Michael H. McDowell of Vernon Hill, Virginia has been selected as the overall winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award for 2019. He is a fourth generation Halifax County farmer and cattleman who grows mixed grass hay, annual hay, and alfalfa and raises award-winning registered Angus cattle.
At the age of sixteen, McDowell began to farm three acres on his own under a sharecropper arrangement with his father. That formative experience taught him the value of responsibility and introduced him to the rewards and challenges of working the land in order to pay for his college tuition. He obtained a B.S. degree in animal science and agronomy from Virginia Tech.
McDowell was named overall winner at the Willie B. Withers Luncheon held during the opening day of the 2019 Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show. He was chosen as Farmer of the Year over nine other state winners who were finalists for the award.
His family farm, Locust Level, historically grew tobacco and row crops. But when McDowell had garnered some experience with land management, he saw tobacco quota cuts approaching and an opportunity for future viability with purebred cattle. So he developed an Angus seedstock operation and implemented improvements that created more land with permanent grass cover and wide use of over- and inter-seeding with forage systems, along with stockpiling fescue and minimizing tillage production.
Today, Locust Level Farm has 95 percent of its acreage in no-till or sod with 50 acres of alfalfa, 145 acres of mixed grass hay, 25 acres of annual hay, and 400 acres of pasture. It also has 120 head of purebred Angus cows, 50 head of purebred heifers, and 70 head of purebred sale bulls. McDowell has embraced new techniques for producing purebreds for commercial herds that include genetic selection, ultrasonic evaluation for yearling bulls and heifers, evaluation of genomic rankings, and embryo transfer programs with veterinary consultation.
The new Farmer of the Year was selected for the honor by three judges who visited his farm and the farms of the other state winners in early August of this year. The judging panel included Cary Lightsey of Lake Wales, FL, the overall winner of the award in 2009; John McKissick, long-time University of Georgia agricultural economist at Athens, GA; and David Wildy of Manila, AR, the overall winner of the award in 2016.
This is the thirtieth year for the Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. It recognizes excellence in agricultural production and farm management, along with leadership in farm and community organizations. The award also honors family contributions in producing safe and abundant supplies of food, fiber, and shelter products.
As the Southeastern Farmer of the Year, McDowell will receive a $15,000 cash award plus $2,500 as a state winner from Swisher International. He will also receive the use of a Massey Ferguson product for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply, a smoker-grill from Hays LTI, and a Henry Repeating Arms American Farmer Tribute edition 22 rifle from Reinke Manufacturing Co., Inc., the irrigation company, through its partnership with Henry Repeating Arms.
The other state winners this year include: Hank Richardson of Centre, AL, Chris Isbell of England, AR, Charles Obern of Clewiston, FL, Robert L. Dickey of Musella, GA, Danny Cunningham of Murray, KY, Ted E. Parker of Seminary, MS, Johnny Wishon of Sparta, NC, Sidi Limehouse of Johns Island, SC, and Jerry Ray of Tullahoma, TN.