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

MONTGOMERY Two outstanding north Alabama farming operations have been named the state's top farms for 1998 by the Farm-City Committee of Alabama.

Homer and Jeanette Tate of Huntsville, owners of one of the largest family-owned cotton farms in Alabama, and Billy and Terri Gilley, who own a diversified poultry and cattle operation near Cullman, have been selected as Alabama's 1998 Farms of Distinction. The farms were chosen from a field of 11 nominees statewide to receive the prestigious awards. The high caliber of nominees in this year's Farm of Distinction competition prompted judges to choose two winners. Presentation of the awards came March 30 in Birmingham during ceremonies that also saw the Farm-City Committees of Cullman and Pike counties earn top honors for their 1997 Farm-City Week activities. A third-grader from Elba, Melanie Mularz, and a fifth-grader from Banks, Kurt Ingram, took top honors in the Farm-City poster contest. The Farm of Distinction Award is presented annually by the Farm-City Committee of Alabama to the farm that exhibits outstanding management and productivity as well as exceptional appearance. Doug Rigney, state committee chairman, said that, although both the Gilleys and Tates received the 1998 Farm of Distinction designation, only one can represent Alabama in regional competition at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., in October. Judges have chosen Tate Farms for that event.

Homer Tate has been farming near his home in Meridianville since 1946. Over the years, the north Alabama farmer has produced corn, soybeans and wheat, but cotton has been the farm's mainstay. The veteran farmer says the Madison County farm has been in his family since 1867.

In 1987, he and his wife formed a partnership with their three sons, Mike, Steve, and Jeff, and nephew, Pat Brown. Today, Tate Farms averages about 900 pounds of cotton per acre. Each October, the Tates open their farm to the public and host tours for area children. Activities include educational programs, a hayride, pumpkin picking and a corn field maze. Billy and Terri Gilley both quit factory jobs to begin farming full time near their home in Cullman. In 1989, the couple bought 34 acres and built four broiler houses. Two 500-foot houses were added in 1995, bringing the their annual production to about 1 million birds. Today, the Gilleys' own a 120-acre farm and rent an additional 100 acres. They also have 35 registered Charolais and 30 commercial cows.

Meanwhile, in awards for the 1997 Farm City Week activities, the Cullman County Farm-City Committee took home top honors as best overall in Division I, which includes counties with populations of more than 35,600. Coffee County was runner-up.

The Cullman County Committee, headed by Danny Ray, earned national Farm-City honors in the overall category and claimed the top state awards in the categories of media coverage and special activities; Coffee County was judged "best" in the Farm-City dinner competition and civic club activities category.

Chambers County earned national honors and claimed the top state award in the tour category; Tallapoosa received the Division I proclamation award.

In Division II, the Pike County committee, was cited as best overall; runner-up honors went to Chilton County. The Pike County committee, led by Chellie Phillips, was judged "best" in the categories of Farm-City tour and media coverage. The Chilton committee earned top honors for its Farm-City dinner and civic club activities.

Also recognized in the Division II awards was Randolph County, best special activities, and Henry County, proclamation award.

In the 1997 Farm-City poster contest, Melanie Mularz, a third grader at Elba Elementary School, won first place and a $200 savings bond in the kindergarten-grade 3 category. Runner-up and winner of a $100 savings bond was Ben Enman, a third-grader at Christ the King School in Daphne.

In the grades 4-6 division, Kurt Ingram, a fifth grader at Banks Middle School, captured top honors and a $200 savings bond. Tiffany Marshall, a fourth-grader at Greensboro Public School East, was runner-up and received a $100 savings bond. Farm-City Week is observed nationally each year the week before Thanksgiving as a way to bridge the gap between rural and urban residents.

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