VALDOSTA -- The eight state winners and finalists for the 2005 Lancaster/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year were honored Monday night at an awards banquet at the James H. Rainwater Conference Center.

State winners/Farmer of the Year nominees include James "Jimmy" Webb of Georgia, James Wise of Alabama, Daniel McConnell of North Carolina, John H. Litz of Tennessee, Louis "Red" Larson of Florida, Laurance Carter of Mississippi, Chalmers Carr III of South Carolina and Wallace "Monk" Sanford of Virginia.

These outstanding farmers were selected by state extension services, Farm Bureaus or Farmers Federations for managing successful operations that utilize technology while focusing on safe environmental practices. Involvement in their communities as well as local, state and national organizations was also an important factor.

Jimmy Webb of Leary is a Georgia native who farms more than 2,500 acres of land producing peanuts and cotton. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia who learned his trade on his family's farm in the late 1980s. His extension agent, Paul Wigley, had been suggesting he enter for two years.

"What do you know, I won!" Webb said. "I was honored to be nominated -- even more shocked and humbled."

Webb believes his farm has benefited from the Sunbelt Expo, especially from learning new technology.

"It lets you get to see cutting edge technology and equipment in action, showing how you can use it in your operation. It's a great show and a great boost to the economy," he said.

Alabama's winner, James Wise, has been a farmer for half a century. Like many other successful farmers, he learned his trade from his father. The father-son partnership lasted until 1992, and now Wise owns the operation which specializes in raising Limousin beef cattle while also crop farming peanuts, cotton and soybeans.

Daniel McConnell of North Carolina may run a small farm of 100 acres, but it has seen much success since the mid-1980s when he took over the family operation. The list of specialty crops has grown to include strawberries, cucumbers, zucchini, asparagus, rhubarb, peppers and several other types of berries. McConnell's farm also sells apples and vegetables to big-name chains like Wal-Mart, Kroger, Food Lion and Publix.

John H. Litz is a third generation farmer who manages one of the most versatile operations in Tennessee. He farms 1,000 acres producing tobacco, corn, soybeans, sod, horse hay and fresh water shrimp. He also participates in politics, serving as Tennessee's 10th district in the state's House of Representatives.

Red Larson has enjoyed a 57-year career as a Florida dairy farmer. While "milking" is still the backbone of his operation, he also produces grass and hay for silage. His farm annually produces 120,000,000 pounds of milk, much of which is available just one day later for consumers.

Laurance Carter started on a modest farm in Mississippi where he remembers trading chickens "just to make ends meet." He now manages the Carter brothers' farm, which covers 6,050 acres producing cotton, soybeans, rice, corn, timber and even catfish.

Chalmers Carr III is well known as manager of one of the largest peach producers on the East Coast. He may consider his 1992 farm purchase a gamble, but others consider it a wise decision. Over 90 percent of his watermelon, peppers, eggplant, and 45 different varieties of peaches can be purchased at major chains such as Harris Teeter, Wal-Mart, Bi-lo and Kroger.

Monk Sanford is living a childhood dream as manager of his family's 87 year old farm. With an emphasis on variety, he produces corn for silage and shelling, hay, oats, crimson clover, milk and beef cattle.

Each winner received the coveted green jacket as well as a $2,500 cash prize from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla. and $1,000 worth of other gift certificates and prizes.

The individual chosen as Farmer of the Year will receive $14,000 cash from Swisher, a custom designed jacket, more than $4,500 worth of gift certificates and prizes, and one year's use of a Massey-Ferguson tractor of his choice.

More than 200 people attended the event, which returned to Valdosta's James H. Rainwater Conference Center for its second consecutive year. Held in Moultrie for 14 previous years, the banquet was moved to Valdosta because it had grown in popularity and more space was needed.

From these eight nominees, one Southeastern Farmer of the Year will be awarded today at the Willie B. Withers luncheon. The annual honor was established about 16 years ago after Swisher began producing Lancaster chewing tobacco.

"We wanted to highlight the area it was produced in," Tom Ryan, president of Swisher International, said.

Last night's banquet kicked-off the week-long Sunbelt agriculture exposition sponsored by Swisher, Progressive Farmer magazine and Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company. Unlike any other, the Expo will feature 1,200 agricultural exhibits for a variety of products and topics like farm machinery, livestock, family living and much more.

"It grows every year," Ryan said. "We are so delighted with the attention it provides for the farmers. It highlights how significant the farming industry is in terms of what is, what it accomplishes and the family values it shows us all."

For information about the Lancaster/Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition, visit the Web site at www.sunbeltexpo.com.

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