Crop Protection

Southeastern Farmers of the Year Celebrate by Giving Back to the Community

20 December 2022, USA: The 10 growers honored as the 2022 Farmers of the Year in their respective states took the opportunity provided by Syngenta to donate to organizations near and dear to their hearts. Syngenta gave $5,500 in donations in $500 increments to the charity, group or non-profit chosen by each farmer in the 2022 Swisher/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year program. 

“It is so fitting that a group of people who give so much to the community around them and the country as a whole would also take the opportunity to donate to a charitable organization,” said Wendell Calhoun, strategic marketing and operations manager at Syngenta. “Every single one of these winning farmers is passionate and dedicated to the agricultural industry, and we are proud to sponsor this award in recognition of their achievements.”

Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Expo, said this award is a chance to recognize excellence in agriculture and hardworking farmers in the southeast.

“It is an honor for us and our sponsors, such as Syngenta, to give these farmers the recognition that they so richly deserve,” Blalock said. “Each year, after going through the judging and awards process, we are reassured that the family farm is alive and well.” 

Jerry Dakin of Myakka City, Florida, said the charity donation included with the award package means a lot to an organization that is important to him. Dakin chose a donation to Gator Wilderness Camp School, an organization designed to serve adolescent boys ages 11-15 who face issues in their families, schools and communities. Growing up alongside the men in his family, Dakin said he sees the need for good guidance for the young boys in his area.  

“I am one of four brothers, so I have a special concern for young men struggling to be a successful part of society. I believe in Gator Wilderness Camp School’s mission,” he said. 

Keith Allen of Latta, South Carolina, selected the Miracle League of Florence County as his donation recipient. The organization is modified baseball league that is tailored towards participants with physical disabilities, a cause that is deeply personal to Allen and his family.  

“The Miracle League of Florence County provides baseball games for special needs children,” he said. “I have a special needs child, and this league does a great job making those children feel special.”

Robert E. Saunders of Piney River, Virginia, was chosen as the overall Farmer of the Year for 2022. Because of this distinction, Saunders received two $500 donations, which he will be donating to the Nelson Memorial Library, which is part of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system in his home of Nelson County, Virginia.

“My wife Pat and I chose to donate to the Nelson Memorial Library, which has been serving individuals of Nelson County for 50 years,” he said. “Our donation will benefit all of Nelson County, a place my family has called home for nearly 200 years.”

And for Saunders, history and family sum up what he loves about agriculture and community.

“My dad passed away in March 2022. He loved farming with a passion, which he instilled in his children and many others. This award is an amazing honor for not only me, but for the entire Saunders Brothers team,” Saunders said, referencing the wholesale nursery, orchard and farm market he owns and operates with his brothers and family. “I began the Farmer of the Year journey not knowing much about the program but have gotten to meet an incredible group of farmers from across the southeast. Some of those relationships will certainly last a lifetime.”

The complete list of 2022 Southeastern Farmers of the Year and their charities of choice include:

•    Mark Byrd, Danville, Alabama: St. Jude Children’s Hospital

•    Chris Sweat, McCaskill, Arkansas: Huck’s Military Care Package Project

•    Jerry Dakin, Myakka City, Florida: Gator Wilderness Camp School 

•    Scotty Raines, Sycamore, Georgia: First Baptist Church of Tifton 

•    Wesley C. Parker, Oak Grove, Kentucky: St. Jude Children’s Hospital

•    Michael Lynn Wagner, Sumner, Mississippi: St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Extra Table Mississippi 

•    Kevin Matthews, East Bend, North Carolina: Forbush High School FFA

•    Keith Allen, Latta, South Carolina: The Miracle League of Florence County 

•    John M. Harrison, Philadelphia, Tennessee: Randy Davis Memorial Milk Fund

•    Robert E. Saunders, Piney River, Virginia: Nelson Memorial Library, a part of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system

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