A farmer for 31 years, Steve Dixon of Estill Springs, Tenn., is flexible in his farming operation. He runs a diversified farm with row crops, livestock and an agricultural tourism operation.

As a result of his success as a diversified farmer, Dixon has been selected as the Tennessee state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Dixon 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.

Last year, he farmed 945 acres, with 791 acres of rented land and 154 acres of owned land. His crops included 550 acres of corn yielding 140 bushels per acre, 225 acres of full season soybeans yielding 28 bushels per acre, 325 acres of doublecropped soybeans yielding 38 bushels per acre and 225 acres of wheat yielding 94 bushels per acre. Drought reduced his soybean yields last year. His soybeans normally produce at least 40 bushels per acre.

Bill Spain 2012 Mississippi Farmer of the Year

Heath Long: 2012 Arkansas Farmer of the Year

His crops last year also included 100 acres of rye straw that yielded 100 bales per acre and 42 acres of hay that yielded two and a half tons per acre.

Dixon started the ag tourism venture, Grandaddy’s Farm, six years ago. It features an annual corn maze along with gourds, squash, flowers and pumpkins that he sells on the farm. “We grow more than 100 plant varieties on ten acres there,” he explains. Dixon says 11,000 people visited Grandaddy’s Farm last year. He anticipates 17,000 will visit this year. Some of its attractions include a nature trail, playground, picnic shelter, a 40-foot slide, pig races, hayrides, farm animals and duck races. Teachers bringing students to the farm receive lesson plans that reinforce what is taught in their classrooms.

“Grandaddy’s Farm is our opportunity to show other people what the Dixon family has enjoyed for so long,” he says.

Dixon grew up on a farm. “It was a life I knew and loved, and I never doubted my career choice,” he says. Some of his early jobs included feeding hogs and harvesting hay. In high school, he sold firewood.

After high school, he raised tobacco and feeder pigs. He grew his first crop at age 19, and four years later he bought his first farm. He sold this farm and bought another in 1993 that is close to his father’s place so they could farm together. Today, they share equipment and labor but operate separate farms.