Sponsored each year by the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Outstanding Young Farm Family Awards Program recognizes young farmers between the ages of 18 and 35 who do an outstanding job on the farm and in the community.
Division winners representing 10 commodities were selected in February. Of those, six finalists will compete for the title of overall Outstanding Young Farm Family for 2013. The winner will be named at the Federation’s 92nd annual meeting in December.
The overall winner will receive more than $60,000 in prizes including: a nicely equipped 2014 Chevrolet or GM pickup truck, courtesy of Alfa Insurance and Alabama Farmers Federation; a John Deere Gator 825i XUV, courtesy of Alabama Farm Credit and Alabama Ag Credit; lease of a John Deere tractor, courtesy of SunSouth, TriGreen Equipment and Snead Ag dealers; and a personal computer system from Valcom Wireless/CCS Technology. Alabama’s top young farm family will represent the state in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Achievement Award competition at its January 2014 annual meeting in San Antonio.
Three division finalists are featured in this series. Look for stories on the remaining three finalists in the Fall/September issue.
Bridging the generation gap is more than a concept for Blount County farmer Lance Miller. It’s something he does everyday working alongside his uncle, Jimmy.
“I’ve been on the farm since I was two, from riding in tractors and building (cotton) modules to splitting ownership of Miller Farms with Jimmy,” said Lance, the Outstanding Young Farm Family finalist in the Cotton Division along with wife, Stephanie, and 23-month-old son, Reed. “We have a trust bond. It doesn’t work for all family farmers, but it works for us. I know we’re both working toward the same goal.”
While the Millers have seen their share of changes in the cotton industry since Jimmy began farming in ‘68, they realize change is part of life. In fact, it’s been a key influence on the farm’s diversity.
“Adding cattle to our operation last summer was a big change, and it’s certainly been a learning curve,” said Lance, who holds the North Alabama At-Large seat on the State Young Farmers Committee. “This year, we decided to expand a bit further, adding nearly 100 acres of wheat to our rotation. We’re doing anything we can to keep diversifying our operation.”
Since 2012, the Millers increased their overall acreage from 1,000 to 1,200, including 660 acres of cotton, 180 acres of corn, 100 acres of peanuts, 100 acres of soybeans and 80 acres of wheat.
“If I’ve learned anything from farming, it’s the more diversified you are, the safer you are,” Lance said. “If we take a heavy loss on cotton, we might make it up with a good corn crop. You never know what harvests will be like.”
The Millers’ beef cattle herd includes 18 brood cows, eight calves and a bull on 40 acres of pasture. They also have four broiler houses, which are Stephanie’s priority.
“Every day, I’m thankful we have the chickens,” said Stephanie, who urged Lance to invest in broiler houses so she could quit her city job. “Some days are a headache, but I wouldn’t trade it. It’s great being able to be around the farm all day and provide an opportunity for Reed to enjoy this lifestyle. He watches Lance the way Lance watched Jimmy growing up. Farming is in his blood.”
Changes continue on Miller Farms. This spring, Lance broke ground for a shop behind their home. An adjacent shed will house the cotton pickers, and a future addition is planned for the module builder and other equipment. Though the shop blocks part of their backyard view, the Millers agree it’ll help them become more efficient and organized.
“I may even write a post on how to organize workshops,” added Stephanie, who blogs about rural life at thelifeofafarmerswife.blogspot.com.
While Lance spends much of his time in the field, he also represents Alabama as an alternate delegate for the National Cotton Council. Serving on the board, he says, is humbling.
“It’s such an honor to work with people from a variety of experience levels and backgrounds,” he said. “The way I look at it, there’s always something to learn.”