Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Cotton Represented

South Carolina And Georgia Producers Named
2022 Southeastern Farmers Of The Year


ince its inception in 1990, the Swisher/Sunbelt Ag Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award has evolved into the most prestigious honor in the Southeast and nation with 265 outstanding agribusiness leaders being honored for their “excellence in agriculture,” according to the Sunbelt Ag Expo. 

The farmers who are considered for this honor grow a number of different crops and raise cattle and other livestock. In 2022, cotton was also well-
represented by Keith Allen — South Carolina Farmer of the Year — and Scotty Raines — Georgia Farmer of the Year. Following are highlights featuring their families and agricultural operations.

Keith Allen

South Carolina Farmer of the Year

Betty Allen Farms in Latta, South Carolina, has been in Keith Allen’s family for the nearly 200 proverbial lean and fat years. Growing from a modest holding in 1837 to 3,800 acres today, the farm has experienced everything from near loss at auction in 1917 to two recent 1,000-year floods and drought.

After Allen’s father graduated from Clemson University in 1950, he served his country in Korea only to return home to the driest year on record, with no rainfall until Hurricane Hazel hit in September of 1954. The resulting crippling debt forced him to seek other work as a teacher and then as a full-time Farm Bureau insurance agent just to keep crops in ground.

Keith Allen, South Carolina Farmer of the Year

From his childhood, Allen recalled, “I don’t remember not working on the farm in the summer. I started picking up tobacco leaves at the barn, driving mules, pulling drags, and then plowing with a Super A, then a D-17. When we got a 4230 John Deere, that was something else. There were no cabs in those days, but it was a great way of life, and I was grateful to have those opportunities.”

Allen also went to Clemson University, earning a B.S. degree in 1978 in agricultural mechanization and business. It was a momentous year in which he married his wife, Libby, and built a home with timber from the family property. The two had met as teenagers at a horse show in North Carolina near Libby’s hometown of Rowland. She came from a farming family as well and graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in Speech Communications and Education.

Today, Betty Allen Farms consists of 3,800 acres currently operated, with 2,980 rented and 820 owned. The cotton crop of 950 acres yielded 1,200lbs/acre; 1,900 acres of soybeans yielded 48 bushels/acre; 600 acres of corn yielded 148 bushels/acre; 250 acres of peanuts yielded 4,000 lbs/acre; and 500 acres of winter wheat yielded 75 bushels/acre.

Balancing The Day-To-Day

Allen has updated equipment whenever possible over the years and uses strip till for conservation on most crops and no-till on soybeans and corn. He added, “Clemson Extension and Farm Bureau have also been great resources on current agricultural issues and marketing information.”

Most of his corn is sold to a feed mill because the basis is better. He prices some of the cotton himself and puts the rest in the pool with Staplcotn, the oldest and one of the largest cotton marketing cooperatives in the United States. This company specializes in domestic and export marketing, ag financing and cotton warehousing.

Allen says, “I try to figure my cost of production, and when the price is right, I try to forward contract or sell commodities in storage and crops I will produce. Sometimes I use basis contracts when I think the price is rising. I also use the DTN Ag Marketplace app for information and as a trading tool. Purchasing puts and calls on key commodities acts as a hedge to protect the downside of the market and offers potential profit on upswings. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you get it wrong; it’s all part of the privilege to make independent decisions about family farming.”

Working with Allen are two full-time employees as well as his nephew, Blake Allen, and his son-in-law, Caleb Miller, who is married to the Keith’s older daughter, Katherine. She earned a doctorate degree in pharmacy and works at a hospital just over the state line in Lumberton, North Carolina. Last December, they presented Keith and Libby with their first grandchild, Allen William Miller.

The Allens also have a younger daughter, Karen, who is autistic but high functioning. She’s a talented artist who works as an art teacher’s aide at the local elementary school.

About his son-in-law, Allen said appreciatively, “He’s taken a leadership role here on the farm and has great technology skills. We plan to do more yield mapping and incorporate that with variable-rate fertilizer applications. Precision agriculture is the future of making inputs more efficient. We’re using grid soil sampling now, but we need to improve on the way we use the data. Technology-dealing sensors that detect plant health will help us more efficiently manage input costs in the future.”

Maintain Perspective

As to overcoming challenges, Allen observed, “Through the years I’ve analyzed productivity and problems with some of the rented land and had to let some go because of wet fields and problems with wild hogs and deer.”

Then, between 2015 and 2018, South Carolina had some of the worst flooding in the state’s history. “Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 were the worst,” he recalled. “Recovering from them was difficult because we had large losses on cotton and peanuts in 2016 and in 2018 and struggled to cut costs to stay in business.”

Along with using strip till and no-till on his acreage, as well as a no-till drill for more than 30 years, Allen has used the Conservation Reserve Program for quail habitat buffers to increase the quail population. He’s planted tree borders to reduce runoff and erosion, adding, “I have beehives to help with pollination and use low-drift nozzles when spraying to try to protect off-target weeds or insects. This year I’m also trying some cover crops.”

Libby worked for 30 years as a substitute mail carrier and has been active in special needs issues for children as well as local community fundraisers. She also helps with running parts for equipment and delivering lunches for everyone during harvesting and planting. As Allen said, “She is the rock that keeps me going, and I would be lost without her.”

Reflecting on a successful, 44-year farming career, Allen had this to say: “As a fifth-generation farmer on this land, I look forward to one day handing Betty Allen Farms over to the next generations. This includes my nephew, Blake Allen, and his son, Palmer, and my son-in-law, Caleb Miller, and his son, Allen.”

He added, “But over and above all the operational demands of farming, the most important thing is paying attention to your family. The farm chores will always be waiting and aren’t nearly as important as some memory-making moments the whole family could experience and treasure.”

Scotty Raines

Georgia Farmer of the Year

Scotty Raines didn’t grow up on a farm, but his father kept a large garden at home. His mother, a beautician, had a beauty shop behind their house. Scotty began his agrarian career by selling produce from the garden — tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and corn — to her customers.

He also participated in FFA at Turner High School and, after graduation, became a farm technician with Agratech Seed Research. In 1991, he married Melanie, a girl he’d grown up with, and two years later began farming full-time in partnership with his father-in-law.

Scotty Raines, Georgia Farmer of the Year

Raines said, “I’m very proud of my family. My wife keeps her accounting skills sharp by maintaining the books for three area churches. We are active in First Baptist Church of Tifton. When our oldest daughter, Celie, was in school, she was in the marching band. It was quite a feat because she is hearing impaired. Our second daughter, Christian, is an EMT. She loves helping people, although she battles Lupus and is in pain most of the time. I think this helps her relate to her patients.”

He added, “Her husband, Justin Pate, works full-time on the farm and has a passion for volunteer fireman work. He was just awarded the Turner County Most Responses and Responder of the Year awards. He and Christian have been working on their certification to become foster parents.”

Keeping Up To Date

Raines recalled, “My father-in-law and I originally farmed about 500 acres and eventually expanded to 1,200 acres. I ventured out on my own to purchase 30 beef cows in 1994. During our partnership, we purchased two farms; the remainder of the acres we worked was rented. My wife and mother-in-law were very active in the operation.”

In the spring of 1996, his father-in-law suffered some major health problems, so Raines finished the crop that year. He began farming on his own a year later with 1,000 acres that grew over time to 2,300 acres, with 1,199 acres owned and 1,101 acres rented.

Crop yields at Scotty Raines Farms Partnerships are as follows: 760 acres of cotton yielding 940 (conservatively) lbs/acre; 385 acres of irrigated peanuts yielding 5,880 lbs/acre; 800 acres of cotton yielding 860 lbs/acre; 200 acres of non-irrigated peanuts yielding 4,760 lbs/acre; 120 acres of corn yielding 219 bushels/acre; and 35 acres of watermelon that yielded well. Raines also owns 27 beef cattle.

In the beginning of his farming career, Raines marketed his own cotton through local gins. He said, “Since I was so busy on the farm, I wasn’t able to do the best job. Joining Staplcotn, a marketing cooperative, was a better solution. It’s a great time-saving and solid way of doing things.

“And because we carefully manage insect pests and harvest in a timely manner, we maximize our cotton quality and therefore receive the best market price possible. I’m proud to say that our farms won a Georgia Cotton Quality Award in Region One in 2021.”

Scotty Raines Farms Partnerships recently purchased a bale picker to allow for faster harvesting and reducing the number of laborers in the field. And they have purchased a precision planter with individual hydraulic down force. This planter helps to get the seed placed at the right depth, even over terraces, and doesn’t overlap seed. The aim is to produce a better, more uniform stand at planting and a better harvest in the fall.

Know When To Step Up

Meeting challenges faced by all farmers is a constant undertaking. For Raines, a major effort has gone into converting dryland production into irrigated production. He has used long-term leases with landowners, purchased irrigated land/irrigation systems, and updated irrigation systems. 

Raines has also had to deal with rising input costs over the years. He explained, “For example, in 1993 we bought a tractor for $35,000. Now that same tractor costs $200,000. We buy fuel in bulk to save money, but now a 7,500–lb. tank might cost $37,000 to fill up. And the prices we get for crops don’t always equal what we paid to plant and nurture them through to harvest. It’s a constant balancing act.”

Of course, one of the most prevalent unknowns is weather. Raines said, “Irrigation helps with drought, but hurricane Irma in 2017 and Michael in 2018 really hit us hard, and we haven’t fully recovered from those two events when we lost most our crop. Since crop insurance was insufficient to recoup the losses, we were able to do some refinancing to overcome the impact of these natural disasters.”

In the area of environmentally helpful practices, Raines uses variable-rate fertilization of lime, potash and MAP to increase the nutrient efficiency and reduce the potential of oversaturation of unneeded nutrients and fuel wastage. The application is all based on the five-acre grid soil sample taken annually. To protect watersheds and reduce the potential for soil erosion, the farm maintains terraces and waterways.

He noted, “My farm has collaborated with the University of Georgia Extension on research efforts such as soil moisture sensor projects that monitor moisture status and manage water applications. This has greatly reduced the amount of irrigation water used to produce a crop. I also purchase bulk chemical containers to minimize plastic waste. When we do use plastic containers, they are recycled.”

Raines added, “We use conservation tillage methods and winter cover crops, like clover and rye, and now triticale, on the vast majority of acreage. It’s an important tool to help with weed control, improve soil moisture holding capacity, and support the long-term sustainability of our farm.”

The reward of seeing things grow to fruition is still quite real for Raines.

He commented, “We recently needed to plant 140 acres of peanuts on dryland on the north side of our property. The planter sat there for three weeks until the good Lord sent half an inch of rain. The same thing happened recently on the south side of our farm with cotton. We got one inch at almost the last possible moment. That’s when we gladly give thanks for prayers answered.”

Scotty Raines was nominated for Georgia Farmer of the Year by Guy Hancock, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Turner County ANR Agent.

“Despite having to overcome numerous adversities in recent years such as tornados, hurricanes (Irma in 2017 and Michael in 2018), and other extreme weather events, Scotty has maintained a strong farming operation and a positive attitude through it all,” Hancock said.

“He is always working towards integrating technology into his farm such as soil moisture sensors, GPS and variable-rate equipment to make the operation more efficient. The Raines family’s resilience and significant investments in agriculture have earned them the respect of those in their community and beyond.”

The Sunbelt Ag Expo contributed this information.

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