William “Bill” Spain of Booneville, Miss., joined his family’s farm after he finished his education at Northeast Mississippi Community College and helped to build the farm into a modern, cohesive unit that carries on a strong family tradition.

As a result of his success as a row crop farmer, Spain has been selected as the 2012 Mississippi winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Spain now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced Oct. 16 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo Farm Show in Moultrie, Ga.

A farmer for 37 years, Spain’s operation consists of about 3,900 acres, mostly rented land along with 830 acres of owned land. Soybeans, cotton and wheat are his major crops. He grows soybeans on 2,856 acres, cotton on 1,050 acres and wheat on 517 acres. Though he doesn’t irrigate, his yields are impressive. Last year, he produced 35 bushels per acre for soybeans, 900 pounds of lint per acre for cotton and 60 bushels per acre for wheat.

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The land he farms is part of a larger 6,400-acre family farming business. At one time, the family grew cotton on 4,600 acres, but their cotton acreage is now about 1,500 acres. “Cotton is a profitable crop,” says Spain. “We put cotton on our highest-yielding land. Because we grow cotton, we can justify keeping hired workers throughout the year. We don’t need to hire extra help during planting and harvesting.”

He farms in the hill country of northeastern Mississippi where fields vary in size from 10 to 100 acres. “It is necessary for us to work as a unit,” says Spain. “We consult daily with key family members and employees to make daily decisions that maintain a successful operation.”

His father, Billy Spain, started farming full time in 1968, and at age 76, Billy still has the energy and appearance of a much younger man. Bill started helping him on the farm as soon as he was old enough. He hauled hay, showed cattle in 4-H and drove tractors. “My father allowed my brother and me to rent some land and to assume our own responsibilities,” he recalls. “The farm I now have has grown from that beginning.”

Spain’s mother, Marie, is active in the family farming business. She keeps meticulous financial records and is assisted in this and in cooking for the family and their employees by Spain’s sister, Laura Harber. Laura’s husband, Jerry, is another key employee who handles fertilizer applications and keeps records on grain hauling.

Integrated pest management and boll weevil eradication helped Spain reduce pesticide applications. He uses no-till planting and has installed drainage along with other conservation practices. He also conducts crop variety trials for Mississippi Extension and private seed companies. He uses precision farming practices to efficiently apply chemicals and fertilizers. In addition, he uses a smartphone to keep up with weather and crop market reports and to troubleshoot field problems.

Variety trials and improved fertility have reduced the incidence of iron chlorosis problems in soybeans.