying disease and insect problems that could impact other growers. Through this effort, extension is better able to anticipate potential insect and disease problems of area cucurbit crops. This partnership has enhanced the effectiveness of agriculture extension throughout the county.

Davidson has positively impacted Washington County agriculture in several ways. He provides fresh, local produce to the residents of Washington County and purchases local produce to augment his own stock at the Main Street Market. He is a source of information for other growers and cooperates with extension to timely identify and address agricultural production and marketing issues. He is also a member of the Washington County Farm Bureau. Davidson has been an innovative farmer throughout his farming career and is the ideal recipient of the Washington County Ag Innovator Award.

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.

For more information consult the UF / IFAS Washington County Extension Office in Chipley or call 638-6180.