Moultrie Observer

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October 16, 2012

Florida grower named Southeastern Farmer of the Year

MOULTRIE — A Tuesday luncheon Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition featured two governors, two state agriculture commissioners, two U.S. senators and a handful of U.S. representatives — but only one Southeast Farmer of the Year.

Florida dairy and row-crop grower Dale McClellan was named during the opening day of the three-day farm show as the winner among 10 farmers from Southern states.

Prior to the announcement of the winner, the audience of several hundred gathered in a massive Maule Air Inc. hanger heard remarks from Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Alabama counterpart Robert Bentley as well as Agriculture Commissioners Gary Black and John McMillan.

In one of the more emotional acceptance speeches, McClellan, the 25th winner of the Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award sponsored by Jacksonville, Fla.-manufactured Swisher Sweets and Sunbelt Exposition, credited stopping drinking in 1983 with allowing him to reach his full potential.

He also said he had help from family and mentors along the way.

“Thanks for the mentors who taught me failure can be a great learning experience,” said McClellan, who was visibly moved and sobbed during his acceptance speech.

In an interview following the ceremony the 57-year-old McClellan, whose Thonotosassa operation includes hay, corn and corn silage, oats, cattle and processing plant, said he initially felt good about his chances. But after watching video of the other nine state winners Monday night he said he felt that all of the 10 had quality agricultural operations and any would have been worthy of taking home the grand prize.

The award includes $15,000 from Swisher, use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year, $1,000 gift certificate from Southern States farm cooperative, $1,000 in cotton seed from PhytoGen or $500 donation to a chosen charity, jacket and other prizes.

“I’m humble to be the one,” McClellan said. “We were so equal it’s a shock that I was the one. I’m just shocked. I’m still blown away for this to happen in this point in my life.”

Recently McClellan has been active in protecting a school tradition.

“There’s been a lot of push to get sugar out of milk,” he said. “We’ve kept flavored milk in schools in Florida.”

To that end McClellan has been working to bring sugar content down with an idea of using white chocolate to reduce the amount of regular chocolate milk while keeping the taste.

The other state winners each received $2,500 from Swisher, a $500 certificate from Southern States, and the cotton seed or charitable donation from PhytoGen.

Those winners are: Samuel Givhan, Alabama; Heath Long, Arkansas; Barry Martin, Georgia; Paul “Jim” Sidebottom, Kentucky; William Spain, Mississippi; Gary Blake, North Carolina; Edward “Monty” Rast Jr., South Carolina; Steve Dixon, Tennessee; and Maxwell Watkins, Virginia.

In an interview following the lunch, Moultrie’s hometown U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said that work on the federal farm bill, a topic much on the minds of many in the audience, could be picked up during the “lame duck” legislative session following the Nov. 6 election.

“If they do, we’re ready to conference with them,” Chambliss said.

The Senate balked at an earlier House version that he said was unfair to the Southeastern U.S. Chambliss said he will support farm legislation that is fair to all regions of the country as well as to other competing interests.


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