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November 24, 2010   Email to Friend 

OYFF Contest To Highlight Federation's 89th Annual Meeting
By Darryal Ray

The Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center is expected to draw about 1,200 members to the Alabama Farmers Federation's 89th Annual Meeting.
Six families from six commodity divisions will be vying for Outstanding Young Farm Family of the year when the Alabama Farmers Federation holds its 89th Annual Meeting at Mobile's Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center on Dec. 5-6.

About 1,200 Federation members from throughout the state are expected to attend the meeting which continues the "Agriculture: A Growing Story" theme from last month's annual Farm-City Week. Other highlights of the two-day event include a concert by country and bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs, presentation of the Service to Agriculture Award to Dr. John Wheat of the University of Alabama's Rural Medical Scholars Program, a briefing on current issues facing agriculture and the election of officers and board members from four districts.

The annual OYFF contest recognizes young farmers between the ages of 17 and 35 who do an outstanding job in farm, home and community activities. The winner will receive a John Deere Gator, courtesy of Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit, a personal computer package courtesy of ValCom/CSS Wireless, $500 cash from Dodge, use of a new Chevrolet Traverse for one year and other prizes. The winner also goes on to compete at the national level for a new Dodge Ram 3500.

The finalists, selected from 10 commodity winners, are: Garrett and Emily Henry, Montgomery County, Beef Division; Davy and Heather Wright, Dallas County, Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod Division; Jeff and Randi Whitaker, DeKalb County, Hay & Forage Division; Jeremy and Julie Calvert, Cullman County, Horticulture Division; Colby and Jaclyn Willoughby, Houston County, Peanut Division; and Josh and Jessica Turner, DeKalb County, Poultry Division.

"The Outstanding Young Farm Family seeks to honor the very best Alabama agriculture has to offer," said Brandon Moore, director of the Young Farmers program. "Our current slate of winners certainly fits that description. With the risk and uncertainty involved in farming, you can be assured that the ones who make it to this level of competition have distinguished themselves as excellent managers, leaders and stewards of the land. We are honored to have these families as part of our organization, and are excited to recognize them at our annual meeting."

The Henrys run a cow-calf operation in Montgomery County with a herd of 400 Angus, Charolais and Simmental cattle -- a far cry from the 240 head Garrett started with just over six years ago. It's an accomplishment that takes on greater meaning when one considers that a tornado in 2006 forced them to rebuild 95 percent of their operation.

The Wrights in the Dallas County community of Plantersville operate about two acres of greenhouse space, another 20,000 square feet outside and about two million perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs along with 20,000 hanging baskets.

It was only three years ago that the Whitakers got into the hay business in the DeKalb County community of Henagar, but now they bale for the public and expect to reach 2,700 rolls this year. With 200 acres of their own and another 50 rented acres, the Whitakers grow fescue and orchard grass for area cattle farmers. By mid-August, they had sold 900 round bales and baled another 900 rolls for his seven word-of-mouth customers, all of whom he deals with on a "handshake" basis.

The Calverts operate a 20-acre family farm in the Bremen community. Three times a week, they can be found selling their goods -- tomatoes, strawberries, cabbage, collards, onions, peppers, corn, peas, beans, squash, watermelons and numerous other crops -- at the Walker County Farmers Market. They also have 3.5 acres of peach trees and two broiler houses.

The Willoughbys' Houston County farm, which includes 850 acres of peanuts and 2,600 double-cropped acres of cucumbers (the cukes eventually become pickles at Burger King), has been in operation for more than a century. It's a farm that has always been known for adapting to change, a trait that often takes shape in Colby's innovative equipment modifications.

The Turners' DeKalb County poultry farm started with two old poultry houses Josh leased from his grandfather and great uncle when Josh was just 17 and still in high school. At 18, he was managing eight poultry houses for a retired ag teacher. Today, the first-generation poultry farmer has six houses -- four 42-by-500-footers and two 43-by-510-footers.

Service to Agriculture Award winner Dr. John Wheat, who also oversees the Minority Rural Health Pipeline Program (MRHPP) and teaches Rural/Community Medicine to students in their third year of medical school, has become nationally known for his work in helping rural students who want to become primary care physicians serving rural areas.

Raised on a farm near Livingston in Sumter County, Wheat's academic interests revolve around vulnerable and underserved rural populations, especially prevention in agricultural medicine, insurance and health care systems for uninsured rural children and educational and community developments needed for rural practice.

Since students from rural areas are more likely than other medical students to choose practice sites in rural communities, Wheat has focused his administrative and research efforts on programming to recruit, train and place primary care doctors in the underserved rural communities in Alabama.

Half of the Rural Medical Scholars (RMS) in practice are family physicians; 70 percent who graduated from medical school have gone into the primary care fields of family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine. More than 60 percent have entered primary care practice in rural Alabama after completing residency training, and 90 percent (including those in urban primary care practices and in rural sites in a non-primary care field) are in practice in the state.

The documented success of these programs brought national recognition to Alabama's efforts to provide rural doctors, and Wheat was named the Distinguished Educator of the Year in 2007 by the National Rural Health Association. He is active in several local and national medical societies, is past chairman of the North American Agromedicine Consortium and a bureau member of the International Association of Agricultural Medicine and Rural Health.

In addition to elections, Federation voting delegates will consider policy changes proposed at an Oct. 20 meeting at Federation headquarters in Montgomery. Leaders, including state board members, county presidents and state commodity chairmen, agreed to:

• Support the creation of a study committee by the state Legislature to evaluate Forever Wild and support allocation of state oil and gas leases revenue (Alabama Trust Fund) on a renewable basis for improvement of agricultural, wildlife and renewable natural resources.

• Support measures affecting poultry production, including issue resolution, grower investment, building modi- fication and contract concerns between integrators and producers.

• Support continuation of the fulltime National FFA advisor position.

• Support education of students at the Alabama Fire College to respond to on-farm emergencies.

• Support extension of planting season dates of all crops by 10 days for crop insurance purposes.

• Ensure federal food safety regulations do not overburden producers.

• Oppose local regulations that restrict transportation for agriculture and forestry products.

• Oppose local regulations that supersede state environmental regulations.

• Support dairy checkoff funds to encourage consumption of natural dairy products.

Convention-goers will also have an opportunity to sit in on an Ag Issues Briefing led by Steve Flick, board president of the Show Me Energy Cooperative in Centerview, Mo., and Dennis Wiese, a consultant in growth energy from Flandreau, S.D.

Registration for the meeting opens at 1 p.m. Sunday in the convention center along with the State Young Farmers Committee's Silent Auction that will benefit the Alabama Farmers Agricultural Foundation.

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