MARIANNA - Jackson County Farm Bureau held its annual banquet at the Jackson County Extension Auditorium Thursday, August 22. More than 300 members came out to celebrate the success of the organization over the past year. Ken Stoutamire, Agency Manager shared a heart-felt tribute to the numerous Farm Bureau staff and volunteers from across the country that came to support Farm Bureau Members in their time of great need after Hurricane Michael.

The highlight of the event was the recognition of the Outstanding Farm Family - this year, Bud Baggett and his family received this distinguished honor.

Bud Baggett is a third generation Jackson County farmer. His grandfather, Ellis Baggett purchased land in the county in 1962, and moved up from Calhoun County. He raised his son Larry to take over the farm, who passed it on to Bud. Larry and his family were recognized as the Outstanding Farm Family in 2001, so Bud carries on the family tradition of excellent farming and support of the agricultural industries in Jackson County.

Bud grew up on the farm located south of Marianna on Highway 71 and has been there ever since. He fell in love with the life of raising crops and cattle. When asked to describe what made this life so attractive, he said, “It is rewarding to watch something grow and to get to harvest the results of your efforts. You get to do it yourself from start to finish.” At age 19 grew his first 90 acres of peanuts on his own. From then on, he and Larry have been farming separately, but always there to help each other be successful.

Today Baggett Farms consists of 5,500 acres with nine full time employees in addition to Larry and Bud. They grow peanuts, cotton, cattle and oats for seed. To add income and help cover the cost of their expensive harvest equipment, Bud and his crew provide custom harvesting service for both field corn and cotton on local farms. In addition to their 50 head commercial cow herd, they also annually background 1,000 stocker cattle on irrigated fields over the winter following crop harvest. To round out the diversity of the farm they also had planted timber prior to the storm.

Hurricane Michael was devastating for everyone in the path of the storm, but it was especially challenging for local farmers whose entire business was exposed to the brunt of the 130+ mph winds. Timber tracts were destroyed, farm buildings and barns were damaged or demolished, center pivot irrigations systems were twisted, and mangled, the cotton crop was a complete loss, peanuts were shaken lose from the vine, fences were ruptured by downed trees and farm roads were impassible. Plus, their homes were damaged just like the rest of us.

People in the county responded to this tragedy in various ways, but Bud Baggett was one of the farmers who made a real difference by leading the charge to get financial help for the farming community. He made at least six trips to Tallahassee to speak with the Senate Ag Committee, as well as individual representatives. Bud was a spokesman for the farming community sharing both his story and those of his neighbors, so they understood the enormous challenge faced by area farmers. He and his wife Desiree hosted three different tour groups of decisions makers at his farm, so they could see first-hand the level of devastation and the size of the challenge farmers in this area faced to recover. Bud knew that with the lost income, and overwhelming damage, farmers need help to get ready to farm again this year. That was the only hope to begin to dig out of this huge hole. Through his efforts and others working through Farm Bureau and other farm organizations, Governor DeSantis did listen and created the “Bridge Loan Program” to provide two-year zero interest loans to fill the gap before federal aid becomes available. Because of Bud’s efforts more than 70 crop farmers were able to borrow almost $13 million to help them recover and get the financing needed to farm again this year. The feeling in Tallahassee was that assisting farmers with recovery was the role of the federal government, but Bud and other local leaders made sure they understood that farmers could not wait and needed help right away.

When asked about the future of Baggett Farms Bud replied, “I just hope to fully recover from the storm. Right now, we are just trying to get back on track and back to normal.”

He said that even before the storm farming has been a constant struggle with so many variables, such as weather, commodity markets, rising expenses, and razor thin margins. The only answer is to further diversify and utilize precision technology to maximize efficiency to be able to survive on small margins. To do this he hopes to convert some of the best land that had been in timber to pasture and increase his cowherd to around 300 head, and only replant timber on his marginal land.

Bud and his wife Desiree have been married for nine years. He has three kids, Grace, 20, Sam, 12, and Connor, 8. Desiree owns the Wild Hair Salon in Marianna, but also helps Bud on the farm by keeping the books, paying bills and farm records. Bud is also the owner of the Crosshairs Gun Shop located behind Wild Hair that specializes in custom guns for concealed carry.

When asked about the Farm Family recognition Bud replied, “It is quite an honor. There are not many young folks farming these days, so I truly appreciate this recognition.” He added, “I am very thankful for my dad. We work great together, and I would not be here without him.”