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"J. Paul Till, Director, Information Department"
334 613-4313

MONTGOMERY A Limestone County farm family has been chosen by the Alabama Farmers Federation as the state's Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) for 1997.

Tommy and Melanie Maples, who operate a 800-acre beef and poultry operation in Elkmont, were presented the keys to a 1998 Chevrolet Blazer during award ceremonies Sunday night in Mobile at the federation's 76th annual meeting. The couple will have free use of the vehicle for a year. They also received an IBM personal computer and software package, sponsored by Valcom Business Centers of Alabama.

The Maples and their four children--Ben, 13, Will, 10, Josh, 7, and Sara, 2,--were selected from among 11 OYFF commodity division finalists. The Maples represented the beef division.

Although he grew up raising cattle on his father's purebred Angus operation, Tommy Maples didn't launch his own farming career until 1988. Returning to farming wasn't something the he and his wife had planned; it was something that kind of "fell into place." They both graduated from Western Kentucky in 1983--he with a degree in agriculture, she with a degree in accounting--before moving to Auburn, where he took graduate classes, and then to Athens. But after working for an agricultural recruiting firm in nearby Huntsville for a few years, Maples began looking at the possibility of joining his father in a farming partnership.

When he did make his decision to return to farming, deciding to raise purebred Angus cattle was a given--Maple's family has been in the cattle business since 1937. Less obvious a choice, though, was his decision to add to the family farm three poultry houses.

"Although our farm was geared primarily for raising purebred cattle, our poultry operation has provided us with a consistent source of income," says Maples, 35.

Cattle, though, has remained the farm's speciality. Today, the Maples' purebred herd exceeds 200. The Maples raise their heifers and bulls for commercial breeding, keeping detailed records on all of the cattle.

"Producing quality livestock is important," says Maples. "We try to take as much of the guess work out (for buyers) and try to sort these cows as tight as we can sort them. We're not in the business of perpetuating something somebody else doesn't want. I don't want to sell anybody something that I know is not any good."

The federation sponsors the Outstanding Young Farm Family competition each year to recognize farmers between the ages of 17 and 35 who are excelling in farm, family and community activities.

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